With Covid-19 vaccines rolling out, it raises the question about when and how many of us will be able return to work.
With many of us still settled into remote working, how are we going to manage a return to an office? There will be multiple challenges to overcome, along with significant changes in working practices.
The key, as is so often the case, will be preparedness, along with flexibility.
This is not a situation that is going to simply flip back to the way it was.
The office environment will be forever changed post-Covid-19. Organizations need to be able to adapt with this change as it unfolds and understand that each day can bring a new direction.
Challenge #1: Technology
One of the key challenges companies are going to face is the technology challenge.
Much ink has been spilled on the challenges firms faced in setting up entire teams to work from home. But now how are we going to go about getting those teams back into the office?
What Are Employees Bringing Back with Them?
For those that are bringing their teams back onsite, one of the first considerations is what staff will be bringing with them.
Many will have been accessing company data and so on from their home PCs, iPads, and so on. And now they’re bringing that data – and possibly some of those devices – into the office environment.
The implication of this is that you have either an unmanaged and unknown device that’s been in a potentially hostile environment coming into your office, or data that has been on such a device.
Both of these scenarios present potential sources of breaches.
Take antivirus, for example, do you trust that people have been taking the same precautions at home that you insist on in your office?
It’s very unlikely they have, so immediately you have potential attack vectors you wouldn’t otherwise be introducing.
Who’s Responsible For Your IT Now?
You’ll also be facing IT management issues.
People have gotten used to working on their home PCs and laptops.
Once they’re back in the office with those devices, what level of responsibility do you have to accept for now maintaining them?
The same question applies to support. Will you need to install all the security protections you put on a company device on an employee’s personal device?
While there aren’t necessarily definitive answers to these questions, the fact is that we find ourselves in a ‘new normal’ that requires us to address these challenges.
One of the most important things you can do while figuring out how this will work in your company is ensure there are clear written policies in place that all staff sign up to.
It can be brief – stating that they acknowledge you have some software on their device and absolving the organization (and relevant individuals) of any responsibility.
It’s imperative this is in place, because staff are used to someone else being responsible for their work-related IT and will likely look to their organization for someone to blame if things go wrong.
Challenge #2: People
Bringing team members back to work in these unprecedented times offers further uncertainties than just technology of course.
We need to consider that many organizations may not want their staff to return to the office.
The forced remote-working environment has resulted in many firms taking an informal audit of their overheads and realizing that if staff are equally as productive working from home as they are in the office, why spend money on office space, insurance, or various other location-related overheads?
Likewise, staff may well have mixed feelings about returning to a place of work.
There are the obvious risks – risks that at the moment we are all trying to manage without any definitive answers as to the level of risk we face – as well as the usual daily risks that many have gotten comfortable avoiding, such as getting into the car or on public transportation.
Given this, it’s highly likely that a large percentage of people will remain at home or will be working from home some or most of the time, certainly in the near term. The ‘new normal’ will be far more distributed, as will the risk.
Challenge #3: Setbacks
As many experts predicted, when states attempted to reopen their economies, we unfortunately saw a significant spike in Covid-19 infections. Most businesses and government officials reversed course, shutting down and returning to work from home arrangements.
The truth is that organizations need to be prepared for setbacks like these. We need to be able to switch back to remote working after we’ve got employees settled back into an office working environment.
This obviously complicates matters further, but we need to start figuring this out now as best we can.
To Go Back or Not?
We need to decide if we want to bring staff back in the first place. And if we do, can we do that and then easily set them up from home again should we need to?
In reality, we likely have to accept that a hybrid model that can easily switch between both scenarios is the way forward.
No Magic Switch
While most understand that there is no magic switch that we can flip to have everything return to the way it was before, most of us are, understandably, keen to get back to some sense of normality and routine.
That normality and routine, however, are going to be very different to what we knew before the Covid-19 pandemic began – we have no choice but to accept that we have to address challenges that simply did not exist in our businesses four months ago.