Social distancing sign

Reopening workplaces – safety and well-being guide

OPINION REAL ESTATE

by Hannah Freeman, March 10, 2021

FOCUS Innovation Studio is actively guiding its clients on how to bring employees back to the office safely, while simultaneously upgrading its own game plan in the post-pandemic era. 

How did FOCUS coworking spaces so successfully navigate the crisis? By sharing our company’s tips, our goal is to provide both transparencies in our own processes and procedures and help to inform and guide others through these harsh times.

We are regularly updating our knowledge base with lessons that we have learned, as well as offering guidance and understanding of the evolving state of coworking spaces.

Our team is committed to sharing safety insights as we all navigate these unprecedented challenges collectively. No matter what company or industry, these guides we have prepared for you will keep the safety and well-being of employees at the forefront of every decision.

Phase 1 – Planning For The Return to Workplace

Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the biggest business challenges of our generation. To keep our businesses going while reducing the risks for employees, most companies have adopted new ways and principles of working, that have left their offices, factories, stores, and other facilities safer both for employees and the environment.

Setting guiding principles

Every reopening approach should be grounded in the four guiding principles:

  • Safety: The safety of our workers, guests, contractors, partners, and the surrounding communities should be at the forefront of our decision-making. 
  • Compliance: Complying with all relevant and local governmental procedures and orders.
  • Collaboration: The continual leverage over expertise from across industries in a collaborative manner means continual assessment and, if necessary, refined approach and guidance between leaders and colleagues.
  • Agility: These are evolving and fluid circumstances and we must remain ready to adapt and respond swiftly. Our team must remain well versed in protocols, to be able to respond to exposure concerning our communities and work environments. 

Hand sanitizer

Establishing Office Occupancy Standards

Prior to seeking approval to reopen a specific office, Local Market Leaders and their operations support teams are responsible for preparing their offices to reopen and planning for the gradual return of employees. : 

  • Determine seat capacity – Review the current space plans to meet minimum social distancing requirements of 6-linear-feet between each workstation. The reduction of public and lounge seating throughout the office space should also be reduced in order to adapt to physical distancing. 
  • Determine seat demand – Local market leaders should review the current head-count roster to categorize each employee according to their required and/or anticipated access to the office. 
  • Adapt space – Preparing the space to maintain social distancing guidelines.

Another new consideration as we adapt to our workspaces to be Covid-safe is to create spaces for employees to engage in online meetings, which will continue to be popular even if employees are not working from home. Encouraging all employees to continue meeting via video conference can be done through the conversion of huddle rooms and small conference rooms to single-occupant offices.

Large meeting and training rooms can be used for gatherings of up to 10 people, as long as they adhere to 6-foot distancing.

Phase 2 – Reopening Offices and Bringing Employees

Upon each employee’s return to work, a selection of basic office supplies and masks should be available for pick-up at the entrance to the office. 

This will limit the number of people accessing the small supply cabinets and walking around the common areas.

Staff should also maintain social distancing protocols, and plexiglass barriers should be installed in a way that they separate the desks, wherever there is room for it. One barrier per person is recommended, and if plexiglass is not available, staff that deals with a great number of people during the day should wear a protective eye covering or a face shield. 

Minimizing the number of items handled by personnel means removing items that are often shared or touched by multiple parties, such as a candy dish, desk bell, shared supplies, periodicals, etc. Front doors will remain secure so that only employees with access can enter.

A man with a black mask

Special-Purpose/High Touch Areas

The enhanced cleaning and disinfection have increased in all owned and leased facilities, focusing on high touch surfaces in areas such as communal rooms, restrooms, lobbies, dining establishments, and elevators. 

High touch surfaces can include tables, handrails, faucets, doorknobs, light switches, kitchen appliances, shared equipment, and computer workstations (monitors, keyboards, mouse, and other devices). 

Cleaning and disinfection should be done at least once per day in busy spaces. The frequency of sanitizing should be determined based on occupancy and use circumstances.

  • Mailroom and logistics: Adjust the process of domestic mail drop-off and pick-up locations. Mail should be stored for at least 24 hours before handling and delivery. Employees liable for handling mail should always wear disposable protection such as masks and gloves.
  • Restrooms: Remove shared products such as hand lotion, sprays, mints, etc. Soap dispensers should NOT be removed. Place trash receptacles next to doors where push/pull is required.
  • Production and supply room: Remove communal office supplies and wipe down equipment, cupboards, and storage containers after each use. 

Amenity and Hospitality Spaces

All amenities and hospitality spaces like cafeterias, breakrooms, kitchens, etc. must be modified to adhere to social distancing and hygiene necessities. Face coverings are needed when moving through space and when social distancing cannot be maintained. 

The use of floor decals can help workers sustain the imposed social distancing measure while directing each other to wipe down areas they touch or use.

All on-site shared spaces must either be closed or modified to provide pick-up options only. Employees should also be encouraged to consume their meals at workstations or outdoors, rather than in communal areas, where possible. Consider extending cafeteria hours by at least 30 minutes to provide longer break time and facilitate spontaneous social distancing.

Appliances

Appliances such as refrigerators, microwaves, and coffee machines should be available for use and frequently disinfected. Disposable cups and plates should be provided so employees and staff do not need to handle used dishware.

Phase 3 – Ongoing Workplace Management and Evolution

Appropriate measures must remain in force, in order to ensure the maintenance of social distancing protocols between employees. Appropriate steps must also be taken to ensure the reception area is no longer seen as the “drop-off” space for personal items.

The implementation of new methods is important in order to properly centralize locations or procedures that minimize the things that staff is expected to handle.

  • Only employees can access the place
  • Signage should be used to clearly outline the distance needed to be maintained when approaching any desk (or person)
  • Remove objects that are no longer appropriate
  • Implement furniture modifications to reduce capacities of high-traffic areas
  • Place hygiene/cleaning supplies in visible locations

Digitalization and Technology

To maintain social distancing, the implementation of new support protocols and services will enable the employees to schedule a time and place for dropping off and picking up the equipment they need for their job.

It is expected further encouragement of remote work, or new software and technology will be installed to allow online meetings held from the office. 

Though many people look forward to getting back to their offices, for others, this reinstallation can bring or worsen stress, anxiety, and depression. With the impacts of the pandemic, there are new, complex situations, challenges, and circumstances that employees and their employers must consider. 

Sustainable solutions presented through several steps of our guide allow employees and risk management professionals to reduce risk at work, and information on helping employees cope with stress and anxiety caused by the relocations and adaptation.

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