The New Normal: Post COVID-19 Office Preparedness Guide

As the COVD-19 pandemic begins to stabilize, organizations around the world are faced with the daunting task of reopening while keeping employees and customers safe at the same time.

Every organization should ensure the plan for reopening meets any local or federal guidance. The safety of employees and customers should be the top priority.

Building preparation

The first thing that should be done when preparing to reopen is to make sure the building is ready to go.

Organizations can begin by checking the building’s core systems. Core systems include:

  • Fire and life-safety systems
  • Water systems
  • Mechanical systems, including HVAC systems
  • Elevators, escalators or other means of moving within the building

Organizations that rent an office in a larger office building should check with the building owner about these systems.

Cleaning is another important aspect of preparing the building for reopening. High-use areas should be identified and thoroughly cleaned. High-use areas and objects include:

  • Hallways
  • Restrooms
  • Gyms or fitness centers
  • Conference rooms
  • Doors and handles
  • Desks and equipment
  • Touch screens

All surfaces in the building should be disinfected using a government-approved disinfectant. Every individual who is responsible for cleaning should wear the proper personal protective equipment (PPE).

Organization preparation

The reopening plan should include the policies and procedures that will go into effect once the office reopens.

All of the changes that are made to the work environment should be communicated to the employees before they return to the office. This communication should be done frequently through various communication channels and include:

  • What employees should expect upon returning to the office
  • Explanation of the changes and new policies
  • Demonstrations of what employees can expect
  • Instructions on how to prepare for returning to the office
  • Suggestions for commuting to the office

Organizations should encourage employees to continue safe behavioral practices. These include:

  • Social distancing
  • Frequently washing hands
  • Wearing face coverings
  • Avoiding touching their eyes, nose and mouth
  • Staying home when sick
  • Regular cleaning and disinfecting of high-use objects and areas

Workplace preparation

Organizations also need to take the time to prepare the workplace for the return of employees. To begin with, organizations should clean and disinfect the office. This includes all work areas and breakrooms.

Organizations should do their best to encourage social distancing within the office. This can be done in several ways:

  • Develop a way to regularly count how many employees are in a specific area
  • Create a traffic flow plan that directs foot traffic in main areas
  • Place marks on the floor to encourage social distancing where lines may form
  • Increase the space between desks
  • Add desks to large areas, such as a conference room
  • Provide seating assignments
  • Reduce room capacity
  • Stop holding meetings in large meeting rooms
  • Forbid of the use of rooms that encourage large gatherings of people

Organizations should be sure whatever changes that are made to the workplace do not violate any local, state or federal building codes.

There should be a plan in place for containing any viruses that may enter the workplace. If an employee does start to experience symptoms, it is a good idea to have a quarantine room where they can go if needed. Also, designate one location for all deliveries to go to. All deliveries can be disinfected in this one location before being distributed throughout the office.

Entering the workplace

Employees should notice changes when they first enter the workplace. First, there should be a limited number of entrances for employees and guests to use. This may include closing certain entrances, as long as it does not violate any building codes.

There should also be hand sanitizer at all entrances for employees to use before getting too far into the workplace. Employees may also notice temperature screeners at all entrances along with signs explaining new policies and procedures. Signs can be helpful for both employees and guests.

Receptionists should receive training on how to safely interact with anyone entering the workplace. Other things organizations can do in entrance areas include:

  • Installing glass screens to separate receptionists and guests
  • Rearranging the reception area to prevent guests from leaning over the reception desk
  • Removing all touchscreens
  • Using disposable security stickers
  • Removing furniture from the reception area or rearrange it to promote social distancing
  • Providing PPE to guests

Inside the workplace

Once inside the workplace, employees should be reminded of good personal hygiene. This includes:

  • Covering mouths when coughing or sneezing
  • Turning away from people when coughing or sneezing
  • Frequent hand washing
  • Not borrowing other employees’ phones, desks or other equipment

Regular housekeeping should be done around the office, especially in open work environments. Every employee should assist in cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces and equipment. This can be as simple as wiping them with a disinfectant wipe before and after use. These high-touch surface and equipment can include:

  • Kitchen areas
  • Vending machines
  • Phones
  • Restrooms
  • Meeting rooms

Shared workplaces require a different set of considerations. These start with creating guidelines for safely sharing desks and workspaces. These should include how to properly disinfect them before and after use.

Employees in these workplaces should each have their own dedicated keyboard and mouse for computer use that is not shared with other employees.

Meetings should be limited to only those that are absolutely necessary. This can mean eliminating all face-to-face meetings with people from outside the organization. These meetings can be done virtually.

If a meeting does have to take place, limit the number of attendees. Ensure it takes place in a room large enough for social distancing to still be happening.

Once employees have returned, it’s important for the organization to continue to communicate with them. This means continually training on the new workplace procedures and good workplace hygiene.

Conclusion

The process for reopening should be a collaborative effort. Organizations should listen to their employees and take into consideration what will make them feel safe. There is not one correct way to reopen an office. Every organization should evaluate how they operate and make decisions based on what is best for them.

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