As vaccines roll out this year, companies can start planning their return to the office. You can expect quite some planning and strict protocols set in place by management. Maintaining employee health, both physical and mental, will be paramount to a successful transition from home back to the office.
Below are some guidelines and cautions for making the return to the office as smooth as possible.
Where risk assessments once analyzed the probability of slips, trips, and other mundane hazards, we now have to consider the dangers of the COVID-19 virus. This new risk assessment should cover everything from social distancing, ventilation, to the workspace and personal hygiene.
When considering the hazards in your office that might contribute to the spread of COVID-19, keep the following in mind:
Common areas such as elevators, lobbies, aisles, and common entryways.
Facilities in the workspace including washrooms, coffee stations, high-touch areas, and sanitization booths.
How workers perform their tasks: their risk of coming into contact with each other, objects others have handled, and visitors (suppliers, clients, customers, the public, etc).
Workers who are more susceptible to COVID-19 contamination.
Be sure to have each visitor complete a health check as a part of the ongoing risk assessment. Anyone who’s showing any kind of symptoms, not feeling well or was in touch with a Covid positive person, should stay out of the office.
Restructuring the office to follow social distancing regulations will likely be the most tiresome part of returning to the office. Desks will have to be reconfigured and reassigned. Shift rotations may be implemented, leaving every other desk vacant at any given time.
To support the workers during these complicated schedules, you might invest in a desk booking app. A desk booking app will help eliminate any confusion about where employees can work each day, reducing hall and aisle traffic. You can also block off desks in most desk booking apps, keeping employees from booking desks within six feet of each other.
Additionally, lay arrows around your office, directing the flow of traffic down narrow hallways or aisles if necessary.
One key step for any successful back-to-office transition is communication. Companies need to not only consider “Did we communicate what preventive measures we are taking and why?” but also “How well did we communicate them and did we get the message across?”.
Send out emails, host online conferences, configure your office signage to display health and safety reminders. For example, you can configure Joan 6 and Joan 13 devices to display custom messages and advisories.
Cleaning, hygiene, handwashing
When assessing hygiene, make sure to account for all the individuals your workers might come into contact with on the job. Make sure every customer, contractor, or supplier is following strict hygiene and social distancing guidelines.
Delegate employees or hire staff members to regularly clean and sanitize frequented stations including washrooms and entries. If possible think of a way to get people their daily coffee without crowding around and handling the same coffee station.
Ventilation and air conditioning
If you live in a tepid climate, fresh air from open doors and windows is the preferred way to ventilate workspaces. However, for the most part, it simply isn’t possible to expose your office to the elements all day long.
Assess your office’s heating and conditioning systems, re-routing them to draw fresh air from outside as much as possible. Also, consider investing in HEPA filtration systems for high-traffic areas.
Working from home
As many companies open their office doors, at least half of their workforce will likely remain at home to prevent overcrowding. Employees who come into the office one week may be replaced by the next shift of employees the next week.
Do your employees all have laptops that they can easily move from one workstation to another? Do some of them require two monitors? Should you consider hot desks instead of individually assigned desks?
Making a whole new office plan is no simple task. Nobody knows how long we’ll be wary of contamination. Configure your office with longevity in mind in case COVID-19 or the fear of it lingers for years to come.
Reward workers for safe behavior
Don’t just delegate company regulations, monitor them. Although monitoring employees might seem hawkish, employee anxiety over the threat of COVID-19 is a real thing. Take into account the mental health and wellbeing of the employees by enforcing strict hygiene standards.
Rewarding good behavior can go a long way to maintaining good morale. Employees who may get frustrated with the restrictions might see them more favorably. Others who feel stressed in COVID-19 conditions might be encouraged to relax.
Follow your local guidelines, conduct a thorough risk assessment, sign up for health screening and visitor check-in, and you’ll be on track for a successful back-to-office experience.