Gartner Research

Executive Pulse: The Complicated Path Back to the Workplace (29 May 2020)

Published: 28 May 2020

ID: G00729557

Analyst(s): Corporate Strategy Research Team


Here’s a roll-up of pandemic-related executive sentiment and insights from thousands of functional leaders across the C-suite.

Fast word on tactics and concerns from thousands participating in our conference calls and polls.

More detailed role-specific reports may be available on the website, depending on your subscription.

Nearly half (47%) of legal, privacy and compliance leaders say their top two priorities over the next three months are managing the risks involved with reopening the workplace and the potential need to put employees back on a remote footing for safety’s sake:

  • Three-quarters are either working on a return-to-home plan or have already established triggers for doing so.

  • The other quarter are either in the nascent stages or have no re-exit plan at all.

Half of them say the primary trigger for a reexit would be guidance from national, state and/or local authorities, while also considering...

  • Guidance from health officials (47%)

  • Infection rates in areas where the workforce is present (44%)

  • A rise in the number of cases within the workforce (41%)

These executives also say their organizations may employ technology to narrow the odds of a workplace outbreak (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Technology Considerations to Manage COVID-19

But they see danger ahead: Collecting data and using intrusive technologies could mean forfeiting the trust of the workforce. Yet only 11% are surveying employees to understand their preferences.

More commonly, to mitigate these risks they are:

  • Limiting access to that data (39%)

  • Communicating plans for data collection, use, storage and deletion (36%)

  • Relying on governmental and public health guidance to justify the new collections of sensitive data (29%)

  • Providing managers with tools and training on how to address employee concerns (25%)

  • Explaining how collecting sensitive data improves employee health and safety (25%)

Almost a third (32%) of research and development leaders express confidence about the R&D function resuming normal operations at facilities during 2020, although the majority (61%) are only moderately optimistic or express doubts.

They are keen to return and complete many core tasks that are difficult or impossible to conduct off site such as testing, prototyping, development trials and research that requires specialized equipment.

Still, R&D leaders are simultaneously adapting to change, by planning for:

  • Full-time remote workers to increase after the pandemic (61%)

  • Alternating schedules in the office, lab or facility work to enable social distancing (43%)

Figure 2. Strategies for Returning Employees to Their Worksites

Once back in the building, 80% of corporate real estate executives are planning for social distancing to persist for a year to a year and a half. Only 13% expect a shorter period (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Expected Length of Social Distancing Guidelines in the Office

Real estate leaders are modifying common spaces, such as cafeterias, kitchens, meeting rooms and bathrooms to keep people apart.

They are also paying attention to seating arrangements:

  • Half are implementing assigned seating. Most are dedicating a desk to each employee and allowing people to return to their original desk. But some will reassign desks in order to maintain social distancing.

  • Twenty-three percent are implementing unassigned seating, with most allowing employees to pick any desk within a defined area.

  • Thirteen percent are assigning two employees to each desk based on A/B rotation schedules. These employees share the same workstation, but on different rotations.

Giving information ahead of reopening is among the top HR tactics for smoothing the transition:

  • Providing at least two weeks’ notice so employees can prepare (70%)

  • Training employees on health protocols before they return (67%)

At the time employees return, legal, compliance and privacy leaders expect to issue specific guidelines and policies (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Employee Guidance for the Return to the Office

Compiled by Daniel Ryntjes

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