7 Tips for Returning to the Office in a Post-Pandemic World

There will never really be a “post-pandemic” world. We will eventually vaccinate ourselves against SARS-CoV-2, better known as COVID-19, but the conditions that led to its outbreak could happen elsewhere and at any time.

The silver lining of this coronavirus pandemic is that individuals and institutions are learning and embedding some important lessons. We’re preparing ourselves to return to business as usual in some ways, create a new normal in others and put safeguards in place so the next event doesn’t hit as hard as this one has.

If you plan on returning to an office-based work environment in the post-COVID-19 world, you’re probably wondering how to go about it while safeguarding your health, the health of your employees and the families of everybody you bump elbows with at work.

Here are some tips for spinning up your business again safely and resuming office life.

1. Stagger Shifts to Manage Staffing Density

Businesses are beginning to reopen around the world, and one of the most important ways employers and employees are working together is by creating staggered shifts. This is where managers split the workforce into two or more groups. One group works during part of the day or week, and then the other takes over.

Staggering shifts like this is essential for managing staffing density, which is vital for upholding social distancing standards. Having fewer employees on-premises at a given time provides comfortable breathing room — literally — for all parties. It will require some flexibility and compromise as managers work with employees on the new schedules, but the result is a safer workforce.

2. Create a Work-From-Home Strategy

The adoption of work-from-home strategies has been slow but steady over the last several years. Thanks to digital storage, communication, and collaboration tools, roles that are amenable to telecommuting are increasingly making their way into cyberspace.

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Coronavirus is proving what many suspected, which is that we can and should be doing more to encourage telecommuting. WFH life isn’t for everybody, but managers and employees should take this time to actively explore the documented benefits, such as higher productivity, improved engagement and lower expenses for all parties.

Then, it’s a matter of drawing up transparency and workflow guidelines to keep everybody engaged and accountable. COVID-19 may have forced the WFH issue, but there are plenty of good reasons to welcome this particular technological development.

3. Reconfigure Your Space or Lease a New One

Health officials predict social distancing will be with us for the foreseeable future, which is why retailers didn’t waste time investing in plexiglass barriers, painting spacing dots on the floor, and closing or shifting conveyors and registers to enforce the recommended 6-foot distance.

For office environments with large staff playing a variety of roles on-site, closing the office or telecommuting might not be feasible. In cases like these, companies will need to rearrange floorplans and even reinvest in office furniture. It’s also wise to purchase touchless doorknobs, faucets and trash receptacles to further reduce the spread of the virus.

For things that must be shared or are touched often, like keyboards and door knobs, clean and sanitize as often as possible. It’s also smart to hire a professional cleaning service to sanitize the office on a daily basis to further limit risks. 

4. Commit to Regular Communication

Any number of polls over the years show that workers value communication more than almost any other business priority. In one of these, 91% of some 1,000 employees said their workplace leaders lack critical communication skills.

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Dysfunctional communication can throw a wrench into morale, productivity and workplace trust even at the best of times. During COVID-19 and the recovery period, it’s even more critical.

This point is for employees, managers, presidents and CEOs alike. Not every situation calls for a companywide email. However, we all must make it a point to check in periodically about the state of the company and families, give honest pulse-checks about how work is going and generally maintain open channels.

Honesty, transparency and good speaking skills will go a long way in helping our workplaces feel like thriving and productive environments, no matter the outside challenges life throws our way.

5. Draw up New Safety Protocols

Interim recommendations from the CDC still say to limit group size to 10 people if there are high-risk individuals present. With this in mind, offices everywhere will have to revisit how they think about meetings, other gatherings, access control and facility management.

The ACLU has a new white paper out contending that some employer efforts to screen workers for virus symptoms are unhelpful for containment and damaging to civil liberties. Camera-based fever detection tools and other recent innovations offer inconsistent results and may provide little more than security theater.

Nevertheless, offices will definitely need new safety protocols in the post-pandemic world. These could include any or all of the following:

  • Lowering the headcount at meetings or canceling in-person gatherings altogether, in favor of online chats and newsletters.
  • Eliminating guest visits to the facility except under necessary and controlled circumstances.
  • Implementing new screening and access management procedures, such as checking for fever and other symptoms at the start of every workday.
  • Updating facility management practices, including the frequency with which waste is removed or surfaces receive deep-cleaning.
  • Instructing employees to wipe down high-touch surfaces once per hour or more.
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Coronavirus has proved there’s a moral obligation to provide paid sick leave as well. Employers must encourage their staff to stay home if they suspect they’re coming down with something. Unfortunately, self-isolation — when gainful employment is available but paid sick leave is not — is a prospect most Americans can’t afford to keep up for long, if at all.

In this matter and others, employers must give some ground and improve the entitlements their employees can expect in ordinary or extraordinary times.

6. Provide and Encourage the Use of PPE

You may not be doing yourself any favors when you wear gloves to the grocery store, but having access to and conscientiously using all relevant forms of PPE is vital for keeping the COVID-19 curve as flat as possible. Team members in an office might not need ER-caliber face shields and gloves, but employers should still enforce best practices with respect to masks until state health secretaries begin signaling the all-clear.

Employers should also provide easy access to supplies like hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol or higher, sanitizing wipes, tissues, cleaning fluids and other products. If workers spot inventories of these supplies running low, there should be an easy way to signal for reordering.

A Safe Return to the Office

With these fundamentals in mind, offices everywhere can begin putting together reopening plans to keep their employees and their families safe. Everybody has the right to a safe workplace, and cooperation can help us get there — and get through this — together.

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