The Path Forward Out of the Pandemic
Published: Jun 24, 2021
By: David Cocchiara
While this shift was a challenge that few anticipated and no one
wanted, it’s one that companies of every size must address
as the world transitions to a new workplace paradigm. Never
has it been more apparent how important people are to an
organization’s success. As we exit the current situation, we need
to remember that people are the key.
To be successful, organizations must build employee trust,
focus on employee mental health, and measure the value of
employees’ outcomes rather than time spent working. Even
before the pandemic, employees were gaining more control
over how, when, and where they work.
The pandemic only brought into sharp focus how the world is
evolving. Teams working remotely can achieve great results,
but they may miss an opportunity to add value if they are not
in physical proximity. We must have valuable and rewarding
human interaction no matter how we work—whether it’s
in-person, remote, or a hybrid of the two.
A NEW WORKPLACE PARADIGM
I started my current role during the first quarter of the
pandemic. Since then, I have focused on the value of the
workplace, looking at it from a human perspective.
Moving forward, we cannot assess a space based solely
on its physical components—the desks, conference
rooms, and collaboration spaces. We must recognize
that team members, whether they work onsite or
remotely, need human interaction, and determine how
to deliver it.
We will get back to a place where people engage with one
another again, but it’s going to look different.
In the past, many people were required to be in the office
from 9 to 5—or longer—regardless of whether they actually
needed to be there to get their “job” done. Flexible and
even fully remote workers were not uncommon before the pandemic, but the past year has taught nearly every
company that employees can get their jobs done whenever
and wherever they may be.
Some companies may see value in requiring the traditional
9-to-5, in-office environment, but most will realize the value
in remaining flexible and giving employees more autonomy
in arranging their schedules. It can give them a competitive
advantage in the increasingly challenging hiring environment
of today. Essentially, companies will have a hard time saying
“We can’t work that way,” because they have already proven
that they can.
As COVID continues and some businesses reopen or
consider their reopening plans, many realize that their
employees aren’t ready to rush back. Many places have
“falsely” reopened, only to find out that their employees
The new paradigm we’ve seen as companies have
engaged with us at OfficeSpace Software includes a
focus on safety and compliance. We’ve also noticed
that employees are beginning to view going to the office
as a “destination,” a place to get specific things
accomplished, so the newly offered flexibility from
companies will lead employees to find new ways to
engage with their space.
MANY EMPLOYEES WANT TO RETURN
TO THE OFFICE
There are employees who want to return to the office,
but not to an office that is exactly as it was pre-pandemic.
Companies need to address many baseline safety protocols
before they consider reopening.
We commissioned The Harris Poll to conduct a nationwide
online survey of 1,200 employed adults in December 2020. It
revealed that an overwhelming majority (71%) of employed
Americans who went into the workplace before the
pandemic but were working from home are eager to return
to the workplace.
However, they would only do so if the return could be done
safely. For many organizations, that might be a big “if.”
Think about it for a moment. If you’re going to come into an
office, how do we make sure you can enter while touching as
few surfaces as possible and eliminating unnecessary personal
interactions? How do we confirm someone hasn’t tested positive
for COVID-19, hasn’t interacted with someone who has, and
isn’t exhibiting any symptoms? Are there separate protocols for
vaccinated versus unvaccinated employees?
Companies must engage with employees and understand
their perceptions about the virus and workplace safety as they pilot their returns to the office. It’s critical to recognize
that the landscape may remain fluid depending on a wide
array of variables, such as COVID variants and, as a worstcase
scenario, infected employees.
Globally, the landscape is slightly different, as some countries
have returned to different levels of acceptable capacity. We
are learning from those experiences and sharing information
about what works and what doesn’t work.
COMPANIES WITH TRUST AND EMPLOYEES
WHO WANT TO GO BACK
Organizations need to accept that we will not go back to
the way things used to be. While I personally go into our
Atlanta office a few days a week now, our employees are not
required to work from there. They can come in if they feel
comfortable doing so, but we’ve made our policy clear.
Companies that took quick action during the early stages
of the pandemic to transition to remote work, including
communication campaigns to engage employees and keep
them informed, with a focus on mental health, are the
most successful ones. In short, their employees trust the
Many companies say they will be shifting to more remote
work and measuring outcomes versus time, but some team
members are not as keen or comfortable with that approach.
We need to remember that time is not the measurement of
value—it’s merely a more traditional way to measure outcomes.
Consider that new entrants to a company’s workforce likely
do not understand the company culture, and if they start
remotely, they will miss out on opportunities to learn about
engagement and conflict resolution. In turn, managers must
weigh how to consider physical safety and mental health as
they ponder how to develop a dynamic and remote workforce.
GIVING MORE AUTHORITY, CONTROL
We are all going to figure out many things together over the
next 12 to 18 months. I hope the power of engagement in the
workforce will shift from the direct-line managers to the
employees, and managers will be hyper-considerate in
the way interactions transpire for people who aren’t
But many questions remain. For example, how is the
experience for people who aren’t in the room? What happens
when people have a lunchtime meeting, and all you can
hear on the team call is people eating their lunch? These
questions existed before the pandemic, but with everyone
working remotely during the past year, we were all exposed
to the nuances of calls with a hybrid audience.
When it comes to software, we will see the consolidation of
tools specific to the workplace: booking a room, scheduling catering, and determining where someone might sit—
whether assigned to a desk in a specific area or booking
a desk as needed. Some of our customers book visitors,
pay for parking, and confirm food options in a single app.
Perhaps we should take that a step further and integrate
the app with badge access. For example, doors could unlock
as I approach so that my interaction with the space is much
more efficient. That small adjustment can help employees
be much more engaged.
In short, companies must make the most efficient use of
space for both employers and employees.
LOOK OUT FOR YOURSELF, BUT MAKE SURE
EVERYONE IS SAFE
Generally, success comes down to the trust factor. If you’ve
established trust and can illustrate the safety benefits of any
approach or process, teams will be supportive.
Younger workers are increasingly in the driver’s seat, and
they have an affinity for deploying technology that makes
their lives easier and experiences better—whether it’s in their
personal lives or in the office.
Even before the pandemic, employees were trending in
this direction. The pandemic only forced our collective
hands to act quicker and more decisively. Despite the
positive news surrounding the vaccine, much uncertainty
remains around safely returning to the workplace. While
businesses and employees alike are ready to return to
the office, the common thread we see is that most will
not until there are transparent safety measures in place.
Hand sanitizer, masks, and social distancing are a fine
start, but organizations must also consider other solutions,
such as active floor plans with traffic flows and posted
occupancy levels for conference rooms, breakrooms,
and so forth.
Companies must embrace technology to engage with their
employees as they prepare for the new dynamic workplace.
When they do, they will find happier and more engaged
employees who feel safe and comfortable in the workplace.
And when that happens, everyone benefits.
It’s a shame that it takes a once-in-a-generation pandemic
to force organizations to act in a way that benefits everyone.
But perhaps we can consider this the silver lining of the dark
cloud that’s hung over our heads for the past year and learn
from this experience as we move forward. AQ
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Cocchiara is CEO of OfficeSpace Software, the creator of better
workplaces helping companies navigate workplace disruptions and
manage workspace dynamics. He was previously the chief operating
officer and chief financial officer of Lancope, a network security software
company, where he built the finance and operational functions and a