10 tech and operational things to consider when closing a facility or office

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The decision to close down a physical office can be traumatic for management and workers. Should you need to go down that route, these 10 considerations are essential.

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One of the unfortunate disadvantages to the success of remote work is that it can mean the closure of physical sites. Closing facilities might also be the outcome of economic downturn and lost revenue. 

Eliminating physical facilities can save organizations money, but this can also adversely impact the employees still working who now face the prospect of a permanent work-from-home arrangement.

SEE: Juggling remote work with kids’ education is a mammoth task. Here’s how employers can help (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

I’ve seen the stress and trauma among workers who had hoped to return to on-site locations once the pandemic got under control and then had to deal with the prospect of no further face-to-face business contact, less time spent with friends on the job, challenges focusing on work from a crowded or chaotic home, and the logistics of dealing with physical assets like computers, printers and printed material.

Here are ten important considerations businesses should analyze when making the decision to shut down a physical site.

1. Can employees perform 100% of their jobs remotely?

Obviously this should have been asked and answered during the pandemic for most companies, but there may still be some gaps to fill in to ensure a 100% permanent transition to remote work. Identify any needed equipment and provide it to employees. For instance, if employees have been muddling along using their single laptop screens but were used to dual monitors in the workplace, arrange for them to receive a set of monitors and a docking station.

If using a Bring Your Own Device arrangement, consider some sort of stipend or remuneration for the use of personal devices for business purposes.

As for any employees whose role was based on their physical presence at the site, see if they can be transitioned to other roles that can operate remotely. If no such roles are available or feasible, provide job search assistance via the HR department to help them find new employment elsewhere.

2. How can employees collaborate most effectively?

This is another concept that was likely fleshed out during the pandemic, but without further face-to-face interaction employees will have to be able to work together and collaborate remotely. Many products are available to facilitate this, such as Zoom or Teams, the latter of which my company uses for communication, file sharing, calendaring and other productivity features. Investment in physical space can be shifted to investment in appropriate technology to make this happen.

3. How will employees socialize? 

Socialization is a key element to company success. When employees interact with one another on a social basis it builds better partnerships and even friendships and helps the company pull together in sync.

I’ve attended virtual social gatherings which were OK, but also encourage and host local company outings such as picnics or barbecues when acceptable (obviously taking into consideration any current pandemic-related precautions, if still applicable).

SEE: The future of work: Tools and strategies for the digital workplace (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

However, it should be noted that employees assembling together for business-related purposes should be largely discouraged. Getting together at Starbucks to go over an implementation plan every now and again is OK, but if this is done frequently employees compelled to participate in such outings may feel resentment or lose focus on other priorities. If the business is to function fully remotely then that should be the primary commitment.

4. How will compensation change? 

This is an important factor for all workers. Will employees receive more or less pay for being permanently remote? The argument in favor of a salary increase is based on alleviating any inconvenience or sense of isolation workers may feel being cut off from the office as well as giving back some of the costs saved by eliminating the site. 

The argument in favor of a pay decrease involves the lack of a commute and greater flexibility in work schedules. But be forewarned: Salary decreases are never going to be popular no matter how thoroughly justified, and some employees will jump ship or at least harbor resentment at the cuts.

5. How will new employee onboarding and provisioning work?

This is a particularly tough challenge. It’s not enough just to interview prospective candidates over Zoom and make the decision to hire then get them oriented to their jobs via further Zoom calls. It involves getting them the equipment and remote access they need and determining metrics for success. The days of confirming someone is at their desk at 8 a.m. every day are going away, and employers need to ensure new employees meet performance expectations and have the tools they need to learn their jobs.

6. How will tech support work? 

This is another tough one. Remote connectivity options such as screen sharing in Microsoft Teams will work for minor system issues so a tech can take control and fix applications or change settings, but dead devices or devices an employee is locked out of will be a work stoppage issue. 

Gone will be the ability summon a help desk tech to a workspace or drop a laptop off with them and work on a loaner. You also don’t want them visiting Geek Squad with devices containing company information. 

Shipping devices to a central HQ for repair/reconfiguration is one option, but that could entail two or more days of downtime for the employee. You could issue backup devices but that would be expensive, just having items sitting around in case they’re needed. 

You might consider implementing alternate guest accounts on company-issued systems, so a user can at least log in if their own account isn’t working, and having a fleet of loaner or replacement devices ready to ship the moment a worker needs one. In this scenario workers would be shipped a new laptop for use that would arrive overnight, then they can ship their current laptops back for formatting and repurposing.

7. What about physical business-related assets? 

Disposing of servers, printers, scanners and other assets is easy enough (line up a purchaser or arrange to recycle older equipment after offloading and securely wiping hard drives containing confidential data), but what about things like hard copies of confidential files? 

I came across a finance user recently facing this dilemma to which I had to kindly state that the 1980s are over and rows upon rows of file cabinets no longer serve any purpose. I also asked how she managed to work nearly a full year without access to said files; apparently they are infrequently accessed yet still serve a purpose.

SEE: Research: Video conferencing tools and cloud-based solutions dominate digital workspaces; VPN and VDI less popular with SMBs (TechRepublic Premium)

I’m an avid proponent of digital content. Consider using secure digital document storage for business solutions such as OneDrive, Dropbox or Box. Get all those files scanned in and secured. That’s what her department opted to do.

As for things like borrowing company-owned equipment like projectors for demonstrations, the technology deployed for employees should obviate any such need (not to mention the lack of physical interaction).

8. What about the little details?

There are probably a few minor things that could fly under the radar until employees bring them up in the form of a question, so explore all the angles in advance. One such angle is business cards and email signatures— what location should they specify? Is there a centralized headquarters based somewhere employees might list? That could be problematic receiving shipments, which would then have to be relayed to the employee’s house, but that may be the only option.

If there are no physical locations just cut to the chase and eliminate all business addresses from business cards and email signatures and simply list the employee’s mobile number (or company-issued phone number, if applicable) and email address.

Another element is tax considerations. I covered this topic recently from a perspective involving employee income tax. These details should be researched and prepared for as well as any tax elements involving overall company operations. 

9. How will you empty the office space? 

Arranging to terminate leases of equipment or the office space itself should be the first item on the agenda before anyone focuses on the physical removal of items.  

If a pandemic is still underway, this process will be a bit more challenging. Schedule employees to come in during shifts to get their things and any equipment they may be given. Plan a separate set of endeavors to remove office furniture and equipment. 

10. How will you close down your data center?  

I left this one for last as it may not apply to companies without on-premises data centers, but getting these systems retired or relocated elsewhere (either physically or by relocating the service/application/function/storage) is going to be your biggest headache. 

You’ll also need to take into consideration retiring UPS systems, cooling equipment, fire suppression systems and the other infrastructural components your data center depends on. Learn more with TechRepublic Premium’s Power Checklist: Building/Decommissioning Data Centers. 

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