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How To Make Offices Safe, Efficient and Profitable in a Post-COVID World (Part Two)

This is the second article in a three-part series exploring what lays on the other side of COVID-19 for businesses. Click here to read part 1 

 

Flex and remote working have taken on new meaning in this pandemic. As we look forward to the day offices will reopen, desks are claimed, meetings resumed, and cafes are bustling, the aftermath of COVID-19 brings unprecedented considerations about our health and safety as the virus is unlikely to be eradicated when offices get the green light to unlock the doors. 

As we prepare to go back to work, employers must have a plan to responsibly open their businesses – and that means keeping employees safe. There’s no rulebook for each organization’s unique needs, so it’s up to each company to start planning now. How frequently should workstations be cleaned? Should employees be phased in? Should teams work across multiple shifts? 

The logistics of reopening a physical office space feel daunting for business owners. Strategies for “hoteling” or “hotdesking” that were becoming popular –  now bring trepidation over sanitation concerns.

Inaction is not a solution. Physical distancing will be a requirement in order for workplaces to be allowed to reopen. As governments inform when that will happen, business leaders must take action to ensure the return to work is efficient, safe  – and even profitable. 

 

Healthy Office Design

There’s no question that the needs of employees will change and that office design must support health policies.  Experts are predicting a need to get creative. Adaptable work conditions will accelerate more than ever before to make room for a socially distanced reality. We’re hearing a wide range of strategies including re-introducing cubicles, removing collaboration areas, creating multiple shift schedules, and limiting access beyond assigned floors.

In order to return to work, physical solutions will be needed for those returning to the office. In addition to redesigning seating and meeting rooms to meet six-foot distance requirements, sanitation needs will ramp up too, with omnipresent hand sanitizer stations, HVAC reconfigurations to maximize air quality, no-touch technology, and real-time cleaning based on whether or not a space was used that day. 

 

Employee Communications

A critical component of returning to work will revolve around how companies communicate with their employees. Transparency and proactive communication will be key to assuaging people’s fears. Each person will have their own preference and comfort-level in what they deem to be safe. Employees will want to make informed choices about visiting typical areas of congestion, such as the on-premise cafe, collaboration areas  – or even the office in its entirety. 

Real-time digital signage or applications that keep employees informed will do two things. First: employees will be empowered to make the choices that are right for them. Should they go to the office today, or remain home to keep their exposure risk low? Should they go to the cafe before noon to avoid line-ups and crowded seating? Putting information into the hands of employees enables them to make their own decisions. The second benefit, is that by providing proactive information, a natural plateauing will happen as people collectively avoid peak traffic times. 

 

Compliance & Continuity

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) has established guidelines for employers to follow if a workplace poses any health risk. But with COVID-19, many businesses that may not have considered their workplace a potential risk to employees, must now reconsider that fact. From telecommuting policies, to new quarantine policies, to reporting to public health organizations, organizations are going to need to quickly implement policies, procedures, and documentation to demonstrate compliance to federal, state, local and internal policies. 

Most important in compliance is the ability to communicate with employees if they are exposed to a colleague or visitor known to have COVID-19. Second to that, will be an ability to communicate with employees who may have come in contact with an ill individual without repeatedly shutting down the office and closing business unless absolutely necessary. 

To do this, contact tracing between employees and potentially impacted areas of the office is needed. With an employee’s permission, we can back-trace their pathway for the two-weeks prior and subsequently identify those employees at risk who should also self-isolate. This strategy not only helps businesses effectively communicate with employees, but maintain continuity without needing to shutter their doors with every infection. 

 

Technology Adopters Will be Faster to Adapt 

Indoor location technology can help make the workplace safer when we return to the office. The data can be used by real estate, facilities and workplace experience teams to measure and adjust strategies as our “new” becomes “normal.”

Through our platform, companies get a realistic view of how employees use their space, what areas are used most and least by employees, employee:desk or employee:floor ratios for every department, and more valuable metrics like density and visibility into high risk areas. From here, managers can physically redeploy their workforce in a way that works best, doesn’t disrupt business and respects physical distancing. 

Our newest solution, InFORCE provides security and operations teams with key people metrics to improve facilities maintenance and cleaning. It can help focus efforts on high-traffic areas, or even direct people down the most efficient travel pathways to boost greater compliance and understanding of a “six foot office” concept. 

COVID-19 may wind up being the impetus for companies to create a Smart office – driven by keeping employees safe and designed for business continuity should another global event such as this pandemic occur. It’s not a matter of if it happens again, but when. Is your office prepared?

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