3 big challenges planning return to office—and how to solve them

return to office planning

The COVID-19 pandemic drastically disrupted the way people work. As the crisis eases and the return to office begins, corporate real estate (CRE) and executive teams are faced with significant challenges in preparing their workplaces, their portfolios, and their workers for the re-entry.

The three major challenges you’re likely to encounter are:

  1. An ill-defined vision
  2. Lack of a concrete plan
  3. Managing ongoing changes

Let’s explore how your teams and your leadership can tackle these challenges and ensure a smooth transition back to the office and to a hybrid workplace.

Challenge 1: What should your workplace look like in six months?

As much as you’ll want to work toward your 5- or 10-year vision, it’s a moving target. By starting with a six-month plan, you’ll create a foundation, build on it, and iterate as needed.

What does a strong six-month plan look like? There’s no one right answer to this question. But two things have crystallized in the face of the crisis: there’s no returning to the “old normal,” and re-entry, the workplace, and the employee experience must all be deliberately designed and executed. Decisions must be made in concert with internal teams, such as HR, IT, real estate, finance, etc. There are more internal and even external stakeholders than ever before, and the successful return to office will be measured by worker productivity and satisfaction—not just how many bodies are at desks.

If you’ve been putting off your company’s return-to-office, you’re not alone. In our recent webinar, 18% of companies reported that they’re considering next steps but have no plan in place. Start mapping out your re-entry plan by learning what has worked for other organizations that have already returned to the office and incorporate those concepts.

Source: “The impact of COVID on Facilities Management” webinar, March 2021

Challenge 2: What are the actual steps you need to take to implement your plan?

The return-to-office involves far more than simply spacing out desks and installing hand-sanitizing stations. New workplace habits will require new building operations procedures, and significant changes in physical environments will increase or alter demand for workspaces and occupancy. You’ll also have to communicate frequently and clearly to ensure workers understand and appreciate new protocols—their compliance is critical to your success.

Re-entry is a massive organizational change that touches nearly everything and everyone in your buildings over the next year or more. You will be driving organizational alignment, defining and communicating your return-to-office plan, and evaluating and implementing technologies that support in-office and remote work. Start formulating your detailed plan with this handy checklist of 74 return-to-office tactics.

Challenge 3: Complex, continual change

Expect frequent changes to requirements and best practices as new information comes out from governmental agencies and industry-specific organizations (or if there’s a new spike in infections). Design re-entry plans with flexibility, and optimize for efficiency wherever possible—change is inevitable, and timelines will be tight, but when you’re prepared, you’ll succeed.

Re-entry is complex and will require most organizations to devise plans that are specific to their business objectives, hybrid workplace model, location, portfolio, and industry.

Need help? We’ve got you covered. Download the return-to-office checklist to guide your reopening plans.