The Twitterati may be scoffing at investment company SoftBank’s optimistic earnings presentation in May, but one of its already iconic slides did leave us with a memorable metaphor—two flying unicorns precipitously dropping into the “Valley of coronavirus” and another coming out, bounding into the light, on the other side.

For many organizations, the hard work of the upward climb from the depths of the “coronavirus valley” begins with a return of employees to offices. While we are in an era that might see the end of the office as we know it, it is definitely not the end of the office per se.

There is broad agreement that there will be a drastic decrease in the amount of time employees spend there, but it has taken an unprecedented global pandemic for some of us to accept that the office is where a lot of the magic happens. 

Facetime with the boss, flesh-and-blood brainstorming sessions with the team, Friday evening beers with colleagues as you let off the week’s steam—these are not to be underestimated.

How all this plays out in a socially distanced world is going to be interesting to see but even Big Tech companies that have announced indefinite or “forever” work-from-home policies—like Twitter and Square—are offering them only as options. In India, the government has partially lifted the lockdown and its latest guidelines say offices can reopen with staggered timings.

Given the uncertainty about the pandemic and the vaccine, safety and hygiene are foremost on the mind as India’s offices are readied to receive returning employees. In the past few weeks, leaders have had to make some tough decisions regarding the workplace as they navigate the crisis. As they grapple with the challenges of the months to come, the five high-value skills of Harappa’s SOLVE Habit will come in handy—Defining Problems, Structuring Problems, Executing Solutions, Creating Solutions, and Making Decisions

The world is less certain than most people assume, so it’s important to cultivate a ‘mindset of ‘uncertainty’ when making decisions. Many of the companies take during will be based on the best guess hypothesis, a useful tool from Harappa’s Making Decisions course that helps arrive at decisions in times of uncertainty where there is little data to guide you. They will use whatever information is available to create the best hypothesis possible to find solutions.

Here are some solutions that India Inc has already put into practice as it returns to the workplace: 

Staggered return: Companies are taking to reopening office spaces in phases. At e-commerce giant Flipkart, teams that require the use of office IT infrastructure are returning in a staggered manner. 

IT major Infosys has planned a four-six-month program that begins with 5% of its staff returning to work in specific cities. It is looking to bring back 5-20% of staff in the second phase and up to 40% in the third. Microsoft only has “critical staff” in its India offices though its CEO Satya Nadella was quoted in an interaction with The New York Times as saying that companies may be “burning the social capital (they) have built up” if the switch to remote working is long-term. 

No more hot-desking: Hot-desking is likely to fall out of fashion with everyone being careful about the air they breathe and the surfaces they come into contact with. The government has mandated that employees are to be seated six feet apart. Ramesh Nair, managing director of the property firm Jones Lang LaSalle India, told The Economic Times that “a lot of companies will be focusing on de-densification and splitting offices”. The same ET piece quotes Vinod Rohira, CEO of K Raheja Corp-owned Mindspace Business Parks as saying that “one would go back to 120 sq. ft. from 80 sq. ft. average per person space requirement”. 

ACs are uncool: The fear of the infection spreading through circulating air has led to some companies not turning on their central air-conditioning units, despite it being peak summer. E-commerce company Myntra, for instance, is relying on pedestal fans. Panasonic Life Solutions is using a combination of ventilation, pedestal, and ceiling fans. FMCG major Nestle is carrying out sanitization, deep-cleaning, and disinfection of its HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning) ducts.

Don’t drop the mask: Across the board, masks have been made mandatory for returning workers. There will be a compulsory no-contact thermal screening of body temperature before employees enter the workspace. Hand sanitizers also must be made available.

Town halls are out: The government has expressly prohibited meetings of more than 10 people. Going forward, companies may take a leaf out of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s book—he has canceled all physical events of 50 or more people through to June 2021. Offices will have more designated enclosed spaces for group meetings and video-conferencing with non-porous dividers and partitions.

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