If you are an employer and you are planning a return to work either part-time or full-time this practical IT guidance is for you.

In this guide

As we continue the gradual shift out of lockdown, the absence of a vaccine and the continuing threat of future localised restrictions means that our businesses need to plan for the long term, and those plans need to be flexible.

We consider the implications of returning to work with practical guidance from a technology perspective. It should be considered as part of a company-wide risk assessment and return to work strategy.

You may also want to check out the related post: Back to Work – a guide for employees.

This guide forms part of the IT Foundations COVID-19 Business Accelerator Programme. Find out more about the free programme and related content to help you back on the fast track to business growth.

Technology considerations for returning to work

When considering back to work requirements it is easy to think about the practical measures.  Risk assessments, cleaning, personal hygiene, social distancing, facemasks, protective barriers, floor markings, temperature monitors and more.  But you also need to consider:

  • IT Checks for returning home workers

  • Workspace optimisation, networking and WiFi

  • Communications and Telephony improvements/changes

  • Minimising shared use and hot desking

  • Preparing for Employees returning after an extended absence

  • Technology Cleaning Considerations

If not read on and we’ll guide you through our recommendations.

IT checks for returning home workers

In the rush to set up remote workers during the lockdown, there are no doubt compromises that have been made which arguably were necessary for the short term but may be problematic or even illegal in the long term.

Whilst welcoming our employees back to the office, consideration needs to be given to the devices and computers that they used while working remotely.

  • What devices were they using, personal phone, home computer, business laptop?

  • Did they install software on their business devices for entertainment or schooling?

  • Is there data stored on their devices that should not be there?

Take time to review with each employee:

  • Is there any data on personal devices that needs to be copied back to the business?

  • Is there business data or information that needs to be deleted from devices?

  • Is there personal data that needs to be removed from business devices?

  • Were there any issues with working remotely that could be improved?

This is also a good time to audit business devices to make sure they are fit for purpose and that the system updates, antivirus, firewalls, disk encryption and applications are present and correct.

In a future article, we will consider how to optimise remote workers to avoid some of the issues described above and we will consider specific policies for personal devices (BYOD) and information security.

Workspace optimisation, networking and WiFi

As the rules around social distancing look set to change (and may have changed by the time you read this) the current guidelines workplace currently require businesses to maintain social distancing, where possible and otherwise manage transmission risk.

There are several technology solutions available to assist businesses to enforce these rules including, proximity detectors and mobile phone apps. However, for the most part, most businesses will achieve social distancing in one of 3 ways:

  • By limiting the number of employees that can work in an area at the same time. E.g. every other desk is unoccupied on alternative days of the week.

  • By installing screens or partitions between desks to create physical barriers between employees where the recommended separation is not possible.

  • By rearranging desks to facilitate the recommended separation.

From a technology perspective, rearranging the office is likely to create issues with connecting computers and phones to power and data sockets. WiFi is an option for computers and modern telephony solutions such as Teams and the 3CX Phone system provide mobile apps that can be used in place or traditional handsets.

If you are thinking of changing the office layout you should:

  • Check power outlets and ethernet connections are available in the proposed layout.

  • Convert devices to utilise Wifi. USB WiFi adapters are cheap and very effective for converting PCs and phones that do not have WiFi build-in.

  • Upgrade network switch’s to create capacity, improve management and adopt Power over Ethernet (PoE).  This will reduce power cable clutter for devices that support it whilst allowing for increased security.

Of course, longer cables and extensions are an option as long as they can be adequately protected. You don’t want to introduce trip hazards or risk cables getting damaged be feet or chairs.

Communications and Telephony improvements/changes

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unlikely that many businesses would have considered it possible for their entire workforce to be working remotely. But the fact that many have managed is testament to the digital transformations that have been slowly taking place over the last few years.

Collaboration and meeting tools such as Microsoft 365, Google G-Suite, Teams, Hangouts, Dropbox, Zoom have played a significant role. As has VoIP telephony solutions and the enablement of mobile technologies, and apps.

Many organisations have struggled with legacy phone systems and even those with modern VoIP solutions such as 3CX are not using them to their full ability.

Returning to work is a good opportunity to review:

  • The communications technology in place to ensure future remote working?
  • Are you using your communications systems features to their full benefit?

  • Do you still need desk phones or could they be replaced by a mobile phone app?

At IT Foundations, we trialled earlier in the year the option of replacing desk phones with mobile communication apps to great success. During the lockdown, we have extended the use of communication apps with Microsoft Teams and 3CX phone system to maximise internal and external communications.

If you would like to find out more about Microsoft Teams or 3CX Phone system contact us or check our Business Accelerator programme resources.

Minimising shared use and hot desking

If you have hotdesks or rotating shift patterns for employees, you will need to take extra care with your process for cleaning the work area down between each user. Ideally, limiting the use of these spaces would be the best solution. However, if you really can’t then we would recommend that you consider:

  • Individual keyboard and mouse for each employee that they can store and plugin when required.

  • Migrate telephones to mobile apps so that each employee only uses their mobile for work calls and they don’t have to share handsets or keypads. Our 3CX Phone System offers the perfect solution.

  • Consider adopting laptops for all users so that when they use the desk they are at least using their equipment. This is ideal as it allows flexibility for home working if required in the future.

Ultimately, employees will need to be careful and much of the responsibility when using shared equipment reset with good hygiene. Printers, copiers and other shared hardware fall into this category too. Using Antibacterial hand wash before touching the copier/printer and regular cleaning of the surfaces reduces the risk.

Importantly, talk to your employees to understand their concerns about using shared equipment and spaces and act appropriately.

Preparing for Employees returning after an extended absence

Returning to work after 4 months away should be seamless. You want employees to just get in and get on as if they had never been away. But their workspace may have been rearranged, they may have taken equipment home or someone else might have ‘borrowed’ or reconfigured something in their absence. Additionally, if the employee’s computer may not have been on to receive important security updates and patches. Getting back up to date takes time and can be frustrating.

We have provided a full guide for employees returning to work and as an employer, you can do much of this for them. Check out the related article and checklist to make sure the return to work experience is a sweet one.

Technology Cleaning Considerations

Within the modern office, there are several IT touchpoints that employees will interact with. Keyboards, mice and telephones being the most common. But electronic keypads for door entry, monitors and shared equipment in meetings rooms or common areas need to be considered too.

On the whole most IT equipment will cope well with regular cleaning using alcohol or disinfectant wipes or a soft damp cloth with mild detergent. However, some devices, particularly keyboards and mice, but especially laptops keyboards are easily damaged by cleaning. Additionally, keyboards by there nature collect dust and other debris as a result of employees eating at their desks. They quickly become germ-ridden and should be replaced regularly. Out with COVID-19, we recommend that keyboard and mouse replacement is a regular occurrence and if possible, staff should be allocated a personal keyboard and mouse which is not shared.

Our recommendations are:

  • Gently clean IT equipment regularly with wipes or a soft damp soapy (not wet) cloth and dry afterwards. Microfibre towels are ideal as they are absorbent and don’t scratch.

  • Provide each employee with their own keyboard and mouse. Wireless is a good option for flexibility, and most are plug and play.

  • Consider moisture-proof keyboards in common areas to provide resilience to the effects of cleaning over an extended period.

  • Introduce a keyboard and mouse replacement program as part of your IT budget. For a very small outlay, you will be surprised how positively employees will respond when they get a new one, regardless of the hygiene benefits. Especially if the old one had half the letters worn away.

If you are looking for recommendations get in touch or check out the associated Business Accelerator programme resources

Business Accelerator Programme

This guide forms part of the IT Foundations Business Accelerator Programme. Find out more about the free programme including sign up details to access additional content including a free checklist that accompanies this guide.