Stress is the latest front in the corporate America’s response to the pandemic. After sending workers home in droves more than three months ago, many employers are now hesitant to bring them back to the office as parts of the US see a resurgence in COVID-19 cases. With restaurants, shops, gyms and entertainment venues still shuttered or offering limited service across the country, many employees are working longer hours and feeling greater stress.
In some ways, Accenture was prepared for the pandemic. The firm’s consultants are often on the road as many as four days a week, and the company has no formal operating headquarters. It also was an early adopter of “hotelling,” with no permanent desks or offices assigned to employees.
It’s not like we’re working from home — it’s that we’re living in the office. We do need to be very careful about people burning out.
Accenture’s Jack Azagury
That meant the company was already running many of its operations digitally. It’s the largest corporate user of Microsoft Teams, with Accenture’s audio usage within the teleconferencing app nearly tripling to almost 1 billion minutes a month since the pandemic began.
Azagury said he’s working with his staff to craft reopening plans for offices in his territory later this summer. The firm plans to initially authorise a return for only those workers with jobs that require them to be on site, such as working on a client project that needs a physical presence.
“As complex as the work-from-home move was, the return back is as complex if not more complex,” Azagury said. “There are more permutations and more uncertainty. When we went to work from home, there was a date and we all did it. Here there’s a question about when and how much.”
The firm is planning to make changes to kitchens and common areas to control the flow of people and ensure social-distancing guidelines are followed. With hotelling, employees have grown accustomed to using Accenture software to book an office for specific times of the day based on their schedule. With the new guidelines, changes will be made to that system, Azagury said.
“You’ll have to reserve to go in,” he said. “But even if you only need the office for four hours, that office is booked for the day” to ensure it’s cleaned after each use.
Even as Accenture prepares to bring employees back, it’s trying to help those working from home deal with the stress that can accompany such arrangements. The firm is offering employees access to Headspace, the meditation app, for example.
Accenture doesn’t expect permanent changes to its real estate footprint. In New York, it still plans to take over the top eight floors of One Manhattan West in Hudson Yards.
“The need for in-person interaction is still there — there’s still things that are just better done in person, like getting up on a white board and brainstorming with the group,” Azagury said. Still, “people will have more flexibility to work in different places and at home if they need to.”