Adopting a return to workplace strategy

  • Now on Now
  • About ServiceNow
  • Robert Teed
  • 2020
June 12, 2020

Return to Workplace

ServiceNow Safe Workplace apps make returning to the workplace work for everyone
As we continue to navigate the complexities of COVID-19, top of mind for enterprise leaders is how to safely re-open and return employees to the workplace. Getting here has been no small feat, and returning to our workplaces will not be, either. 

As the leader responsible for ServiceNow’s workplace services and business continuity functions, I am deeply involved in our COVID-19 emergency response efforts, including our strategy for returning to the workplace.   I am also fortunate to be a consumer of ServiceNow products and benefactor of the NOW Platform. 

Planning to re-open and return to the workplace raises important questions for leaders, including:

  • How do we determine employees’ willingness and ability to return?
  • What is the function of the workplace?  How will it change in the short term, and evolve over time?
  • How do we continue to mitigate COVID-19 risk in the workplace, knowing risk will exist for the foreseeable future?

The more distributed an enterprise is across the globe, the more complex the questions become. At ServiceNow, we are exploring these questions as we plan for employees to return to the workplace.  ServiceNow’s Safe Workplace apps are a key part of that plan.

People first, then place
We care deeply about our people. Empathy and compassion are core ServiceNow values, just as they are for many other enterprises around the world. The impact of COVID-19 on individuals and households does not lessen or go away when we return to our workplaces. In fact, for some employees, returning to the workplace in the future is not an option due to their personal situations at home.

Our return to workplace efforts include two areas of focus. The first, workforce readiness, is about meeting our people where they are, with empathy and compassion, given their personal circumstances resulting from COVID-19. The second, workplace readiness, focuses on preparing and managing our physical workplaces across myriad requirements and constraints to ensure the safety of those in our care.

considerations for workforce readiness and workplace readiness

To ensure clarity of purpose across both areas, we’ve established a set of principles that inform our decisions and actions. The most important principle is that we care for our people and their well-being. If you are shaping your enterprise’s journey back to the workplace, I’d recommend creating or revisiting your own guiding principles to make sure they embody empathy and compassion for employees.

ServiceNow established a COVID-19 Crisis Management Team in January 2020, when the outbreak began in Asia. Our work continues today. The team includes senior leaders from global talent.  IT, workplace services, communications, and legal. As a team, we decided to send our 11,000+ employees in 28 countries to work safely from their homes in early March, ahead of many regional and local orders. This same team is leading our return to workplace efforts. I am privileged to be a part of it.

Our team’s experiences informed the development of ServiceNow’s no-charge Customer Care apps, released in March, as well as the most recent suite of Safe Workplace apps, released in May. The Customer Care apps continue to help our team care for ServiceNow employees. The Safe Workplace apps are invaluable tools in our return to workplace efforts.

It’s likely that you already have your own version of a cross-functional COVID-19 taskforce. As you begin your own return to workplace journey, it’s vital to ensure that your taskforce includes the right mix of functional leaders, as well as access to effective tools and technology.

Defining the return to workplace journey
ServiceNow has developed a set of frameworks to ensure we follow our guiding principles in our corporate decisions and actions. These frameworks support execution of our strategy at the local, regional, and global level.  They include:

return to workplace readiness framework


  • Readiness Framework: Considers the three domains of returning to the workplace—the community, the workplace, and the employee—and determines the level of dependency, influence, or control we have over each. Reviewing all three is essential to any decision. 
re-opening framework to return to work


  • Re-opening Framework: Directs the actual execution of our strategy by prescribing the specific criteria or stage “gates” that must be crossed before any workplace is re-opened. It requires compliance with enterprise-level requirements but provides flexibility to account for local considerations.
phased approach to return to work


  • Phased approach: Governs our plan and ensures we are not timebound by decisions and can accommodate any given community or local situation. It’s important to remain flexible about this approach and revisit it as necessary, depending on the fluid conditions of the pandemic.

Whether your company has one site or hundreds, establishing a clear strategy for returning to the workplace is critical. Sharing your guiding principles and strategy with your employees can help instill confidence in the process and reduce the natural anxieties that result from uncertainty.

Support return to workplace efforts with workflows
Technology also plays an important role in ensuring the seamlessness and compliance required as part of the return to work efforts.

automating the return to workplace with workflows

ServiceNow’s Safe Workplace apps can automate many processes that would otherwise be manual and cumbersome:

  • Employee Readiness Surveys allow us to gauge each employee’s readiness to return to the workplace, which in turn informs our plan
  • Employee Health Screening allows employees to screen their health at home and self-certify they have completed the screening and are symptom-free
  • Workplace PPE Inventory Management allows us to manage our PPE and other sanitizing inventory locally, regionally, and globally
  • Workplace Safety Management allows us to manage social distancing parameters at the workspace level and ensure that proper workspace cleaning protocols are met

The Safe Workplace Dashboard pulls together data from these apps to help companies understand their readiness to reopen sites, and displays it in one place. We estimate using these apps can help companies deliver $1M of labor productivity for every 10,000 employees. We also continue to use our COVID-19 Customer Care apps, including:

  • Emergency Self-Report, which lets an employee report their exposure to or confirmation of COVID-19 to a dedicated HR team for contact tracing
  • Emergency Exposure Management, which aids our HR team in contact tracing

Whatever technology you employ for your return to workplace efforts, automating manual and repetitive activities will help you achieve compliance, mitigate the ongoing risk of COVID-19, and ensure you are caring for your employees.

Our journey has only begun

As a born-in-the cloud software company, our employees are fully equipped to work digitally – whether that’s in the office, at home, with customers, or elsewhere. With the onset of COVID-19, we were able to send 100% of our employees to work from the safety of their homes. Work has continued seamlessly; we have cloud-commuted quite well.

What does that mean for our ServiceNow workplaces going forward?

Historically, ServiceNow’s workplaces played a central role in our daily work. About 80% of our employees were assigned a dedicated workspace within one of our 80 workplaces across the globe. In the 12 months leading up to COVID-19, however, the number of employees working outside of a ServiceNow workplace one or more days a week was trending up. Many of my peers had shared similar trends at their companies. A change was already afoot.  

As our return to workplace plan unfolds in the coming months, I expect to see structural changes in the role the workplace plays, not just at ServiceNow but across many enterprises. I believe we are on the cusp of the ‘distributed workplace’ where employees own the choice of where they work best, driving work location flexibility to new heights.  Key to the ‘distributed workplace’? Digital workflows. 


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