Despite the challenge of learning to work in new ways practically overnight, many companies seemed to adapt. According to the Insight 2020 Intelligent Technology™ Pulse: The Impact of COVID-19 on Business Readiness, more than half (52%) of enterprises reported experiencing less than a week of downtime during the transition to remote work. Additionally, when asked to reflect on their biggest lesson from the impact of COVID-19, many IT professionals were surprised to learn how effective remote work could be. As one respondent put it, “We never thought all of our employees could work remote, but we made it work for everyone.”
While varying degrees of uncertainty surrounding the pandemic remain, states are gradually beginning the process of reopening. Concurrently, business leaders are thinking about the safest ways to bring employees back to the workplace, jumpstart stalled revenue streams and return to business as usual (or as close to “usual” as possible).
Given that many companies seemed to respond quickly and with relative ease to the remote work imperative at the beginning of the pandemic, it's tempting to think that the return-to-the workplace might be accomplished in similar fashion. Numerous detection and prevention technologies — which help assess risk conditions and encourage healthy habits — have emerged on the market, fueling the misconception that, once devices are in hand, reopening simply follows.
But there are risks associated with reactively returning to the workplace. Businesses that do not take the time to develop a proactive approach, supported by a robust return to the workplace strategy, will likely find it more difficult to keep people safe and realize value from their technology investments.
Avoid these five mistakes to help your organization ensure a safer, more successful return to the workplace.
Although there are a number of robust detection and prevention technologies on the market, even the best device or solution is only as good as the workflow that supports it. Consider an organization that has purchased thermal cameras to screen employees’ temperatures. The first high-temperature alert is not the time to be asking key questions like: Which personnel should respond? What do we do with the potential at-risk employee? How do we handle other employees who feel threatened by the alert?
The device decision example highlights, perhaps, the most important aspect of returning to the workplace: developing a detailed strategy and supporting workflows to ensure the return can be implemented and managed effectively, without comprising the effectiveness of the technologies and, above all, people’s health.
A return to the workplace strategy that works for one business location (e.g., a warehouse) might not be appropriate for another (e.g., a field office). Each type of location will likely pose different challenges, such as disparities in the number of employees required to work on-site and the availability of support staff to manage detection and prevention technologies. Similarly, companies that do not consult with a range of leaders and managers across the organization to develop their return-to-the-workplace strategy risk overlooking certain departmental or employee needs — and falling prey to blind spots.
Purchasing detection and prevention technologies without a comprehensive strategy to guide decisions can also lead organizations to acquire individual point solutions from a wide range of vendors. Organizations that follow this approach may be challenged to operationalize their individual technologies effectively or in coordination with one another. The absence of a centralized, connected ecosystem also makes it more difficult to aggregate data in real time, hampering the organization’s ability to make informed, in-the-moment decisions about how to respond to alerts or adjust solutions.
Likewise, working with a wide range of vendors can be more time-consuming to oversee and manage and, potentially, more expensive than buying solutions in higher volume from fewer vendors. Using multiple vendors may also make it harder to find the best solutions for the business’s unique needs as well as additional support for managing the solutions and evolving them for future use cases.
Given both the urgency and uncertainty of COVID-19, it's understandable that businesses are focusing intently on what they need to do right now to return to the workplace. However, organizations that are only thinking about their needs today might be ignoring long-term, strategic considerations, such as whether their solutions are extensible and can be adapted for future use cases to drive greater value. COVID-19 has created conditions that demand specific safety protocols, but that does not mean detection and prevention technologies, particularly those that are AI-enabled, will not have a future in the organization.
With ongoing uncertainty, rapidly shifting federal and state guidelines, the proliferation of new technologies, and increasingly lengthy to-do lists of protocols and procedures, the return to the workplace is complicated, to say the least. Amidst all of these challenges, it is important to remember the human element and emotional needs related to returning. Organizations should not assume that all employees (and customers) will be comfortable with the company’s return-to-the-workplace solutions and practices. In order for people to embrace the solutions designed to protect them, organizational change management and clear, constant communication should be priorities in any business’s return-to-the-workplace strategy.
Overall, it's important to remember that the transition to remote work in the spring was a reactive response to an unexpected crisis. Now, as we prepare to return to the workplace, we have the opportunity to take a step back, look across the organization and build strategies that not only work for the company today — but also shepherd changes to drive value for the business after the pandemic subsides.