The gradual easing of Coronavirus restrictions is a welcome move for businesses that have struggled through the last few months of working from home, social isolation, travel disruptions and more. But there's a bit of thought and planning that needs to happen before the office goes back to normal. Here's our simple guide to returning to work after COVID.
Consider the need to return to work after Covid
Before making any changes, consider the need for your employees to return to work. Think about whether it's:
- Essential - if it's not necessary to bring employees back to the workplace, perhaps it's not worth the time and effort until things get back to normal
- Sufficiently safe - be sure to understand the risks that come with your work environment and the steps that you need to take to mitigate them
- Mutually agreed - fear is a powerful driver of behaviour. So, while it's reasonable to expect employees to comply with direction from management if someone is too frightened to return to work, it's going to be near impossible to change their perspective. Be sure to actively listen to what your employees are saying and stay compassionate.
Develop policies for who will return to the office and when, and how work will be performed. Ask yourself:
- What your business will look like the post-COVID-19
- How you will stage a return to the workplace
- What changes you have to make and how the company will embrace this change
- Whether the company has a response plan for a potential second wave of COVID-19 or an economic downturn
- Whether the company is agile enough
How the business cares for its people should be at the heart of any decisions and plans made.
Transport to and from work
Encourage workers to ride or walk to work where practicable and to avoid public transport at peak times. If possible, provide additional parking spaces and follow state transport regulations while travelling.
Revise office entry protocol
If you aren't doing so already, consider managing the entry to the office by:
- Installing signage to direct visitors to phone-in before entering
- Temperature checking visitors and employees at the door with an infrared thermometer and confirming that they are free of symptoms. If you document this type of screening, communicate the reason behind it and how you will manage their data, keeping in mind data protection and privacy rules.
- Document entries and exits via a paper or electronic registration system (preferred)
- If workers gain access to the workplace via a fingerprint-controlled access system, consider temporarily switching it off in favour of individual access cards.
Enhance cleaning and disinfectant regimes
In order to protect your employees and make them feel safe, it is essential to maintain good hygiene and a clean workplace by:
- Increasing the frequency and extent of cleaning throughout the day
- Ensuring hand sanitiser, wipes and/or sprays are readily available and visible from every vantage point
- Providing personal protective equipment (PPE) where it makes sense to do so
- Reducing touchpoints around the office. For instance, installing touch-free soap dispensers and temporarily offering single-use cutlery and condiments
- Apply anti-microbial coatings to counters, door handles and other high-touch areas
It's also important to continually remind staff about their hygiene. Encourage frequent hand washing, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds. Instruct workers to avoid contact with high touch objects or surfaces and remind them of the need to cover coughs or sneezes with a tissue or elbow.
Manage employee numbers
Large numbers of returning workers increase risk and may violate social distancing requirements. So, plan for a staged return.
Consider rotating groups of employees every few days or staggering start and finish times to ensure coverage across roles and to support distancing.
Maintain regular communication
Communications between organisations and their employees have ramped up over the last few months. And returning employees to work isn't the time to relax this.
Enable two-way communication with your employees throughout the entire process to provide reassurance and ensure that staff are getting what they need. Consider:
- Employee surveys
- Increased email communications
- One-on-ones and team meetings
- Introducing an open door policy
It's also important to take steps to rebuild morale. The return to work may feel unsettling for some, and some team members may not be returning at all. Stay sensitive and restore the culture by promoting achievements, increasing collaboration and staying positive about the future.
Redesign your workspace
Reconfigure your office to support employee distancing.
- Meeting Spaces - remove extra conference room chairs to reduce capacity
- Communal, unassigned spaces - re-adjust the spacing of furniture and remove any furniture that is not required
- Training Rooms - keep training virtual for the time being. You can instead use these spaces to relocate teams or store unnecessary furniture
- Food Areas- Consider making the office coffee maker, communal snacks and water dispenser off-limits for now. If your office offers food service, the vendor will likely insist on reduced hours, limited offerings, prepacked items and zero cash policy.
- Work areas - minimise the number of desks in a room and add height-adjustable panels between workspaces
- Floor markers and signage - consider installing floor markers or using tape to direct foot traffic and signage to indicate the maximum number of people allowed in a space
Returning to work after Covid: What does the future look like for you?
For many businesses, the 'new normal' will be a balance of fixed and flexible working, leaving many considering how much office space they will need in the future. As property costs are usually the highest fixed costs for businesses, so any space-saving will boost the bottom line.
Are you looking to reduce your office space or renegotiate your lease? Contact the team at Tenant CS. We're independent real estate experts that exclusively represent tenants. In April and May 2020, Tenant CS collectively achieved over $2.4 million in rental savings for our clients. Get in touch.
Not convinced? Here are seven reasons to appoint a tenant rep.