Posted: 25 May 2021 10 min. read

Fixing the plane in flight

Leaders can lean on HR technology to meet the approaching return-to-office challenge

Last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the US into lockdown, Deloitte Global CEO Punit Renjen compared the challenge facing company leaders to not merely fixing the plane while it was in the air, but actually building it. Technology helped leaders respond and it enabled workers to successfully make the unprecedented and abrupt shift to remote work.

Now, the phased distribution of vaccines is underway and leaders are considering how their companies can thrive post-pandemic. This will require formulating and executing a winning return-to-office strategy. This strategy may call for a reverse migration back to the office, a continuation of work from home, or a new hybrid model. Savvy leaders can use human capital management technology such as Workday, to inform their return-to-office strategies and ensure an orderly and efficient transition to the post-pandemic workplace.

A complex set of considerations

Most companies had a limited set of choices when the government-mandated lockdowns of 2020 took effect. But the protocols for the post-pandemic return to the workplace are nowhere near as clear-cut. This means leaders will need to consider and juggle a complex set of considerations that are likely to include:

  • Establishing guidelines related to safety measures such as spacing/staggering when employees come into the office, physical changes to the workspace such as partitions, enhancing deep cleaning and sanitizing protocols and practices, increasing access to sanitizers, providing masks or PPE, and implementing contact tracing and health screening measures in the workplace.
  • Evaluating pre-pandemic workforce and workplace policies to ensure that they continue to meet the needs of the various workforce models (i.e., on-site, hybrid, and remote employees).
  • Maintaining an understanding of ongoing and evolving federal, state, and local regulations and guidance.
  • Monitoring employee sentiment on a periodic basis regarding return-to-office.
  • Determining the organization’s role in vaccine delivery and administration, including whether to mandate it for the workforce.
  • Implementing a phased communication plan to allow for leadership transparency, employee engagement, and enable trust across the public domain.

Three enabling roles of technology in return-to-office strategy

As leaders consider the challenges involved in the post-pandemic workplace, they can use technology to collect data, surface insights, formulate strategy, and manage the return-to-office in three ways: planning, communications, and reporting.

Return-to-office planning: Technology can play many enabling roles in the formulation of return-to-office strategies. At Deloitte, for example, our leaders have been using ongoing pulse surveys combined with operational data gathered during return-to-office pilots to inform a new co-location strategy. 

Technology can issue alerts and help suss out the implications of regulatory updates and tax rules. It also can survey employee sentiment—helping companies gauge the workforce’s readiness to return and providing insights into employee expectations for the post-pandemic work environment.

 As importantly, technology can provide the data, metrics, and tracking tools needed to make informed decisions on who comes back to the office and when. It can model work arrangements, and help identify and classify employee groups by their eligibility for virtual, hybrid, and traditional work. It also can inform leaders with the insights needed to refresh rewards strategies and enhance people policies for the post-pandemic workplace.

Finally, technology can assist leaders as they seek to map out their workforce contingency plans, such as identifying alternative locations for essential workers in case of new virtual outbreaks. Workday’s Return to Workplace offering, for example, supports scenario planning by enabling companies to model office space demand, personal protective equipment needs, and workforce availability.

Employee and stakeholder communications: Effective communications will be critical to successfully countering post-pandemic uncertainties. One food-service company that operated its stores throughout the pandemic used technology to craft customized messages alerting different categories of employees to ongoing changes across a host of different locales.

Delivering relevant messages in complex situations engenders leadership transparency, employee engagement, and customer and community trust. Email and dashboard updates, for example, can help empower and support employees by ensuring that they have unfettered access to the latest information on procedures and policies.

Leaders can use their HCM platforms to execute personalized communication campaigns, schedule alerts, and create dashboards. This will enable them to reach out to employees with messages that inform and educate them. It also offers two-way communication. For instance, employees can self-report immunization information, which, in turn, enables their employers to respond with more relevant and personalized information.

Tracking and reporting: The ability of technology to record and report data and trends across the workforce can provide leaders with the information and insights that they need to successfully execute their return-to-office strategies. HCM platforms, for instance, can provide a control center for viewing potential safety risks and quickly responding to keep employees protected and workplaces safe.

With the help of vaccine management dashboards, leaders can track the immunization status of the workforce by job profile, location, region, and the individual worker. For example, a multinational manufacturing company with a large and diverse workforce can configure a solution like Workday Vaccine to classify employee populations and track vaccination dates and types, as well as the health attestations of individual employees (notifying managers, if restrictions are needed). This solution can also be used to generate return-to-office releases, travel documentation, and essential worker certification letters in the event of a lockdown.

In the coming months, leaders will need all the help they can get to manage the uncertainties and complexities attendant to the return-to-office. Happily, many of the same technologies that companies used to manage the pandemic lockdowns can provide that help going forward. From return-to-office planning to employee and stakeholder communications to tracking workforce information and surfacing actionable insights, your HCM technology should be at the center.