If We Return To The Office, Companies Need To Consider More Than Temperature Checks

Despite many states' efforts to resume pre-pandemic life as soon as possible, an alarming surge in coronavirus cases continues to derail original plans for reopening. At the end of August, the country reached a grim milestone with almost 6 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 and over 180,000 deaths as a result. San Francisco paused reopening progress in response to climbing numbers, while Atlanta moved back an entire phase to rethink its strategy. With this return to a "normal" in disarray, the country's remote workforce is no longer left wondering when they'll return to the office but if they will — and more importantly, how.
Prolonging the return to the office, tech giants like Google have extended remote work policies to 2021, letting employees plan ahead for housing and child care. Others, like Apple, set the tone for office reentry, requiring temperature checks, offering Covid-19 testing and limiting elevator capacity for employees required on-site.
If this sounds unnerving, perhaps that's because many of us are focusing on the immediate restrictions and precautions geared toward keeping employees safe, rather than the big picture. While it's true that the way we work will never be the same, we can find comfort in understanding that the pandemic is not the source of this change, but rather a catalyst — we were already trending toward a new type of workplace.
The future of work was always going to evolve to meet the growing popularity of remote work and societal obstacles that demand a more flexible workforce, like the rising cost of living in major cities or recruiting and retaining qualified, diverse staff. Companies should treat it as such: planning long-term for a future workforce in a post-pandemic world. As the recent surge in coronavirus cases proves, we need to look further than reactive measures like temperature checks.

Benefits will be customizable, and hours will be flexible.

In a dynamic work environment, benefits will no longer be one-size-fits-all; they will function as a cafeteria-style program where employees can choose what fits their specific needs, like mental health, dental, fertility treatments and fitness. Typical 9-to-5 work hours will become more flexible, accommodating the time constraints of working parents and various time zones, and allowing employees to work within the schedules that make them most productive. This includes freeing up time to get involved with a company's social impact arm, exercise the right to free speech, volunteering and giving back to the local community.

Offices will be experiential, powered by the latest technology.

The workforce will be a hybrid of those who work on-site and those who work remotely, and offices will adapt. In the short term, this might mean social distancing with more space between desks and designated solo-rooms. Down the road, these changes will pave the way for the introduction of "experiential offices," which would function much like an Apple Store does today: a larger number of smaller offices in various locations around the world, so customers, partners and employees can fully immerse themselves in the company culture, receive product demos, meet with people and work from the lounge when they need to.
This also enables companies to hire talent from anywhere, removing the physical restraints of regional offices and diversifying the talent pool. And as companies follow talent, there may be a push toward more suburban offices in addition to urban ones.
Whether you're brainstorming in a cafe or around the communal fireplace, dynamic work will create an office space powered by the latest technology that can be upgraded easily, allowing for quick and seamless collaboration across internal employees and guests. And the cross-industry digital transformation we've seen organizations embrace in the face of Covid-19 makes hybrid collaboration more possible than ever before.

Dynamic work is already working — here's why.

Over the last year, our team at Okta piloted dynamic work in a number of offices across a number of teams globally. We gleaned key learnings and have adjusted our program accordingly: designing various workstation layouts for each office, making electricity and data available in every area, installing digital whiteboards, providing smart lockers for personal belongings and dedicating areas to teams rather than desks to individuals. It will take time for companies to get things right and the needs will be different in each location, but this framework will be a critical component in the workplace of today, tomorrow and beyond.
It's unclear how businesses will weather this pandemic, and there's fear in that unknown. But what is certain is that the way we experience the workplace will change. Yes, we will move away from traditional, dense open work plans in traditional office spaces; yes, more of us will work remotely; yes, the methods and tools we use to communicate will look different than those we used before. 
What won't change is the value of community, flexibility, collaboration and inclusion. If we bring those values with us and create environments that cultivate them, the future of work won't be unnerving; it will be inviting.

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