By Dorothy Rogers-Bullis
As New York state begins to look toward a post-COVID-19 reopening strategy, many businesses, organizations, and schools are trying to reinvent or re-imagine how they will safely operate. And it won’t be business as usual for most.
Each individual organization will need a thoughtful and highly customized approach, taking into account their business objectives, their space, and their employees’ work styles, while also creating appropriate social distance.
Here are some of our top tips for organizations as they explore their reopening options.
Create a committee. It’s going to take buy-in from numerous people in order to approve and implement a workable reopening plan. Your return-to-work steering committee should include leaders from HR, communications, and facilities, plus employee representatives. You’ll need their help with brainstorming ideas and managing expectations, as well as modeling positive behaviors.
Communicate. Input from employees is important, but it’s also crucial to keep people informed about what you are doing to ensure their safety. Keeping the lines of communication open is so important. If you are honest and upfront with staff and customers, encouraging people to ask questions and share their concerns, you will be able to gain their trust much faster.
Be flexible. Many businesses will need to reduce the number of work stations, so staggering people’s return to work is a natural solution that will increase comfort with this new normal. For example, if you reduce the number of seats in what had previously been a larger team area and add a modular cubicle solution, it allows for appropriate social distancing between employees.
Creating an A/B workday schedule, where employees alternate days working from home and working in the office, also reduces overcrowding.
New safety protocols. Many organizations are implementing health screening procedures, but businesses also may want to institute other new safety protocols. It may be wise to enact guest restrictions, limiting visitors to essential contractors or key customers.
Consider posting signage such as handwashing and social distancing reminders, and maximum occupancy for spaces. You may even want to institute traffic patterns to control the directional flow through your space. And don’t overlook previously communal phones, office supplies, dishware, and beverage and snack stations. It’s a good time to switch temporarily to single-user items, disposables, and grab-and-go options.
Rethink and repurpose spaces. In addition to reducing the overall number of seats in work, meeting and socializing areas (like reception, the kitchen, or café), we suggest some other re-configuration ideas. Consider temporarily dedicating enclosed conference and meeting rooms to individual seating. Rearrange work spaces so employees are no longer face-to-face, and install workstation screens or soft architectural solutions like wall systems or drapery.
Clean, clean, clean. One of the most important things we can all do to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to keep hands and surfaces clean. Revisit your organization’s cleaning protocols and redouble your sanitization efforts on all shared surfaces. Establish a “clean desk/clean meeting space” policy so the cleaning crew is able to thoroughly clean all surfaces, and make cleaning supplies available to employees for periodic cleaning throughout the day.
We suggest selecting bleach-cleanable fabrics and finishes with antimicrobial properties to further promote a healthy office. It’s also a good time to think about your office air quality, evaluating your HVAC system and adding indoor plants, which are great at cleaning the air naturally.
By implementing these steps and suggestions, organizations will be well on their way to safely reopening their doors to employees, customers, and students. This is going to be our new normal for the foreseeable future, so we must all adapt. These tips can help you put people’s minds at ease while keeping them safe and healthy.