If you’re part of a team creating a return-to-office plan or just a concerned employee, you’ll want to check out the following six tips that will increase the likelihood of a safe office reopening.
1. Know the proper admittance and screening guidelines
Typically, hiring certified cleaners to clean the public spaces of your building is the responsibility of your building's owners. But you'll still have to be aware of the cleaning protocols, as well as how your team will be allowed entry to the building. You’ll also need to find out how screening will be done, and how many people will be allowed in an elevator or in any other common areas used by tenants of the building. Of course, your employees will have to be notified of any changes to accessibility well ahead of your scheduled return to work.
In addition, your company can implement screening measures to ensure all employees present are non-symptomatic of Covid-19. Prohibitions for admittance to an office can be used for any employee who has had contact with an asymptomatic or contagious person with the virus. The present guidelines suggest a 14-day quarantine. Note that requiring temperatures be taken before entering an office is a practice that's now permitted by recently updated EEOC guidelines.
Also note that information about guidelines for building and office maintenance can be found on the CDC website.
2. Create dedicated teams on each floor
Once employees begin to reuse their offices, there will have to be protocols in place to ensure everyone’s safety. Companies may want to implement teams to coordinate and regularly evaluate back-to-work plans and routines. The team should include someone from management, human resources, technology, and any other pertinent department.
These people will collect information to readily share with employees about the building, floors, offices, equipment, and measures used to maintain the spaces. It may be necessary to have a person on each floor, or in each department, who will monitor anyone that enters a workspace.
3. Keep the dialogue fluid
It’s vastly important to keep in contact with employees regarding Covid-10 return-to-work implementation. Whether it’s a person or team who is relaying information, employees want evidence and assurances that the workplace is safe. Never assume that someone knows what’s going on.
Be preemptive and hold online meetings to discuss the plans for getting everyone back into the office. Allow employees to express their concerns and ask questions. In this fearful time, it’s equally important to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers but will remain vigilant in our efforts to create safe work environments. If an online meeting isn’t possible to hold for all employees at once, break online meetings into groups or departments. Be thoughtful and careful to disseminate information to everyone. Keep the conversations fluid as we navigate the new protocols.
4. Divide and conquer
Assuming you’re not part of an essential back-to-work order, there are some procedures that may help alleviate doubt about the safety of your workplace. Many restaurants have been allowed to re-open if they adhere to a 25 percent capacity rule. This could be an easy way for you to begin re-populating your office. Another method is to split the office into A and B groups. This is what that schedule might look like: “A” Group works M/W/F during week one and T/TH during week two, and the “B” Group works T/TH during week one and M/W/F during week two. Then repeat.
You can also divide the office by departments. Any way you choose to lessen the number of people in close quarters for protracted periods of time will be conducive to a more productive and less fearful atmosphere.
5. Develop cleaning guidelines
As employees begin to return to work you’ll need to implement procedures for day-to-day access to office equipment and activities. How will multiple people be assured the copy machine is cleaned properly? Or be assured that telephones, conference rooms, break rooms, and bathrooms are being maintained and sanitized? Guidelines will have to be developed for high traffic areas and rooms used for socializing.
6. Ask: "Do we really need an office?"
This might be a good time to re-evaluate your need for a physical office. Much like virtual real estate tours are starting to become the norm in the housing industry and agents are starting to learn to sell houses online, virtual offices are likely to be the future of workplaces across the globe. Consider how your business has maintained itself during the stay-at-home orders. Do your employees work as well, or perhaps better, when working remotely? Have you asked employees how they’ve fared during the time away from a central workspace?
Some types of businesses are conducive to remote work, while others suffer when there’s no interaction among employees or if equipment and research materials aren’t available.
A final note
By taking comprehensive steps to ensure that the health of employees will not be compromised at the workplace, you’ll be able to create a return-to-office plan that works for all staff. The world may never be quite the same as it was before Covid-19, but remember that changes happen constantly—and, as always, we adjust.
Sam Radbil is the lead writer for ABODO Apartments, an online real estate and apartments marketplace with available apartments from college towns like Madison, Wisconsin, to major cities like Chicago. ABODO's research, rent reports like this one, and writing have been featured nationally in Curbed, Forbes, Realtor.com, HousingWire, and more.
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