Hidden Truth About Return to Work Plans
Having passed 100 days of lockdown, companies are looking ahead to what the next 100 days will be like. They are scenario planning. Of course, no one can predict the future. (Six months ago, who predicted we would be in lockdown now?) Still, it makes sense to consider how the environment will be changing, determine what is required for the organization to succeed if the potential changes occur and develop the strategy accordingly. You’ll want to prepare multiple scenarios. At a minimum, think best case, worst case and most likely cases. With that in mind let me offer what I think is the most likely scenario for companies based in office towers: despite all the planning about a return to work, 100 days from now most people will still be working from home. For those teams that WANT to go back, HR teams are diligently working on what measures could be in place. And if they succeed, give them a hearty congratulations and count yourself lucky. They will have landed on a best-case scenario. Here’s the hidden truth: the more likely scenario is that until there is a vaccine, office workers won’t all be back in their towers. Not in the next 100 days, or the 100 days after that. Consider the obstacles. Elevators are a choke point. People will have to line up to get on them (a hazard in itself) and people won’t want to ride up with others breathing on them in a moving box. Once on your floor, assume only half of the desks are filled at any one time to allow for 6 feet of social distancing. HVAC systems will still be spreading droplets to everyone. Should one person who is asymptomatic come in, they can unwittingly be a super spreader for the whole team. Lastly, face-to-face encounters are not going to be productive like they used to be. We like being with other people. We’re better at reading subtle social cues face to face, and idle chat often spurs unexpected ideas that can turn into a new product or a new sale. But this won’t be happening. We’ll be 6 feet apart, with a mask. Plus half the team is at home, joining in by video conference. People are probably going to be asking, “why bother? Why don’t we all just stay at home, and avoid the risk of getting sick ourselves?” The more scenarios like this that you can scope out, the better prepared you will be. Be sure to engage your employees in the exercise. They’ll raise both problems and solutions you can’t imagine. And by working through them together you’ll be better aligned, should the need arise.