Best Practices for Returning to the Office

We’ve all experienced a lifetime of changes during the past two months of sheltering in place. The seismic shifts to our society will require a complete overhaul of the workplace experience, at least until a COVID-19 vaccine has been developed and distributed. When we do start getting back into the office, virtually all of our old workplace habits will have to be re-thought and revised.

Before we return to the office, all organizations will need a reopening plan. First and foremost, communicating with your team to set expectations, lay out timing, discuss new procedures and answer questions will kickoff the return to work initiative. All reopening plans should consider the following three elements: 1- Transit; 2- Building Operations and; 3- Workplace Practices.

Bike for health & happiness

Transit, that is getting to and from the office, is largely out of control of the employer. However, employees must have a safe, affordable way to commute if they’re going to be able to get to work. Mass transit is likely to be a sub-optimal solution until we transition to a post-vaccine world. Fortunately, we are entering the warm months in the Northern Hemisphere. Employers should encourage bicycling (especially E-bikes for longer commutes), walking and parking subsidies.

While building operations may be out of the direct control of most organizations, building owners should be communicating the procedures they’re putting in place to safely bring employees and guests in and out of their properties. Most building managers should be open to suggestions to assist your employees safely utilize your office space. Hopefully, most buildings will provide as many of the following measures as possible and practical:

  • Screening at points of entry to ensure all persons entering the property have masks and testing for temperature (fever) with non-contact (infrared) thermometers
  • Sanitizing high touch areas, elevators, building entry, bathrooms, etc.
  • Limit elevator density with signage and floor markings.
  • Utilizing fire stairs to facilitate distancing entering, exiting and moving between floors in the property with one set of stairs for ascending and another for descending.

Establishing new workplace practices is the primary responsibility of the employer. Your landlord should be able to provide some assistance ( i.e. cleaning, sanitizing common areas & bathrooms, etc. ). Our recommended checklist:

N-95 Masks
  • Hazard Elimination – Clean the high touch areas of the workspace and provide distancing guidelines for all employees.
  • Key Personnel – Open initially with key team members to install signage and distancing markers. Going forward, the only team members that should be in the office daily for ‘normal’ office hours are those necessary for the team to function.
  • Staff Rotation – Break your staff into teams that rotate times in the office. Splitting into two teams is easy, but that means that you’ll be dividing your workforce into two groups that won’t directly interact. Splitting into 4 or 5 teams allows for a rotation that ensures ongoing connectivity amongst all employees.
  • Staggered Arrival Times – Schedule staff to arrive and depart at designated intervals.
  • Screening – Use a non-contact thermometer (infrared thermometer) to screen employees and visitors for fever when entering the workplace.
  • Lower seating density in the open workplace. Moving or eliminating workstations may not be required if only half of the staff is present at any given time.
  • Open doors – Use door stoppers to prop open frequently used doors (i.e. conference rooms, kitchen, workrooms, etc.). Leaving doors open as much as possible will reduce unnecessary handling of high touch areas.

Assemble Reopening Tool Kit. Here are a few suggested items to have on hand before getting up and open.

Non-contact, Infrared Thermometer

Office Reopening Tool Kit

  • Masks – provide masks for all employees and require all visitors to wear masks.
  • Wipes & liquid disinfectant – install in key locations around the office, including kitchen, copier/printer stations and restrooms.
  • Signage for directional reminders, spacing procedures, check-in, etc.
  • Tape for marking floor to show spacing and directional flow (i.e. duct, masking, painter’s)
  • Door openers/elevator button tools
  • Bathrooms – Keep a supply of wipes and hand sanitizer to enable employees to disinfect their own space.
  • Dividers – install partitions between workstations in open plan workplaces.
  • Workspace mats – Create clean workplace areas by providing disposable placemats. An inexpensive solution is to buy a roll of construction paper, cut into 4 foot sections to make disposable placemats.
Construction paper workspace mats: inexpensive & disposable

Good luck & stay safe!

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