How Companies Are Transitioning Back Into the Workplace
Deserted desks concealing long-expired snacks gather cobwebs; ping pong paddles decorated with dust wait for procrastinating hands; a vending machine hums its refrigerated serenade for no one. It’s been a long time since most of us have experienced the creature comforts of the office.
More than 48% of Americans have already been fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, and all around the U.S. pandemic restrictions have begun loosening at a rapid rate. What does that mean for companies aiming to get their employees back into the workplace after a year away?
The first — and most complex — hurdle has been determining whether returning to the office will be mandatory or voluntary for team members. According to a study by Microsoft, more than 40% of the global workforce said they would be willing to leave their current position after a failed negotiation in continuing remote work. It has become increasingly apparent that many roles can be handled as productively from a remote setting as they can from the office.
Gathering employee opinions through surveys has also proven to be an important step in the formation of a company’s return-to-work plan. By comparing employee preferences against the demand of business productivity and client needs, organizations have been able to address concerns more effectively and create new guidelines adapted to this new method of hybrid working.
At local AI company Hyperscience, for example, providing employees with workplace flexibility and office space safety protocols are top priorities for a variety of reasons. Read on to hear more about how the company is moving forward and why they decided to triple their NYC office space footprint.
Tell us about your current plans for returning to the office.
In the U.S., employees currently have the option to work from our New York office. It’s been operating on an opt-in basis at 50 percent capacity since June 7 with several policies and protocols in place to ensure the safety of all our employees.
Our global future of work strategy kicks off on Oct. 1, and employees will have the option to primarily work from the office, primarily work from home or a combination of both, which we’re calling our flexible office option. Depending on business needs and role requirements, some employees may be required to work from the office or at a specific location.
We also recently announced that Hyperscience is moving to the 88th floor of One World Trade Center — tripling our current office space — to optimize our in-office gathering and collaboration as we continue to hire and grow. It’s the highest available office space in the western hemisphere!
What were the most important steps you took to develop this plan?
We considered the needs of both our business and our employees. We surveyed employees about their preferences for the future of work and found that the majority wanted flexible options first and foremost. Looking at the marketplace, we recognized that providing flexibility in our approach would enable us to attract and retain top talent globally. At the same time, we wanted to maintain office space — and actually grow our physical presence — in New York City to service customers, collaborate and work effectively.
Finally, we worked closely with Sequoia, our HR provider, and their Return to Work Center to create and implement policies and procedures to ensure the safety of our employees returning to the office. During the opt-in period, this includes uploading proof of vaccine, making reservations to use the office, booking a socially-distanced desk in advance, answering self-screening questions, using a QR code to gain access to the space, implementing nightly cleanings and more.
We are creating guides for how we will work together effectively in a hybrid environment, rooted in our core values.”
Obviously, there are still a lot of unknowns around when it will be safe to return to the office at full capacity. How are you adapting to and preparing for these unknowns?
As a company, we care deeply about our employees’ well-being and want to ensure that everyone feels safe and supported as we navigate the future of work. That is why our approach to where and how we work will focus on flexibility, connection and enabling our global workforce.
To prepare for the future, we are creating guides and norms for how we will work together effectively in a hybrid environment, rooted in our culture and core values. We will also continue to track and follow all local and CDC guidance and safety protocols. This plan is just a starting point. We will respond agilely to business and employee needs and unknowns, and we will continue to communicate with employees every step of the way.