Return to the Office, Safely

Happy September everyone! We are on our way to Labor Day Weekend, the symbolic end of summer. This year, Labor Day Weekend is also our cue to move beyond the pandemic pause that in mid-March disrupted the operations of nearly half of the nation’s businesses. Enough is enough. Business owners and leaders must prepare to tackle the COVID workplace logistics at their organizations and settle into the new normal.

The sorting out process of who will work from home and for how many days per week is underway. Office hours and days of operation are under review. Whether or not the organization needs the same amount of office space, which inevitably leads to a discussion of a possible move, is being considered. Everything is potentially up for grabs, including the products and services that are sold.

After following hastily devised processes that were enacted in the early days of the shutdown, the vital matter of how forward-facing team members will engage with prospective customers in a way that makes all parties feel comfortable must be resolved. Is it smart or risky at this point to invite customers to the office for socially distanced face2face meetings? Will prospects respond to a video sales pitch? So much is unknown.

Then there is the matter of what the safely reopened office will look like and what it will feel like to work there. How will your organization incorporate social distancing guidelines, infection control protocols, personal protective equipment and new normal staff and customer interactions?

What other changes can workers expect when they get back to the office? Will the kitchen be open and can coffee or tea be made? Can lunches still be stored in the fridge? Can we microwave?

The Centers for Disease Control and state public health commissions have established guidelines for places of business. Your insurance company can help your company to interpret the regulations that now apply. Click here for the CDC office building guidelines. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/businesses-employers.html

To move forward with your office reopening, promote staff buy-in of the anticipated changes by inviting the team, or representatives from each department, to assist in planning and executing the new office lay-out and infection control procedures.

Create a sign-up sheet that lists categories such as office entry/ lobby, conference room. photocopy room, restroom, workstations and kitchen and ask team members to volunteer to suggest the lay-out of the office sectors with the new regulations in mind. Members of each team can be responsible for the ongoing maintenance of the space they volunteered to manage.

But the best solution will be to apply whatever available funds to hiring a space planning firm that specializes in helping companies institute COVID practices as mandated. Let the experts design a space and suggest office furniture that will enhance traffic flow, protect privacy, be attractive and make the best use of available space.

Health screening

Large office buildings have tasked their building entry concierge team to first conduct a quick health screening of all who enter, in addition to the usual ID check, appointment confirmation and badge ritual. Those running a fever are denied entry.

Smaller office buildings may leave health screenings to each tenant and perform only the ID protocol. Regardless of your building’s protocol, be sure to post a sign at the office entrance to announce that masks will be required. A basket of free surgical masks to offer will be a nice touch.

Disinfecting

Lysol, Clorox and 70% alcohol solutions are known to kill the coronavirus, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Daily wipe downs are a must for items such as shared desks, conference tables, chairs, computer keyboards and nearly all surfaces in the en suite kitchen and restroom. Providing a bottle of hand sanitizer in high traffic areas will be helpful.

Door knobs, counter tops, microwave oven doors and handles. water faucets, remote control devices, light switches, heat or air conditioning knobs, product displays, telephones and cash registers/ point of sale devices are likewise virus (and bacteria) breeding grounds and in need of one or more disinfecting wipe downs every day.

Speaking of hand sanitizer, the pandemic has shown us that Mom was right about keeping our hands clean, whether with hand sanitizer or soap and water. We must also learn how to wash our hands. First. remember to wash the area between the thumb and the other fingers. Second, when performing a soap and water scrub, lather up for 20 seconds —-the time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song—before rinsing.

Social distancing

We all know the drill by now—-6 feet of separation, as per CDC recommendations. We want to do whatever is possible and practical to retard the spread of the air-borne coronavirus. Most offices already have at least 6 feet between desks, but some work stations will need an adjustment.

Computers and keypads placed at common work stations will need a re-thinking. Conference tables will likely need several chairs removed. There may be limits on the number of people who may occupy the office kitchen or restroom or photocopy room at any one time.

Working from home

Many white collar workers can simply turn on their personal laptop, desktop, or tablet and commence office hours. A daily videoconference meeting or two is usually sufficient to keep team members on their paths, supplemented by brief phone calls when useful. Videoconferences can also be used to promote staff camaraderie.

A survey of 25,000 workers that was conducted by IBM in April 2020 showed that 75% of respondents hope to continue working from home at least partially after the pandemic. Millions of white collar workers apparently expect the work from home trend to continue and as a result, home sales in the suburbs and exurbs that border big cities have increased dramatically, as people search for living quarters that allow more space for a home office (or two). Space for at-home schooling is another consideration.

PPE

While in the office workers will be masked at all times, except when on the telephone, eating, or drinking. Masks, surgical gloves and hand sanitizer should be made available to as a courtesy to all who enter the premises. Some workers may prefer to wear a face shield. It is constricting but for the time being, it’s what we do.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark. The health screening checkpoint at the Prudential Tower in Boston. The concierge conducts a body temperature reading using the laptop computer shown. If the computer reads an individual as afebrile, s/he is next invited to approach the ID checkpoint.