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4 questions before reopening your office

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With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, many firms are still up in the air when it comes to office reopenings. As they think about whether (and how) to bring staff back in, there are four major questions to consider.

Read more: New tool tracks COVID-19 geographical risk to pinpoint when employees can return to work

What factors are the most important to consider when planning safe returns to the office?

Employers should first familiarize themselves with the CDC recommendations for workplaces and implement those precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

As firms are preparing for what safe work will look like on the other side of the pandemic, it will be crucial to go beyond those standard protocols. By thoughtfully reevaluating the configuration of your office space, firms can work to minimize any health risks in shared office environments.

Read more: COVID-19 at-home testing kits can make returning to work safer

Here are a few ways to do this:
1. Display signage to alert your employees and guests to routinely sanitize their hands, and provide sanitization stations throughout office space.
2. Lower conference and meeting room capacities.
3. Limit the number of chairs in shared spaces and around tables.

In Firmspace’s private offices, we provide daily office cleaning and keep high-touch areas sanitized. This also helps members and staff feel safer at work, and it’s an approach that can be easily replicated.

More importantly, the measures that firms adopt should be part of a normalized routine for the office. By making these practices part of the daily routine, the people at your firm will have the peace of mind they need to focus on work instead of worrying about their safety.

How can firms gauge what the best work environment is for their employees?

Finding the best work environment for your firm requires ongoing communication to understand what each member of the team needs to be successful.

Executive teams and management need to keep open lines of communication and encourage employees to evaluate what’s working for them and what’s not. When it comes to what workers prefer in their workspace, it’s clear that usually one size doesn’t fit all.

It might seem obvious, but the best way to find out what works best for your employees is through continuous survey and feedback. If you checked in with everyone back in March, it’s time to send out another survey to see how they’re managing.

In each survey it’s important to be direct. Ask each member of the team how they feel about working from home, what challenges they are facing, what they expect from employers if they do decide to return, and whether or not they want to return to the office now or in the future. You should leave room on the survey to write in any specific concerns that the survey didn’t address.

Ultimately, employees need a work environment that helps them get work done, whether that’s remote or in the office. Even if the majority of your team prefers working from home full time, you should still provide flexible options for the workers who prefer operating from an office space, especially if it helps them feel more productive and engaged.

Similarly, you’ll want to make sure that you’re supporting employees who want to work remotely. That might mean reimbursing them for equipment they need. Either way, this will help remote employees feel more comfortable and productive at home.

How can firms best manage employees in a remote environment to maintain productivity?

Better managing remote teams means taking a holistic look at how your business operates and the kinds of tools your team is using to get work done. While some firms made a smooth transition to remote work, others are scrambling to adapt and find the right ones.

Frequent communication is key. Firms should regularly speak with teams to identify any gaps in business operations, tools, or technology that can’t easily be accessed remotely.

Read more: Best tools to support your remote workforce

Many firms are finding it challenging to work with Zoom and other video conferencing applications in centralized digital workspaces commonly used at accounting firms, like Citrix.

This is partly because compatibility between the systems has never quite been tested and relied upon as it is now. Cloud-based applications like these that allow for communication and collaboration have gone from “nice to have” to “must have” for firms managing remote teams.

Cloud-based services offer enhanced security and allow members of the team to get work done, no matter their physical location. The files on the cloud server are also encrypted and can only be accessed by designated members of the team with a password.

Firms that haven’t implemented remote access and cloud-based technology should strongly consider making the change. Effectively managing remote teams means that leadership needs to provide access to all the resources that support security, privacy, and collaboration for their teams to stay productive.

What factors should firms consider before switching to flexible office space instead of returning to their traditional office to reduce costs?

The decision to remain in your current office or go with flex space depends on the direction of the firm. Even before COVID-19, firms were using flex space as either home base or as a satellite office. COVID has exacerbated this need as firms explore flexible office arrangements, which are much friendlier to unexpected turns in the market.

We are seeing firms take this opportunity to construct a list of office “must-haves” by asking themselves what is the real value of having an office. Some firms will go fully remote or find flex space, some will keep their traditional leased offices, and the rest will wind up somewhere in between.

Read more: Afraid to return to work? A private office space can be a safer alternative

Firms should strongly consider resisting the urge to give up all real estate, even if their employees prefer working from home. The pendulum will likely swing back in the other direction in the future and some employees may desire an office environment.

That said, for many firms, spending money on an office that may or may not get used in the next year doesn’t seem worth it. Utilizing flex office space allows firms to keep their occupancy costs down and quickly scale up or down based on market factors.

Fortunately, there are flexible rental options available for firms of all sizes that can accommodate those that are looking to become more agile without sacrificing the workplace experience.
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