E-Handbook: Return-to-office plans stress safety, security, collaboration Article 1 of 4

Striking a new balance between office and remote workspaces

As the economy and businesses gradually recover from the full brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, C-suite executives and department managers are confronting the increasingly complex task of juggling the return of employees to a reshaped office environment and the coordination of a much larger remote workforce.

Nearly three-fourths of executives holding senior technology positions at companies across various sectors said that at least 50% of their employees are currently working remotely, according to a CNBC Technology Executive Council Q2 2020 survey. But that dynamic is expected to change in the next several weeks, as 52% of the respondents indicated that less than half of their workers will be remote by Sept. 1.

Time will tell. Return-to-office expectations for employees will be influenced by several factors beyond a company's control. Those expectations could heighten due to a viable COVID-19 vaccine, the need to socialize with coworkers or the desire for a structured office routine -- or plummet because of a second wave, childcare needs or staggered school openings.

One thing's for certain, however. It's not business as usual for companies in the process of reopening, reconfiguring and reinventing their office workspaces. Social distancing, temperature readings, facemasks, contact tracing and other safety measures are part of the daily office regimen for the foreseeable future. And these protocols can create concerns about productivity in the office.

Ironically, worker productivity in remote environments, once considered a negative, hasn't suffered during the pandemic and, in many cases, improved -- a development that could also influence return-to-office plans. Nearly half of technology executives in the CNBC survey said remote workplace productivity was higher, while 40% reported it was about the same, and only 10% saw a decline. Employees saving commuting time and putting in longer workdays from home are contributing factors to higher productivity, but the key enablers are advanced technologies like AI, the cloud, collaborative software and virtualization.

This handbook provides business leaders with critical guidelines to bolster their employee return-to-office plans; examines workflow, safety and security issues; reports on the role of analytics in managing the workspace; and explores a new balance between office and remote environments.