Return to work. More accurately, return to THE work, meaning return to “the office.” It has been a topic of conversation as COVID-19 vaccinations became available and organizations began to consider “reopening” their offices.
Of course, that was when we all thought that vaccinations had put us over the COVID-19 hump and life was going to return to normal (whatever that is or was). We now know that we were a bit…. Naïve. The Delta variant (and lambda and now mu—is anyone else besides me getting a refresher on the Greek alphabet?), vaccine hesitancy and a lack of herd immunity all put thoughts of return to work on ice. Google has pushed their timetable for returning to work into 2022. Apple has pushed their return to work out to at least January. Some customers I have spoken with are still planning to reopen their offices this year. Others have put their return to work plans on hold.
We can count on two things regarding our return to work.
- It is going to happen. We just are not sure when.
- It won’t be the same as it was before the pandemic.
I know, such bold predictions! What can I say, I am a “two-handed economist”.
This means that IT Managers (together with Facilities Managers and others) do have to plan for a return to work. It also means that there will be some wrinkles to address.
Keep Your Distance
We now understand that vaccination didn’t award us a Get Out of Jail Free card. Yes, we can still get sick. And we can still communicate the virus to others. The vaccination “good news” is that we are less likely to die from COVID-19 if we contract it. Talk about low expectations. As a result, our return-to-work plans must encompass measures that minimize risk of COVID-19 transmission. That might mean mandatory vaccinations. Or the choice of vaccination or regular testing. People will want to know about air flow and air exchange. And levels of air filtration.
Regardless, when staff return to work, they are going to have social distancing on their minds. Will people want to meet in person in an enclosed space? Do we need to put occupancy limits on conference rooms? Are closed-door meetings going to continue? Will organizations reopen their conference spaces to the community? If so, what restrictions will be put in place and how will they be enforced? Will the cafeteria offer buffet-style dishes? Is communal food sharing a thing of the past?
Welcome Back to the Office. Yes, Everything is Broken.
We worked with many organizations whose software update process presumed domain-joined computers. Of course, that presumption was broken when everyone started working from home.
Now, computers are going to return to work (along with their owners) and attach to the domain. Do you know what is going to happen next? Maybe everything is going to go smoothly. All the updates and Group Policy Objects are going to get pushed with no problem. You would be wise to test that assumption.
You can expect that everything will be broken when folks return to work, for another reason as well. Staff are going to return to technologies they have not touched in almost two years.
- Telephones and features such as call forwarding.
- Conference room video systems. (“This is way harder than Zoom!”)
- Printers. And scanners. And copiers.
- Storing and accessing documents (unless you were smart and moved everyone to an online solution).
You can expect a higher-than-normal level of handholding as staff struggle to remember how to do things that were commonplace before. Does the receptionist know how to extend calls from the switchboard to the proper extensions? Will staff know how to transfer a phone call? Expect to answer questions on how to connect the conference room video system into a Zoom call. (Right after you answer the question about how to start up the room conference system.)
Meetings and the Return to Work
We have all become experts in meeting via video conference. (As one person told me, it helped to have “in-house IT—our kids” around to help.) What happens when we organize a meeting in the office? Likely the meeting will at least be a mix of in-person and virtual via video. It may in fact be all virtual, even for participants that are in the office. (At CGNET, we hold our management meetings via Teams, even though we are all in the office. It is just easier to share documents via screen share than printing them out and handing out copies.)
With a return to work and hybrid (in-person and virtual) meetings, the focus will shift towards those attending virtually. People have become accustomed to meeting as equals and are not going to accept being shut out of the meeting because they happen to join via video. Zoom, Teams and the other video conference platforms have adopted features to encourage inclusiveness, such as “reactions,” polls and emojis. IT Managers might need to offer a refresher course on how to use these features. Management might need to set new meeting norms that encourage inclusion of virtual participants. For instance, there might be a role designated for someone to actively encourage participation of virtual meeting participants.
I Want My Home Office Setup
Here is a consideration you did not have on your COVID-19 bingo card. In pre-pandemic times, working from home was seen as a rare event. We were OK with having a more limited computer setup compared to our setup in the office. We looked forward to a return to work and our stand up/sit down computer desk.
Then we all ran from the building. IT did a heroic job getting us set up to work from home. Laptops. Monitors. Cameras. Headsets. Ring lights. Maybe a better chair.
It is possible that when staff return to work, their office computer setup lacks some of the amenities that are in use at home. For instance, I could use a ring light for my video calls. Right now, all the light is from the window behind me, and in video calls I look like I am in the witness protection program. Be prepared to purchase and deploy items for the office computer setup that were previously not part of the standard kit.
I am sure I have missed other important considerations as you plan for a return to work. Let me know if you see some obvious (or not-so-obvious) ones. And if you want to talk about planning for that eventual return to work, let me know. I have opinions.