As regions across the country reopen for business and gingerly loosen lockdown restrictions, experts outline the features of a productive and safe post-COVID-19 workplace and what small businesses must do to adapt to a radically changed socioeconomic landscape.

The upshot? Remote work is here to stay, as employees have come to expect its flexibility, while employers must set clear accountability metrics to make sure staff goals are met.

At the same time, technology will play a critical role in professionalizing and personalizing employees’ work-from-home environments and in fostering meaningful communication with a human touch, experts told Jeanette Mulvey, content director for CO—.

Trust teams to work remotely and set up accountability metrics

The biggest shift in workplace culture emerging amid the new normal is “trusting teams to work remotely” if you want to woo and retain the best talent, said Kenny Nguyen, CEO and co-founder of creative agency ThreeSixtyEight.

For the Baton Rouge, La.-based strategic marketing firm, the shift to remote work has been “a pretty darn good experience” due to candid, thrice-weekly staff updates and transparency.

But with more flexibility comes more defined worker accountability, he said. “Tracking and expectations of results are going to rise; managers are going to be [holding workers] more accountable,” as businesses turn to new measurement tools to do just that, he said. “Be clear on how you’re being measured — that transparency is going to go a long way.”

As for the office and co-working spaces that have gone silent since the pandemic, Nguyen envisions them being repurposed into collaborative hubs, meeting spaces and even marketing tools, he said.

It takes more than a laptop and a desktop to get things done now.

Mobolaji Sokunbi, head of strategic partnerships and the Centre for Entrepreneurship, Dell Small Business

Assess businesses’ distinct work-from-home needs; access free help to execute a remote setup

As more work is conducted remotely, Dell is working with companies across industries to tailor small businesses’ home offices to their distinct needs, said Mobolaji Sokunbi, head of strategic partnerships and the Centre for Entrepreneurship, Dell Small Business.

It’s about assessing employees’ roles within each business, “understanding what the different needs are,” and creating a personalized home-desk solution, Sokunbi said. For example, a financial planner might need a dual-monitor display while a gamer might need a remote-management technology like Intel’s vPro. “It takes more than a laptop and a desktop to get things done now,” he said.

The task can be daunting for small businesses, which is why Dell offers free guidance on setting up work-from-home solutions via 500 tech advisors who are available 14 hours a day.

As small businesses are particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks, implementing cybersecurity measures for remote work is another priority, from setting up a VPN (virtual private network) to using a firewall, Sokunbi said. [See CO—‘s Workshop Wednesday on cyber security here.]

Make sure meetings meet the ‘plan, play and problem solve’ criteria

Pandemic-fueled workplace upheaval has forced companies to reassess how they conduct every aspect of their business, including meetings. To ensure that meetings don’t become inefficient time sucks, Nguyen applies the “plan, play and problem solve” criteria. If the function of the meeting fails to meet that criteria, the task at hand can likely be more efficiently handled on Slack, he said. “You only really need meetings to solve a problem, to brainstorm something, or [to have] a cultural meeting” to commune and socialize with one another, he said.

Tap tech tools to streamline work and employee communication

The modern workplace is increasingly built for mobility and connectivity. The pandemic has only hastened that shift. Small businesses can avail themselves of a variety of technology tools to maximize remote-work collaboration and productivity, while “constructively staying connected, and to relate with staff,” said Annie Eaton, CEO of technology company Futurus.

There will be a “heavy reliance on videoconferences and chat apps to stay connected to staff, and fill the void of missing in-person discussions,” she said.

And there’s a suite of tools small businesses can now use to streamline workflows. Technology tools like Trello are key to collaborative project management, giving employees ownership of their tasks while helping managers track the progress of a project, she said.

Facebook is offering its new Spark AR online tool for free, which enables businesses to create augmented reality content.

And to bridge the intimacy gap between in-person meetings and virtual ones, it won’t be long before small businesses will have access to virtual reality meeting tools that mimic the intimacy of the in-person experience, Eaton said. “It will be like being in a room in a 3D space, where you can walk up to people and have separate conversations, like you do in real life,” she said.