COVID-19 was hugely disruptive to the world of work, particularly for office workers that had to rapidly shift to working remotely. And as restrictions begin to ease, companies are now putting plans in place for their ‘hybrid' workplace strategies - where collaboration, cloud-based, and digital technologies are going to be key to making ‘the best of both worlds' a success.
One topic that has come to the fore as COVID-19 has evolved is that of ‘officeware'. How do people co-ordinate all those great COVID-19 taskforces, manage all aspects of leaving the physical office and now start to get people back in?
What tools are there, besides the inevitable Excel, for managing all the complexity of office management at the ground level, for things such as: new health protocols, testing/vaccinating, logistics, introducing new technologies and looking after all the real estate?
American Canadian entertainment company Lionsgate had its own approach to adapting to this new hybrid world. Lionsgate is famous for being the home of such movies as Dirty Dancing and the Rambo series, as well as prestige TV like Mad Men - and is a business that up until now has only ever been conducted in person.
The firm used enterprise workplace visitor management software platform, Envoy. Envoy is a system that normally just offers solutions to allow managers lto securely sign-in guests, manage deliveries, and organize meeting room bookings, but adapting during 2020 to do a whole lot more. Somaini told us that Lionsgate is using the platform to support everything from leading and monitoring various company COVID-19 ‘task forces', as well as managing all aspects of return to office efforts, including health protocols, testing/vaccinating, managing office logistics, and the introduction of relevant new technologies and real estate.
Heather Somaini, Chief Administrative Officer at the Santa Monica-headquartered firm, says Envoy was originally installed as a visitor intake technology as Somaini wanted to change how the company's reception worked. She says:
We wanted to kind of streamline the receptionist process, who was not only answering the phone but also talking to people coming in and then calling people upstairs to say, so and so is here for you, come down and get him…that sort of thing.
Instead, this allowed the visitor to put their name in on an iPad at the reception desk, select who they're there to see, and then that person would automatically get an email and a text message, and so on.
That worked well, and since then more functionality has gradually been added, such as the vendors' deliveries option, she states. But that was all to change. Somaini says:
When COVID hit, we really started digging into it saying, how can Envoy help protect us from anybody coming into the building who may be sick? We needed to solve the problem of how we safely bring employees into the office to be together but also for us to always know where they are, where we need to clean and sanitize their space after they've been there - all those kinds of things.
Luckily, the reception end of the system already prompted visitors basic security questions, so Lionsgate quickly added in COVID-specific questions everyone had to answer to gate-keep who could get into the building. For instance, at the very start of the pandemic, asking if they had been to Italy recently.
And these questions had to keep being asked, and adjusted, as the company never fully shut down. She adds:
We've had anywhere from, at the very low end, 25 people, to at the high-end of more like 80 here - because we're a public company: we have books we have to close every quarter.
And that meant a certain element of home-brew contact tracing too, it turns out:
We did have people with cases of COVID-19, but we could go back and we could look to see if they were in the office in the last two weeks, or even further back, and where they were because we had identified where everybody was in the building.
So if somebody was on the fifth floor, we could say, oh, Derek was there - we now know she had COVID, and Janine was also on that same floor. We should check with Phil to say: ‘Hey, you could have been exposed; it's very unlikely, but you may want to just get a COVID test just to make sure.
Managing the future
Envoy has certainly helped this company negotiate all the uncertainties of a pandemic. However, there needs to be a seamless transition between all this and moving to a hybrid work plan that will embrace distributed work, technology and a changing workplace culture. Somaini says that while she will definitely be using this software to get there, a lot of questions for her company, and indeed many others, remain in need of answering. She says:
When some people are at home, they sort of lose out on the face-to-face stuff, and so could fall behind in their careers. And generally, the people who want to be home are women, because they are taking care of a lot more than just their job, so we have to monitor that as we don't want an unequal playing field for folks in the company.
But I think over time, what we're going to find is teams are going to settle. Some are going to be a little bit different from others, some are very sales-driven, pitch-driven, some are financial people with their heads down crunching numbers, we have lawyers who are looking at documents all the time… do they all need to be in the office a lot? Maybe not: maybe some teams only need to come in once a week for a half-day for meetings, and then they get to go back home and do their crunchy work.
After that process of determining who's a hybrid, who's working from home, who's in the office every day, we're going to have a much more cohesive group of people that can work better together.