If you’re a business owner or manager whose team is currently working remotely, have you started to think about what returning to work will look like? You will need to have a plan in place to ensure worker safety, even in an office environment. This will be true whether you own a building or rent space. Some things you may need to consider in your plan:
Maintaining social distancing in your office
Those in an open floor plan will need to create physical separation between work spaces. Ideas include moving work stations farther apart (if feasible), installing “sneeze guards” or other barriers, and working in shifts. This could mean some people work from home while others work from the office. It could mean having people working at different times of the day.
Face-to-face staff meetings, for example, will require more physical distance between people. Does your office space allow for sufficient distance? If not, you may need to hold videoconference meetings within your space. That may require faster internet speeds to manage the increased bandwidth.
Shared kitchen facilities
Expect social distancing to continue in break rooms and kitchen areas. I know of at least one employer who has told employees they should plan to bring lunch from home, in a cooler, as the employee kitchen is likely to be off-limits. Group meal functions, birthday parties, and other events with shared food sources may need to be halted for some period of time.
New OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration) requirements
In the USA, employers with a certain number of employees, or in certain industries, are required to post various workplace safety instructions and other notifications. There may be some new requirements like this for small businesses. This could include posters to be hung or developing specific COVID-19 plans and policies.
Movement within buildings
Expect limitations on the number of people allowed in elevators. This also extends to restroom facilities, shared mail rooms and other quasi-public spaces. While this is likely a minor inconvenience, it will increase wasted time and a need to “schedule” activities that require movement.
Some buildings already have touchless entrances, but many do not. Automatic doors for entrances to a building, as well as individual office suites, may be needed. Hands-free entrances may reduce the frequency with which surfaces must be sanitized. I’ve seen several ads already for gadgets that allow people to open doors or windows without have to touch the handles themselves.
PPE and sanitizing
Workers may be required to wear masks in order to return safely to work, and this may be something that employers are expected to provide. There are likely to be new guidelines for cleaning and sanitizing individual work stations, shared surfaces, and public or common areas. At minimum, plan on sanitizing stations or individual hand sanitizers to be available for employees. You may want to consider whether employees will need to monitor their temperatures before coming in to the office. Develop new “stay home” policies for anyone who isn’t feeling well, exhibits, symptoms, or has been exposed to COVID-19.
Visitors and Deliveries
Determine whether visitors will be allowed when you’re returning to work. You may need to adopt policies that limit the number of people who can visit, or when. Limit how often deliveries can be made. Establish a “contactless” delivery plan to limit interactions.
Returning to work will require new habits, plans, and policies to ensure everyone’s safety. Start thinking about it now to avoid any last-minute surprises. Dr. John Sullivan has written an interesting piece on social distancing at work, which you may find useful.