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Preparing the Office when Employees Return

September 18, 2020

Working environments after the coronavirus pandemic will undoubtedly be different from what we left behind.

When the pandemic finally slows, how are we preparing to come back into the workplace? Developing a plan to improve remote work conditions, adapt the workplace, and ensure safety will be necessary for every business.

This article will help prepare your business and staff for heading back into the workforce in a post-COVID world.

Improve Remote Working Conditions

The modern workforce has increasingly embraced the concept of employees working remotely, especially recently.

When it comes to mitigating the effects of COVID-19, social distancing measures are still among the most effective strategies at our disposal. Consequently, extended work-from-home orders are still very much on the table at a lot of organizations.

But the positive effects of remote work don't just stop at COVID-19. Multiple studies have outlined the benefits of remote work, including: stress reduction, increased productivity, a broader talent pool, and better employee retention rates.

Even so, it is necessary to establish ground rules to keep the remote work program effective and manageable. A few ways to improve remote working conditions include:

  • Have regular videoconferences. Ensure employees know how to use it and encourage face-to-face (over video) interactions.
  • Create check-in protocols, update policies and guidelines, and review with employees to establish productive remote work.
  • Offer a home-office stipend to ensure employees have high-speed internet access and a functional home-office equipment setup.
  • Update IT infrastructure and security including providing a VPN (Virtual Private Network) access to your office so employees can work securely.

Companies can assure workers by implementing remote work capabilities that allow day-to-day operations to continue with very little interference.

Equip the Workplace 

A recent study by the PR firm Bospar found that more than half of working Americans are worried about contracting the coronavirus this year.

The trend of open floor plans has employees sitting closer to each other than ever before, and this design presents new challenges with potentially unsafe distancing and group interactions in common areas.

In the near term, businesses should focus on preparations to sanitize the office environment, reconsider the office layout, and limit social interactions. 

Clean Working Conditions and Office Furniture

Even if your company already follows guidelines, this pandemic is an opportunity to encourage new procedures.

The CDC provides recommendations on cleaning and disinfection around the novel coronavirus. A few ways to improve the cleanliness of the office environment:

  • Encourage employees to routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces, such as keyboards, lamps, office furniture, office desks, phones, countertops, and doorknobs.
  • Furnish disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, tissues, individual trash cans, etc. Employees working in this type of environment improve satisfaction and instills health and safety at work. 
  • Plan to regularly clean office furniture, including cubical walls, filing cabinets, standard office chairs, ergonomic office chairs, office desks, flooring, and wall dividers. McWaters can alleviate this concern by providing routine cleanings that offer a healthier environment for your business. 

Office Layout 

When Americans return to work, many will be returning to office conditions that do not incorporate social distancing or areas that could surely spread germs.

An estimated 70% of American offices use some form of the open floor plan. The open floor plan design that promoted collaboration and creativity could disappear this decade.

Some suggested steps to ease this transition and prepare for the near future in advance might be to:

  • Stagger employees by migrating them back to the office, allowing time to rearrange proper social distancing in the office, and incorporate cleanliness methods in place.
  • Install appropriate ventilation that uses quality HEPA filters to ensure a flow of fresh air and catch as many airborne particulates as reasonably possible.
  • Plan for possibly needing to rearrange your office layout to keep employees safe and healthy.

Social Interactions

The future unfolding demands for social behavior to change and interact in new ways that reduce the spread of germs.

Implement procedures such as: avoid handshakes, videoconference when appropriate, increase line space when waiting in break rooms, meet in larger conference rooms (if applicable), restrict outside visitors from entering unless necessary.

Ensure a Safe Future  

While many of us are working remotely today, and it is critical to begin preparations for tomorrow, it is paramount to consider how to ensure a safe future.

Viruses and bacteria are easily discarded as an afterthought by many, but with the recent pandemic, becoming acutely aware of invisible dangers and protecting everyone from harm will ensure this pandemic will not be as invasive in the future.

This can be managed effectively by implementing a continuity plan, training, and office design. 

Safety Procedures

Most companies already have policies and procedures in place to encourage safe working environments. With the way our world is now changing, it is critical to update these documents to prevent viral outbreaks within your company:

  • Review the Business Continuity Plan. A well thought out plan outlines how a company can continue to operate in unpredictable situations. It will explain actions to take, reduce stress, communicate processes, succession roles, and how to respond to vendors and customers. Companies that train in emergency situations make it easier for departments to adapt until normal operations continue. 
  • Monitor developments daily and provide a series of recommended strategies for employers to implement.
  • Consider appointing a cross-functional coronavirus emergency management team. 

Employee Training

The safety of everyone in your company is dependent upon all employees being aware and taking necessary precautions to prevent infections. Develop several training courses around physical health, pandemics, and company procedures. 

Topics might include:

  • How to protect coworkers and myself 
  • New policies  
  • Travel expectations 
  • Recognize symptoms

Future Office Design: Promoting Healthy Wellness

The coronavirus will steer companies to adjust to creating a healthier and safer workplace, opting for antimicrobial materials throughout the office, cleaner office furniture, incorporating advanced technology, and fewer people in the office.

Recent studies have shown the coronavirus can remain stable on different surfaces for days. Businesses are looking for a way to increase safety in our working environments. 

Office Furniture 

  • Utilize antimicrobial materials when possible, and be aware that some surfaces can hold viruses for long periods. Clean all these surfaces regularly with proper chemicals.
  • Common areas that use dual seating, beam seating, sectionals, and couches, might change to provide more space or even remove the upholstery. 
  • Replace used office furniture with new modern office furniture. We would recommend furnishing your office with durable, contemporary furniture produced by Steelcase company. 

Technology

  • Add technology features such as no-contact sensory lighting, rather than light switches, and keyless doorway entries and automated bathroom doors to limit the possible spread of germs.

Redesign 

Workdesign.com says, “on average, 30 percent of an organization’s office space is being underutilized.” With repurposing underutilized spaces, businesses can create efficient office environments that become strategic tools to encourage success while having a healthier working condition. 

Relocation 

You may decide now is the best time to relocate your business. According to Workdesign.com, “companies gearing up for the workplace of tomorrow will need the agility to meet the needs of their current and future workforce.” If the decision is made that relocation is the best alternative, McWaters Relocation Services will help in every step of the process. 

Final Remarks

No matter how much change the coronavirus brings to the workplace, McWaters is an office furniture solutions company that’s here to help businesses in Georgia and South Carolina stay up to date on all office trends. For more information about how we can provide your office with the latest commercial office furniture produced by Steelcase company, or relocation services, contact us.

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