Think your office is ready to make the transition to in-person work again? You’re not alone. With pandemic restrictions being lifted and vaccine accessibility expanding, many offices are marking their calendars for their first day with open doors. Based on a recent LiveCareer survey, 79% of workplaces are planning to return to an in-person environment.
What that return will look like, however, is a different question. Many employees want the option to continue remote work at least part-time and COVID-related concerns still abound. While it’s easy to be hopeful for the future, it’s important to ensure you’re still opening up safely — including social distancing in the office, mask wearing and contact tracing. If you and your employees feel that reopening is the right call, here are four ways to get it done:
1. Mask up
Whether you’re a customer-facing operation where new faces are constantly coming and going or just working with an internal team, mask-wearing is an essential part of office safety. Masks significantly reduce your risk of catching COVID-19 and are even better at preventing transmission if you’re unknowingly infected. It’s no wonder the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that office workers mask up whenever social distancing rules aren’t possible.
What kinds of masking policies your team puts in place should be based on the size of your shared space, as well as state and local social distancing measures. A common approach is to allow employees to work maskless at their desk (as long desks can be easily spread out) but require them to wear masks when moving around the office.
One of the easiest ways to ensure both employees and visitors stay safe without slowing down productivity is by keeping a stockpile of fresh masks at the ready. Want to combine employee safety, environmental smarts and marketing synergy? Replace those standard blue surgical masks with ones made from sustainable cotton paper that feature your brand’s logo and color scheme.
2. Create your office layout around easy physical distancing
Even if group meetings and easy collaboration are some of your key motivators for returning to the office, it’s important to keep employees spread out when they’re working solo. Experts say open office designs and features like long desks with multiple workers at them will probably be a thing of the past. Instead, prioritize workstations that are at least six feet apart and have a physical barrier. If workstations can’t be moved a safe distance apart, then try placing Flyers on the desks that are off-limits.
In addition to carefully placing desks and office furniture, you and your team should examine ways to promote physical distancing in hallways, the break room and other shared space. One of the easiest ways to maintain the ever-important six feet of space is by making walkways, exits and entrances each one-way. Try using colorful Floor Decals and Posters that keep foot traffic moving one way.
3. Have a contact tracing plan to slow the spread
From restaurants that take down your contact information with a reservation to COVID-19-positive family members calling to tell you to quarantine, contact tracing has been a big part of keeping people safe during these challenging times. Your office can keep the trend going by appointing a COVID 19 coordinator, per CDC guidelines, to ensure everyone’s phone number is on file and report any positive cases to the local health authorities.
To aid contact tracing efforts, be sure to limit the number of employees working in the office at one time. While a completely in-person workplace might be the desired goal, smaller groups make it easier to determine who may have been exposed in the event that someone in your office tests positive. Figuring out who comes in on which days is up to you and your employees. Just be sure to keep a record of who’s present on any given day, perhaps with a sign-in Notebook and set of clean pens.
4. New work setting, new attitude
At this point, it’s become a cliche to talk about how the months ahead will be a “new normal,” rather than a return to normal. That doesn’t mean it’s not true. While physical changes, like masks, spread-out desks and video conferencing may seem like the priority, your office culture will probably also need an update.
After a year without Friday happy hours and late-night conference room meetings, your natural inclination may be to go full speed ahead. However, there’s no guarantee everyone on your team will be on the same page. It’s important to develop a reopening plan that works for everyone — that could mean anything from bringing everyone back on a 9-5 basis to more of a hybrid model. As you reopen, be sure to stay in tune with the needs of your coworkers. This pandemic has been a stressful time for everyone. Now’s a great time to show leadership through empathy.
Ultimately, your return to the office is a great time to reflect on the lessons learned during the year away and incorporate them moving forward. From video conferencing and remote hires to simply giving your employees more flexibility, the “new normal” is your opportunity to create a workplace that’s safer than ever before.
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