This content is part of the Essential Guide: Workforce strategy and planning in times of crisis

HR technology platforms advance return-to-office plans

ServiceNow's Kevin Nanney discusses the tools and technologies businesses are implementing to ensure worker safety, boost employee engagement and consolidate digital workflows.

Return-to-office plans are gradually taking shape due to HR technology platforms that support safety protocols and worker productivity, as well as the historically expeditious approval and ongoing distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. C-suite executives and department managers are revamping business models that reflect a hybrid workforce -- ensuring the safe return of employees to the office, while a large majority of employees continue to work from home.

According to a Forrester Research 2020 U.S. PandemicEX survey, 30% of U.S. workers said their job can't be done remotely, and 44% of employees working from home "can't wait to get back to the office" post-pandemic. "The bottom line is [companies are] looking to reopen their office in some way or fashion," said Kevin Nanney, senior director of product management at ServiceNow, during an interview by TechTarget's Jamison Cush. "I think people are going to do a trial and error ... to see what the future of their workplace is going to look like."

To ensure a safe return to the office, businesses are implementing HR technology platforms like cloud-based AI, analytics, collaboration, automation and sensor technologies that monitor employee health, measure behavior, track personal protective equipment inventories, schedule employee shifts, reconfigure workplaces, manage facilities and keep employees informed, engaged and productive.

Above all, openly communicating with the workforce, keeping them informed about safety protocols and reassuring their overall comfort level as they return to the office "is key to ... relieving the anxiety of employees going back to the workplace," Nanney explained. "How are we going to engage with our employees, and what systems do we have in place and what systems do we need to use to engage with the employees for the interaction with that return to the workplace experience? There's got to be a lot more employee engagement going forward when it comes to any type of system that is dealing with running a department, running a business or running something within the realm of that business."

In this video, Nanney and Cush discuss the tools and technologies businesses are implementing to bolster return-to-office plans, ensure employee health and safety, consolidate digital workflows, maintain business continuity and agility, and increase workforce productivity in collaborative hybrid office environments.

Jamison Cush 00:07

As we look to offices reopening, what do you think that's going to look like? I mean, are we going to see some companies go remote? Only? Are we going to see a hybrid approach? Or do you think we're going to have back to normal offices? Everybody back inside?

Kevin Nanney 00:20

And so that's kind of the million-dollar question is, companies are trying to figure this out themselves right now. And we're seeing a lot of different directions being followed, depending on industry, or the type of work that people are doing. Obviously, as we're talking to healthcare companies, there's a lot more conversation about how do we safely bring nonessential people back to the office; they're thinking as people are coming back, we're talking to tech companies, and they're like, now we're going with this hybrid, fluid environment. Some people will come back, some won't come back; we're going to look at how to mix up those different shifts of people that are coming back. It really just depends on who you're talking to, as far as what the sentiment on bringing people back to work is. I mean, the bottom line is everyone is looking to reopen their office in some way or fashion and whatever that may look like. What the mix of people back in the office will look like, I think people are going to do a trial and error or a learning experience there to see what the future of their workplace is going to look like.

Jamison Cush 01:31

So that has to have an impact on enterprise technologies like ERP systems and HR systems. How are companies dealing with this sort of shift or this unknown, in terms of those technologies?

Kevin Nanney 01:45

Yeah, if you look at the technologies that companies are using today to run their business, that part's not really going to change. They're still going to need to run their business; the differences will be it's really that employee engagement letter. How are we going to engage with our employees? And what systems do we have in place and what systems do we need to use to engage with the employees for the interaction with that return to the workplace experience? That can range from greater employee communication, that can range from employee interaction with the workplace itself, that can range from workplace teams and how they manage and look at real estate going forward. All of those systems will interact back and forth with back-end systems, ERP systems and HRIS. So, there's got to be a lot more employee engagement going forward, when it comes to any type of system that is dealing with running a department, running a business or running something within the realm of that business.

Jamison Cush 02:55

I think one of the things you also mentioned was safety, or we talked about earlier with safety. And now I'm just thinking in terms of employee safety. What kind of components go into a new modern office, employee safety strategy?

Kevin Nanney 03:10

And again, I see companies wanting to lean in on overcommunication, and it's the best strategy. Overcommunicate, put in different safety measurements, procedures, whether it's a health attestation, a health check -- getting the employee sentiment on whether they're ready to return to work. You can really look at it from the workforce and the workplace. How can I engage with my workforce to really see what that appetite to come back to work is? Is that going to be a choice for the employer or not? And then the workplace itself -- how can I do things like temperature checks at the front? Can I have the right amount of personal and private inventory for face masks or whatever it might be for coming back to work? Can I put things in place to ensure physical distance within the workplace? Do we need to shut down certain sections? Do we need to change the configuration of the building to ensure that we're only using a certain capacity of our real estate to ensure the safety of our employees? And then the key to all this is making sure the employees know that all of this has taken place for everyone that is potentially going to be at that office, so that there's this sentiment of relieving the anxiety of going back to the workplace during this time.

Jamison Cush 04:36

That sounds like an overwhelming amount of responsibility. So, what sort of tools are we looking at that are going to help enterprises manage this?

Kevin Nanney 04:44

It does sound overwhelming, but breaking it up into buckets and really putting a plan down [is important]. For example, I even talked to my VP of real estate and he's really great, and he says this is our back-to-work plan. These are the things that we're putting in place. He's using the platform to really look at how do I communicate with employees? How do I get that sentiment? And then how do we start to bring people back to work? Engage with that employee, let them sign up; we're going to a hybrid work environment, what does that work environment look like? So, we're using a single platform to do all of this. And it makes it easier when everything is on that single platform, because you can tie all of these things together. If there is a safety protocol that we need to take action on, or that he needs to take action on -- whether it's contact tracing or whatnot -- we have everything recorded, we have everything in place to jump into action with what that protocol will be and how to manage it.

Jamison Cush 05:56

You know, one thing in particular that I was interested in diving into, because it's in the news, is our vaccines and vaccine status tracing? Is that something that companies have? Are there tools, are there processes in place for managing that?

Kevin Nanney 06:09

Vaccine management and vaccine status. There are a couple ways to look at that. We're out there helping local governments and states distribute vaccines, so there's that aspect of it. But when you're looking at corporate facilities and companies, and how to manage even the status, is someone vaccinated? Or, I just read this great article that says, 'Can a company require you to be vaccinated to come back to work?' There's all these different issues around the vaccine. And how to manage that -- and I really don't have an opinion on whether companies can enforce that -- but at least tracking the status, so that we know which employees are vaccinated. And it really plays into that contact tracing story, who should be most concerned about someone's reported sick, and having an idea of the effect of what that's going to be is where that really comes into play.

Jamison Cush 07:11

So, just to bring it all together? Let's go ahead, go to 5,000 feet, how do you think the office is going to change post-pandemic? Let's say you're talking to someone at a party, this is what you're going to tell them.

Kevin Nanney 07:22

I think the main, the biggest change for offices going forward is going to be the utilization of real estate. In the past, for example, you might have set offices, people come in, they've got their cube, they've got their office, they know that this conference room seats eight people -- and we utilize this space, as best we could to maximize the usage of that real estate with the number of people that we know are coming in and out of the office. All that's going to change. And again, it goes back to the way the company is going to approach this return to the office scenario. I see a lot of shifts; the main shift you're going to see is how do we enable a hybrid office environment. And some people are going to continue to work from home, but they're still going to come in. And sometimes -- whether it's a collaborative situation or they're going to come in three days a week, four days a week, two days a week, whatever that may look like -- the office is going to change. You might not have an assigned desk anymore. There might be more of a neighborhood of a desk or a neighborhood situation, where people just come in to collaborate. So, departments can come in and use these different neighborhoods or the certain desks are only assigned for certain situations. Conference rooms, they used to see 12 people; now that 12-person room is going to be used for six people. So, do we need more conference rooms or do we need [fewer] conference rooms? Do we rearrange the office for this neighborhood concept, instead of having assigned desks? It's just how do you manage the hybrid workforce coming back to work in that hybrid fashion? That's going to be the biggest change to the workplace.

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