The ‘new norm’: returning to office life in a post COVID-19 world

As office workers return to the office, staggered working hours and continued flexible working practices will become the ‘new norm’ to avoid mass crowding on public transport and in office buildings …


The coronavirus pandemic has had a monumental impact on every grain of our day-to-day life. People have adapted by working from home, shopping online and socialising virtually, whether by Zoom conversations or Facebook rooms. But as cities start to wind back lock down restrictions and get back to a new state of ‘normal’, one of the biggest challenges the human population faces is simply getting back to work.

In many major cities globally, overcrowding during the peak hour commute is a way of life. Whilst most best known in Japan, numerous cities engage ‘pushers’ to pack commuters into rush-hour trains, which run well above their designed capacity. And upon successfully reaching the office – often bedraggled and covered in sweat due to the lack of personal space – these same commuters stand shoulder to shoulder with colleagues in the lobbies of forty-storey skyscrapers, commuting in an even more confined space (an elevator) to reach their desk – likely one of hundreds on a single floor. This scenario can no longer play out in a post COVID-19 world.

The solution, it seems, is varied. A staggered approach to returning to the office seems a preferred solution by many larger companies. Google will begin a phased reopening of offices in June with an anticipated 10-15% of employees allowed in any one location at the outset. It expects the first employees to return will be those whose jobs have more obvious need to require them in the office, such as needing access to special equipment. Creating employee ‘waves’ based on priority is another strategy for staggering returns – either prioritising on a department basis or by individuals.


This gradual return is supported by transportation solutions initially rolled out in Sydney, Australia, where passenger limits have been implemented on buses (12) and trains (32 per carriage) and alternate seats marked ‘off-limits’ for social distancing reasons. And whilst large backlogs of passengers have not yet been seen, as the number of commuters returning to work rise it can only be a matter of time before bottlenecks occur across the city during peak hours – either through queues for public transport or by a flooding of cars onto the road.

With a recent survey by real estate consultancy Cushman & Wakefield showing 89% of surveyed companies believed remote working would continue beyond the pandemic, it seems the days of towering skyscrapers may be gone. One alternative being proposed is the creation of ‘localised cluster offices’ – spreading employees across smaller but more numerous offices, often in regional or suburban areas. This is currently being considered by Barclays Bank in the UK, with Chief Executive Officer Jes Staley suggesting Barclay’s investment bankers might work from local retail branches (as opposed to the current 7,000 person skyscraper in Canary Wharf).

Other flexible ways of working such as staggered start times, rotating office days and splits shifts will also contribute to distributing commuter numbers more evenly. Keeping track of new working patterns will be key for HR departments and managers to ensure business continuity is maintained. Enter: employee scheduling solutions.

Long used by restaurants and other ‘shift working industries’, these solutions (such as OpenSimSim) have been designed for companies to efficiently manage remote and/or flexible workforces. Key capabilities to look out for are:

  • The ability to create schedules per department or location, such as IT or HR
  • Worker driven availability for input into shift creation 
  • Site-based schedules to manage geographically distributed employees
  • Providing both employers AND employees with full visibility of schedules and shifts from anywhere, anytime via employee mobile apps and/or online apps.
  • Allowing employees to ‘clock-in’ and ‘clock-out’ directly from their device, providing real-time visibility of who’s working

Flexible ways of working may be new to you, but they’re not for us. Engage the service of an employee scheduling app to keep your business running smoothly and make sure your employees return to work safely today.

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