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.


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 pulled back.

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.


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.


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 organization.

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.


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 physically there.

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.


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


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 customer-first culture.