Remember, the impossible has become possible with COVID. The pandemic has forced people to become resourceful, find ways to get things done without additional resources and solve problems they’ve never seen before.

(Originally published in July 2020)

It has been about 10 weeks since we last shared how LLR’s portfolio companies are thinking about challenges like reopening offices, retaining customers, and managing sales pipelines. Our CEOs regrouped in late June 2020 to discuss these topics and continue to collaborate as they navigate this unique business environment.

Here are some highlights of how their return-to-office plans are coming to life and new questions raised.

In our next GrowthBit, we’ll share what’s working at this stage to keep employees engaged and, in particular, to keep sales teams motivated to sell.

Survey Says…

Most companies are using surveys to understand how employees feel about returning to the office. We heard data as high as 80-85% of employees say they prefer to continue to work from home (WFH), either for the time being or permanently. Some companies that already had WFH policies pre-COVID are extending them to include additional days per week or fully WFH arrangements, with manager approval.

Rolling Return to the Office: Who First?

Select corporate offices began to open in June where state and local guidelines allowed, but in each case only a small number of people were brought back over time. Others are planning for August or early Fall, and a few are holding off until 2021 or a vaccine is in place. When it comes to who returns to the office first, considerations range to include:

  • Reopening on a voluntary basis through year-end with capacity limits.
  • Requiring employees to use a calendaring tool to sign up for days on a first-come first-served basis.
  • Determining which functions or departments are most critical to have working in the office.
  • Allowing one person per department to return first, then add more on a rolling basis.
  • Asking individuals whose performance is struggling at home to return first.
  • Transforming to a remote-first workplace, where offices shift to a hoteling model or become a smaller space for employees to get together or escape home for a quiet place to work, as needed.
  • Terminating all office leases and going 100% virtual.

Addressing questions about readjustment to the new normal in-office, one company had about 90% of its staff back in the office by late June and reported that it only took about a week for everyone to get used to the changes and operate like business as usual.

The Realities of Temperature Monitoring

In addition to enabling six feet between workstations, putting up dividers and floor markers, requiring masks and other common steps, temperature checks are a key part of many office reopening plans. However, this new undertaking raises several considerations, including:

  • Giving employees thermometers, hosting temperature checks upon arrival to the office, and in larger, essential facilities installing thermal cameras at entrances. For some, it raises the question of how to ask internal staff to perform temperature checks, a task no one ever anticipated to be part of their job responsibilities.
  • Leveraging health screening apps for employees such as COVID-19 Compliance Coach for daily self-assessments and guidance on whether to come into the office, compliance training and tracking. With self-assessments, an important question arises: Before COVID, it was common for companies to tell people not to come in when sick, but many did it anyway. Will that behavior change now? Will every employee take their temperatures at home each day and act responsibility?
  • Piloting contact tracing to measure how often workers in a larger facility are in contact with others and plan for a notification procedure should anyone be exposed to COVID.

New Ways to Use (or Not Use) Office Space

Several companies have already, or are exploring, reducing their footprint or terminating certain office lease agreements altogether. In urban areas, where commutes are often long or require public transport, employees at multiple companies said they were very satisfied with a permanent or extended WFH arrangement.

While the pandemic is opening mindsets and access to better talent by hiring more remote workers, onboarding them in a remote environment is of particular concern. Some physical spaces are being kept intact for this purpose, especially by the companies who expect significant hiring in the near future.

One area of concern that companies are still working on is how to maintain a culture of innovation and collaboration when offices were designed with open workspaces, huddle rooms, and common areas for scrums, standups, and meetings. How do they best maintain that innovative spirit, level of collaboration, and ability to make transformational product or strategy changes with some employees in office (but at a distance), and some at home?

Here’s the Bottom Line.

Our CEOs stressed remembering that the impossible has become possible with COVID. The pandemic forced people to become resourceful, finding ways to get things done without any additional resources and solve problems they’ve never seen before. Telemedicine, for example, has taken a massive leap out of necessity, as many of our companies are experiencing. Week to week, we continue to hear new questions but also new solutions, as companies work through this most unique of times.