Article

HR Answers: Navigating the Dynamics of a Split Office

coworkers around table in office video conference with remote workers
By Matt Martin

6 minutes

6 tips for keeping employees safe, happy and productive as your credit union transitions back to office life

Experts are divided over when workers will (or should) get back into the office after COVID-19. Google, for example, is planning to reopen some office starting in early July for a small number of employees on a “rotating basis.” A report from the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University recommends holding out until August. But both Google and Harvard agree that the return should be staggered in order to protect workers.

The Harvard report recommends starting by letting 20% of at-home workers back into the office at a time—beginning with a few days per week and then expanding to five days.

Not only will working in shifts like this reduce office density, but it will also prevent overcrowding on sidewalks and mass transit for urban businesses. It also comes with challenges, including the fact that some employees will feel less connected to the rest of the company. Here are six tips for keeping workers safer, happier and more productive as organizations transition into a split-office setup.

1. Don’t Rush Everyone Back

While you may be tempted to get everyone you can into the office at least some of the time, that’s not really necessary.

“We may see some companies realize they can run their businesses effectively with a much smaller office and many people working largely from home,” said Elizabeth Brink, principal at global design and architecture firm Gensler. Dr. Anna Tavis, academic director of the Human Capital Management Department at the NYU School of Professional Studies also predicts that many people will continue working from home indefinitely. “We kind of assume that collaboration means physical presence in one place,” Tavis said. “But now we’ve learned that’s not the case.” Indeed, the average company tends to see a 10% to 43% increase in productivity after going fully remote, according to a paper from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And in a recent survey, 54% of workers said their productivity had improved since working from home full time and 64% said their work quality has improved.

Google won’t require workers with caretaking responsibilities or other special considerations to come into the office. You may also want to encourage workers who live with healthcare workers or essential workers to stay home. The Harvard report recommends bringing workers who have recently tested negative and show immunity in reliable antibody tests back into the office first.

2. Get Everyone on the Same Page

Now is the ideal time to invest in project management software. If you wait until some people are back in the office, the drive to have everyone use it will be diminished since those employees will once again be able to walk over to a coworker’s desk to get a status update on an ongoing project.

Plus, project management software can help mitigate Zoom fatigue. Project management software serves as your team’s source of truth when it comes to project updates, statuses, assignees, due dates, files and more. Example platforms include Asana, Notion, Trello, Monday and Basecamp. Pre-set notifications and reminders for due dates and changes mean you spend less time chatting on Slack or in video conferences about who’s doing what and more time making progress. Project management software that offers visibility into others’ schedules, tasks, and workloads can be especially helpful for partially remote teams.

You may not even need to invest in new software—just better utilize what you already have.

“We found that it’s not so much about needing new tools but instead, leveraging existing tools to foster greater collaboration during quarantine,” said Corporate Recruiter Lauren Munroe about her team’s use of SharePoint and Microsoft Teams to collaborate remotely on projects.

3. Get Chatting

Speaking of Slack, if your team doesn’t already have a chat app, now’s the time! For similar reasons as above, you don’t want to wait until some teammates are able to talk things through in person to encourage widespread adoption of chat.

Good chat software lets you send instant messages to individuals and groups and track those messages in threads. It’s also nice to be able to search chats and snooze notifications. Other examples include Hangouts, Glip and Twist. The ability to start a video call inside the chat app is nice, as is time zone awareness. Some apps allow you to set your status, so colleagues know when you’re busy or free.

A chat app can also help you re-create some of what’s great about being in the office. After moving to work-from-home, Chief People Officer Meighan Newhouse created new chat channels for this purpose. “Water cooler” is for workers to check in and share updates. “Lock-down” is where they share relatable tales from quarantine. VP/People Carrie Pinkham added “CEO,” “wellness,” and “family Fridays” channels. The last is “where employees post old and new pictures of loved ones, which seemed fitting during this time.”

If you’re a Slack user, get the most out of it by syncing your Slack status with your Google Calendar.

4. Get Comfortable With Video Conferencing

Video conferencing software is obviously a must when everyone is working from home. Chats and phone calls are great, but there’s nothing like seeing someone’s face in real-time. Video conferencing software facilitates on-demand or pre-scheduled video conferencing among two or more people. Generally this software integrates with your calendar system and provides built-in screen sharing and chat functionality. If your organization isn’t leveraging such software already, examples include Skype, Zoom, WebEx and GoToMeeting. Facebook Messenger also recently got into the game with their Rooms product.

Since home internet isn’t always super fast, choose conferencing software that also allows workers to call into the meeting toll-free from their phones without video.

Video conferencing is another good way to bring employees together for fun and camaraderie. At Clockwise, we do lunch Zooms where our office manager, Czar, divides employees into smaller groups where we can eat and catch up.

5. Share Everyone’s Status

It’s a good idea to have everyone, regardless of whether they’re working at home or in the office, set their working hours and add work-from-home or out of office blocks to their calendars. To easily share this information, many workplaces have team calendars. Clockwise streamlines this process by adding everyone’s individual WFH or OOO to their team’s calendar automatically, so if someone forgets to update either their personal or shared calendar, everyone is still on the same page.

6. Upgrade Employees’ Work-From-Home Setup

Especially since we don’t all know how long we’ll have to continue working from home, it’s worth it to spend a little money to ensure your team is as productive as possible.

First, make sure everyone who’s still at home has the fastest internet possible. Have everyone measure their home internet connection speeds using services like fast.com or Speedtest. If employees’ speeds aren’t good, or they’re running out of data before running out of month, consider giving them an allowance to upgrade and/or invest in a mesh network or Wi-Fi extender. To save, check out COVID-19 deals from ISPs.

You might also offer your team a little money to upgrade their home desk, chair, light, monitor, mouse and keyboard. If they have that stuff at the office, let them bring it home. For example, Clockwise gave all employees $100 to buy a new chair at the start of the pandemic lockdown and let us bring home anything we were using in the office that we could carry.

Moving Forward

Staggering your comeback to the office can be a great way to balance the benefits of an in-office environment while still keeping employees safe. The trick is to make sure no one feels left out and everyone is able to work productively regardless of location. Making sure you have the right technology and equipment makes all the difference.

Matt Martin is co-founder and CEO Of Clockwise, an intelligent calendar assistant that frees up your time so you can focus on what matters.

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