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CIOs need a people-centric approach to maintain ‘return to work’

CIOs need a people-centric approach to maintain ‘return to work’

Thought LeadershipTop StoriesUnited Kingdom

Steve Vatidis, Executive Chairman at Smartway2, explains how companies can ensure employees can stay safe in the office, despite a second wave of COVID-19 looming in the UK.

The UK government had encouraged employees to return to the office to bolster the economy with a recession, caused by the pandemic, looming. Many businesses responded by opening up once more to employees who are once again collaborating much more easily than on Zoom, Teams and other remote platforms.

However, to do so safely, businesses need to make data-led decisions made by senior execs at C-level. Enter the CIO.

The call to return to work has been answered by some employees with hesitation, unwilling to venture back to the office for a variety of reasons. With COVID cases rapidly rising in the UK, experts are now warning we’re at the start of a second wave, which if left unchecked, could lead to 50,000 new cases a day. These worrying statistics are far from ideal for employees who thought they were approaching workplace normality once more.

CIOs, who need to provide the communication platforms all employees expect, now have a tough gig. They are tasked with evaluating the situation, specific to their organisation and making sure it can not only open safely but can adapt quickly to meet the evolving needs of the organisation and the employees as official guidance changes.

Luckily, this is straightforward with the right technology providing factual information on employees, their workloads and their relationship with the workplace. CIOs are in fact vital to ensure employees are able to return to work safely.

Champion a bottom-up approach to workplace returns

When forming a strategy, as a general rule, the employees who most want to return to work are those who should be in the office. But these may not correspond in all cases. This is where a trade-off has to be made between top-down, management-directed, return to work schemes and bottom-up, employee-initiated plans.

While top-down may allow management to move faster, it leaves employees feeling disconnected from major businesses decisions which directly impacts their working lives. Employees know what is happening and won’t accept information they suspect to be marketing rather than based on facts.

CIOs can retain control while engaging their internal audience of employees by accurately accounting for employee needs in the return to work strategy. Objectively assessing risk and outlining concrete measures to make employees feel safe to return to work.

This approach means workers feel empowered by their employers. They’re able to share their thoughts on the return to work strategy and see them implemented. The information shared between CIOs and employees on re-opening the workplace will also help to inform company policy and HR, as well as practical workplace scheduling. This can deliver a ‘new normal’ way of working that doesn’t just work, but works better for everyone.

Employee-led rotas

To safeguard offices, CIOs may well opt for working rotas, which only allow a limited number of employees to attend the office on any given day. Employee-led desk booking systems ensure work isn’t negatively impacted by necessary COVID restrictions. Smart desk systems like we have created at Smartway2 should automatically factor in the ‘rest time’ between uses, which provide ample time for cleaning, drastically limiting the potential spread of COVID.

Online digital working rotas and desk plans which fit employees’ needs provide employers with an automated ‘track and trace’ record without generating a mountain of paperwork. In the unfortunate event an employee does test positive for COVID, employers are able to react quickly and reduce the risk of infection by alerting team members who may have been affected. This is a service CIOs are perfectly placed to provide.

Considering the needs of the workforce is more complex than just filling an office safely. To get it right, CIOs have to shift their focus from how they can manage their static space, to a fluid ‘people centric’ view, which takes into account how office spaces are used by employees.

Understand the pulse of office dynamics

CIOs may know the revised maximum capacity figures for meeting and coffee rooms, corridors and lifts but without a granular understanding of who needs to be in the office, when, and with whom, the updated workplace won’t meet employee needs.

When generating floor plans, CIOs should keep in mind restrictions may change at any moment. We’ve already seen the social distancing rule being relaxed from two metres to ‘one metre plus’. With a new spike in COVID cases, this may be increased again.

It’s important CIOs are ready to react and avoid enforcing temporary office closures by rushing to adjust workplace space. This ensures those people who need and want to be in the office, can do so safely with limited to no risk no matter how Government advice chops and changes.

IT is a team game

As a start, CIOs can create floor plans which not only take into account social distancing restrictions but maximise the benefits of teams being in the office at the same time to boost communication. Particular care needs to be taken to ensure conference rooms are also available for employees who need to use them, with a high standard of cleaning tailored to employee space requirements.

Often with little time to prepare for upcoming changes to guidelines, CIOs could consider implementing smart, real-time technology which can assist with creating COVID-safe offices. Digitised floor plans ensure the current social distancing rules in place are accurately reflected in the office space, limiting the possibility of cross-contamination between different work members as they make use of the office to suit their needs. Corridors can be updated to one-way systems, taking into account the usual employee movement and accessibility to other spaces.

Keep the workforce connected

CIOs have a tough task of making sure the office is fool proof, no matter the change in circumstances in relation to COVID. Ensuring the workplace caters for employee needs while following the necessary guidelines to keep them safe will need to be assessed frequently.

Smart technology is the only solution CIOs can rely on to keep organisations moving in tough and unprecedented times. The CIO role is evolving as COVID advice and rules change and their expertise can put employees’ safety and needs first at all times. It is the perfect blend of people, process and tech which will win the war against this unseen enemy.

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