Health and safety were the top priorities for sending employees home to work during the COVID-19 pandemic and health and safety will be the top priority for employees’ eventual return to the office. As organisations begin planning the transition back to the office, things will be different, significant attention will be paid to “visible housekeeping” that was once intentionally concealed and workstation/open plan areas will no longer have the crowded café feel, but rather they will be separated to maintain social distancing.
Every organization’s return to the office will be customised to their circumstances, but each will have a few commonalities:
Perception is reality and what employees perceive is what they will believe is happening.
See our blog: Designzone’s top 5 Ways - Creating a healthier work space now and after COVID19 - for a guideline on how to make your employees feel safe and happy when returning to the workplace.
Openly advertising protocols for visitors, social distancing and housekeeping will establish a sense of trust that employees’ health and safety are top priorities. Things will be different around the office post COVID-19, and a robust training and change communications program will establish the “new normal.” Examples of change management techniques include instructions on how to use the office space, if it has been newly re-configured for social distancing, and a variety of change communications documents, such as “Frequently Asked Questions postings” and “Stay-Safe etiquette guides.”
Safety protocols can be adapted in various ways. Staggered work times/days, or 4-day work weeks can reduce the number of employees in the office at the same time. Lunch and break times can be scheduled or lengthened to minimize occupant loads.
In addition to social distancing and capping group sizes, centralising trash and recycling bins with frequent disposal can slow disease transmission. A clean desk policy devoid of employee memorabilia will enable the night-time cleaning crew to thoroughly clean all desks. If applicable management should look into the installation of conventional hands-free faucets, and soap and paper towel dispensers, no touch options should be considered for doors, badge readers and garbage/recycling bins.
Employees may choose to wear personal protective equipment when returning to the workplace to protect themselves and others from the transmission of germs through contact and droplet routes. Protective equipment includes: face masks, gloves and potentially goggles. Organisations may also decide to make these available to employees for personal use outside the office as an additional level of protection.
If no formalised visitor protocols or badge requirements exist, consider controlling access to the office via signage for phone-in entry. Temporary prespects “sneeze guard” can be installed at reception or check-in points. Rearrange or take away seating in the reception area to manage social distancing. To maintain hygiene, remove magazines, corporate swag or pens from the reception space, and keep a hand sanitiser dispensers in plain view.
To accommodate two meter of social distancing, start with a floor plan indicating the workstations to be occupied to determine your maximum capacity per floor or area. Seating should be assigned and the removal of chairs and monitors to discourage un-occupied workstation use is recommended. Employees’ personal items should be removed for thorough nightly work surface cleaning.
Additional concepts include installing higher panels/shields between workstations or re-orienting workstations, so employees do not face one another.
Stick to a 10 person maximum gathering rule. Remove extra meeting room chairs and install signage indicating the maximum number of people allowed in each conference, meeting, collaborative and focus room. Use a portion of your largest conference room for chair storage, until the need for social distancing has diminished.
The office coffee maker, water dispenser and fresh fruit snacks will temporarily go by the wayside along with the morning bagels and birthday cake, until the threat has been reduced to level 0.
Hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes will become like exit signs, employees should be able to see them from every vantage point. (Maintaining adequate stock will be challenging until the supply chain has regulated production.)
Increase “during the day” housekeeping, maintaining a visible presence so employees see the efforts of the organisation to keep them healthy and safe.
Virtual meeting and collaboration platforms will continue to keep the people connected professionally and personally. Encouraging virtual meeting attendance even while in the office may be recommended until the virus has curbed. Employees should not share phones, keyboards etc with other employees.
The return of employees to the workplace will vary by organisation but will undoubtedly occur in waves. Driven by business demands, risk categories or operational requirements, access control systems will monitor who is given access to the building or floor.
Employees may return to the office for a time while the organisation determines the extent of remote work opportunities based on personal preferences and business demands. The capacity of the workplace may have been significantly reduced due to social distancing. Workplace standards should be loosened to allow the best place for employees to work, for example - If a manager’s office sits empty due to their ability to work from home, then a staff person should be allowed to use that space.