A science-backed strategy for safer office reopening

For months, Joanne Wright has been working to answer one question: How do we get employees back into offices safely? Wright, the vice president of enterprise operations and services at IBM, was responsible for building a playbook to guide the return of 350,000 employees to 1,000 offices in 175 countries.

“Early [on] we had a realization that 95% of IBM employees could work from home, and it’s really just 5% that needed to continue support their jobs,” Wright said. “We needed to be sure that 5% felt safe in their roles and tasks. That’s what drove the playbook.”

After a few weeks of work, the company had a plan that could be altered depending on how Covid-19 was spreading in a particular area. Now, months into the pandemic, some IBM offices in Asia/Pacific and Europe are open (at a reduced capacity), while those in the US and Latin America remain closed for everyone but essential workers. Many of the company’s workers have not been into an office since March, Wright says, relying on digital tools to collaborate. Some may opt not to return at all. “We really are giving the IBMers the sole choice and decision,” she says.

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