As states begin to lift their COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, companies are trying to figure out what the new normal will look like. While some of the big tech companies have already announced plans for reopening, there are so many unknowns; how to redesign the physical space to allow for social distancing, and what procedures will need to be implemented to keep workers safe and healthy. It looks like the process for many will be gradual.
First, the good news. While many thought productivity might plunge during the months-long pandemic, it didn’t. In fact, many companies saw an increase in productivity while their employees were working from home. They found that much of the work can indeed be done remotely and, during the lockdown at least, productivity did not suffer.
So how are industry leaders planning to transition their workforce once the stay-at-home orders are lifted? The answer is, it’s complicated.
One thing is sure. There is no going back to the old way of doing business. Industry needs to find a new normal and even that will be ever-changing as restrictions ease and CDC guidelines evolve. Expect a period of transition. What will that look like? While many companies we asked say it’s too soon to know for sure, there will be no going back to normal.
There will be new work from home policies as well as changes made both in the office as well as how business is conducted. Travel might be replaced by more virtual meetings, open office space might be converted back to the dreaded cubicle and employees might be rotated in to keep physical head counts low.
There will be health checks to ensure employee’s safety and new technologies are emerging that can help track temperatures and distance between people. But that’s down the road, what are the big tech companies doing now?
Twitter has said its workers can work from home for the foreseeable future. In early May it announced employees could work from home permanently if they want to. Other, smaller tech companies like Spotify followed that decision and you can expect to see even more.
Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft have told employees they’ll likely be working from home at least through the end of 2020.
Google and (parent company) Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai recently spelled out the company’s plan to return its employees to work in a blog post.
Google will begin opening some of its offices in certain cities starting on July 6 in what he called a gradual, phased approach. “This will give Googlers who need to come back to the office—or, capacity permitting, who want to come back—the opportunity to return on a limited, rotating basis (think: one day every couple of weeks, so roughly 10 percent building occupancy).”
Pichai feels the need for collaboration and human connection and while he expects the majority of Google’s workforce will be working from home through 2020, he wants to start the transition.
“Our campuses are designed to enable collaboration and community — in fact, some of our greatest innovations were the result of chance encounters in the office — and it’s clear this is something many of us don’t want to lose,” Pichai said.
He also told employees to expect changes in the office.
“We’ll have rigorous health and safety measures in place to ensure social distancing and sanitization guidelines are followed, so the office will look and feel different than when you left. Our goal is to be fair in the way we allocate time in the office, while limiting the number of people who come in, consistent with safety protocols.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told CNBC more than 95% of its workforce is working remotely now and the company expects that to continue through 2020. However, he said, as much as 50% of Facebook’s workforce could be working remotely in the next five to 10 years. He acknowledged the challenges that brings. “People are going to need to feel like they have the same opportunities to do their best work remotely in addition to being in the office,” he said. “Those are things that we’re going to have to be very intentional about how we engineer these processes, how meetings work, what opportunities people have in order to make sure that ambitious people who really care about their career know that it’s still a good decision to work remotely.”
On the plus side, Zuckerberg said moving to a more remote workforce will help the company improve employee retention. “One of the top reasons when people leave the company, they tell us that they are leaving us because they want to move to a place, maybe to be with their family, but we don’t have an office there,” he said. “So, we’ll now be able to keep more of those folks in the loop, which will be in some ways even more valuable than recruiting new people.”
Apple’s plan to start returning employees to its global offices is already underway. Apple CEO Tim Cook told a company-wide virtual meeting
the return to work will be staggered. “We don’t envision, at least today, everyone going back at the same time. It may be different teams go back at a different time, it may be people within a team go back at different times.”
Cook told Bloomberg TV that process would include temperature checks, social distancing and masks.
Microsoft is also allowing some workers to return to their offices in stages. When asked about their plan, they shared this statement:
“On May 11th, we shared with our global workforce our current hybrid workplace strategy as worksites slowly start to open. This approach will enable some employees to continue to work from home while others voluntarily return to Microsoft worksites in stages as restrictions lift. Working from home remains optional through October for most employees.”