A Message to Decision Makers about the Return To Work

Any decision-makers considering the costs of a return to work must also weigh them against an investment in keeping staff at home until there is a vaccination, economic recovery, or greater long term clarity.

Current commentary about the return to the office workplace include visions of reconfigured and tripled floor space, perspex cubicles and sneeze screens, 3 hourly cleaning, staggered work times, hallway monitors and contactless touchpoints installed at doorways, toilets, sinks, printers and anywhere else necessary.

However, any decision-makers who are considering the costs of these measures must also weigh them against an investment in keeping staff at home until a vaccination, economic recovery, or greater long term clarity.

The best decision-makers are already considering the alternative choice. This choice means that to make long term remote working successful for the majority of staff , businesses need to investment in technology, managed remote working, management training, cultural education, home office ergonomics and other tools and processes to support employees and management.

There are incredibly high capital costs to huge expansions of floor space, floor reconfiguration, team relocation, specialist furniture, specialist advisory services, private contact tracing and capacity management technology, as well as additional labour costs of cleaning, security, and service staff.

All at a time when every business can least afford it.

Missing from much the current commentary about return to work is the option to make a pragmatic and level headed decision to delay widespread changes to office environments and instead, simply keep staff who can work from home, at home.

If a vaccine eventuates in the next 12-18 months, the majority of Australians will likely be quite happy to return to the old office environment (with a few modifications and more entitlement to structured work from home). People will have confidence in Australia’s ability to move faster ‘next time’, and keep any pathogen from entering our shores. They are very unlikely to require their workspaces to be permanently ‘virus-safe’. There is little justification therefore in the cost and management labour of making widespread changes for a relatively short period.

In the unhappy event that no vaccine is found, those companies still left standing in 12-24 months can then assess the best way forward. At that point, and in such an event, the implementation of ‘virus-safe’ workplaces may be less expensive, more will be known about the risks and best forms of mitigation, and other options may become apparent, such as a managed flexible workforce and less costly space outside of the CBD.

There is considerable pressure from policymakers to ‘get people back to work’. It is in the interests of mini-economic-ecosystems, such as CBD coffee shops, bars and restaurants, to get office workers back to the office, spending money to keep other businesses afloat.

However, the best decision-makers will not get swept up with the tide or with a sense of community obligation, and will instead make the best decisions for their individual organisation.

Like this article?

Share on facebook
Share on Facebook
Share on twitter
Share on Twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on Linkdin
Share on pinterest
Share on Pinterest