Planning the return to the office
Before the pandemic, many organizations had strict remote work policies that limited the number of remote days per week and defined on which days it was preferable to work remotely. Now, as we have been forced to work from home for more than a year, the tables have turned. Employees seem to have a much greater influence on remote work practices as organizations are inquiring about their willingness to return to the office. In a Finnish growth company, with offices both in Finland and San Francisco, 95% of employees want to return to the office once it is allowed. However, they would prefer to work at the office only for 1-3 days per week. These changes in employees’ preferences, changes in work practices during the pandemic as well as safety issues pose new requirements for spatial solutions that need to be considered when planning the return to the office. For example, in the aforementioned company, a number of employees based in the US have moved to work in a different part of the continent during the pandemic and would prefer to stay there once return to the office is allowed. Therefore, the company is considering establishing satellite offices in different parts of the country to enable those individuals to return to office settings without the need to move back to San Francisco. While the future office is considered primarily as a meeting place, the company is also ideating ways in which individual working at the office would be attractive despite the lack of personal workstations. They are, for example, considering a café like setting in the company premises for convenient hot-spotting and ideating solutions for making the storing and transferring of personal belongings at the office as easy as possible. While the problems related to information flows cannot be completely tackled, at least with existing technology, the company is planning to set up a constant video connection to coffee rooms to enable spontaneous encounters between those who are at the office and those who are working remotely. Also, safety measures need to be considered when planning for the return. In the US, mandatory proofs of vaccination are considered for those who wish to work at the office, and even monitoring of employees’ body temperature has been discussed as an option for ensuring safety. In the Finnish context, these measures sound quite extreme and impossible from a judicial perspective. Here, the primary safety measures are limiting the number of employees at the office, ensuring air purity through efficient ventilation, and relying on the individual judgement in terms of deciding whether it is better to stay at home.