With the sudden, unexpected impact of COVID-19, millions of workers across the U.S. traded their cubicles for the kitchen table in a dramatic shift to working from home. Now, as states begin to reopen, businesses are wondering how best to prepare for a return to the workplace while ensuring safety, good health and productivity.
But workers will likely wonder what the new office rules will be in place and how to be sure to follow them. Let’s take a look at ways you can prepare for reopening your office space and maintaining a healthy workforce.
Recently, global real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield coined the term the “6 feet office,” referring to recommended social distancing guidelines for individuals. They further illustrated this concept with six elements to guide your return-to-office planning:
- 6 feet quick scan: A concise but thorough analysis of the current working environment in terms of virus safety — and any other opportunities for improvement.
- 6 feet rules: A set of clear, workable agreements and rules of conduct that put team safety first.
- 6 feet routing: A unique, visually-displayed routing for each office, making traffic flows completely safe.
- 6 feet workstation: An adapted and fully-equipped workspace at which the user can work safely.
- 6 feet facility: A trained employee to advise on and ensure an optimally functioning and safe environment.
- 6 feet certificate: A certificate stating that measures have been taken to implement a virus-safe working environment.
Depending on your business type, you may not need to tackle each of the six key areas, but your space will certainly require the implementation of some changes. Along with the six elements to consider, we think there are three key questions you must answer before returning to the office:
- What are the state and local guidelines that my business needs to follow?
- What additional rules will I institute in my workplace?
- How can I ensure employees understand and follow the new guidelines and rules?
Guidelines will vary across the country. Some areas require masks to be worn while others do not. The amount of people who can gather in one place may be limited. While national guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can help you with initial steps, your local department of public health can offer further guidance on the steps you need to take.
By now, everyone has heard of the recommended rule of 6 feet for social distancing. As you assess your workplace, do you need to modify the density of your office space to avoid employees being too closely packed together? You may need to invest in partitions or alternate work-from-home days at the outset of your return to the workplace. Along with spacing, the traffic flow of your office space may need modification. Like supermarket aisles, you may need to make some hallways and passthroughs between desks one-way only. Ample hand-sanitizer and sanitizing wipes should be on-hand if it’s available.
The most important step in this process is to educate your employees and help them comply. A two-fold solution of up-front communication and prominent signage can provide the clarity, direction and reminders your team needs.
Your modifications may involve changes to hours of operation, traffic flow and elevator etiquette, as well as keeping distance between people, counting in-person meeting attendees, and complying with mask requirements. Email communication with clear guidelines should go out well in advance of a planned return, followed by a conference call or online forum for employees to ask questions. Some employees may not be comfortable returning; if they are high risk, or could be infected with COVID-19, they may need to stay home longer. A phased return may be easier to implement rather than everyone returning all at once, especially if you’re reconfiguring spaces or work schedules.
Workplace signage is a powerful tool for reminding employees about the importance of following the rules. DGI has designed a suite of customizable signage that include:
- Practicing optimal hygiene (hand washing, mask use, sanitizer use, wiping down areas, etc.)
- Following one-way traffic flows
- Obeying limits for meeting rooms or elevators
- Inspiring camaraderie and team-building (we are in this together!)
- Being mindful of areas that have been identified as off limits
After a long work-from-home period, many workers look forward to returning to their offices. Others may be apprehensive. Understandably, there will be concerns either way about the “new normal” of a post-COVID-19 workplace. By having a plan and appropriate signage, you can safeguard your workforce’s productivity and wellness, now and in the future. DGI is ready to assist you in conveying your healthy, team-centered message. Contact us today to learn more.