After primarily working remotely since the beginning of the pandemic, people all over the world are yearning for face-to-face social interaction. Relationship attrition has eroded all but the strongest of bonds, and even those strong ties are experiencing Zoom fatigue. The lack of in-person interaction is making life — and working from home — a lonely existence. Employees, for the most part, miss working alongside their colleagues. In some cases, the isolation is even impacting their mental health.
So, despite the infrastructure, cultural and training challenges, smart employers need to consider their options and take action now to prepare staff for the return to the office. A failure to do so may not only erode morale, engagement and productivity… it could lead to employee churn.
Safety, of course, is paramount. A torrent of new studies and research reports on the “return to work” correctly underscore employee safety as an overarching theme. Then there’s the matter of trust. How do you make your staff feel you have taken all the correct steps to safeguard their health and wellness? According to a report by Edelman, only half of employees believe office spaces are safe. Are you instilling confidence in the workplace, as you consider your plans for reopening or partially reopening?
The right tech to help deploy in a safe return
To rise to the safety challenge, and get people back to the office, leading businesses are looking to the latest technology solutions. With the right tech deployed, you can better ensure employee wellness at work and a safe and efficient return to the workplace.
From tracking individuals arriving on premises and advanced sanitation procedures, to ensuring safe numbers, safe distances and employee trust in workplace safety, smart tech can manage the deluge of challenges organizations face right now. As we continue to roll with these changes, it’s squarely on your shoulders to select the best tools to assist in the implementation of wellness and sanitation measures — ones that will dramatically reduce the risk of exposure in the workplace.
But which essential measures will you pursue? How can you set a safe return to work in motion in a way that meets current legislative guidelines, optimizes space usage and gives everyone the right level of office access in a constantly changing landscape? In all cases, a best fit tech solution will be your best friend.
Although there are limitations to what a facility manager can do to stave off the course of this pandemic, the pressure is on to re-imagine and repurpose the workplace for the new era to minimize costs and maximize a safe return for all (or at least some) of your workforce.
Five Ways to Achieve a Safer “Return to Work”:
As a facility manager, you cannot continually monitor and measure the health of every individual that enters and exits your building. You can, however, rigorously adopt new hygiene, contact tracing and space usage protocols to meet the new requirements — and inspire confidence that your space is safe and sanitary. Here are some smart ideas:
1. Enforce Mask Protocols – this is critical
Requiring the use of face masks is an essential place to start when planning staff re-entry to the physical workplace. Government guidelines suggest that all individuals wear a face mask whenever they are unable to maintain proper physical distance from others. A mask helps to reduce the chance of an individual’s respiratory droplets coming into contact with others and also contaminating desk surfaces. The use of masks is, first and foremost, recommended to protect an employee’s co-workers, rather than the individual employee wearing the mask.
2. Strict Cleaning Protocols
Whether or not you use new sanitation tech, strict new cleaning protocols and careful oversight of cleaning schedules and procedures are crucial. Be sure to establish stringent cleaning protocols and schedules for all common areas and any shared workspaces. This includes pre-return inspections, as well as HVAC and mechanicals checks. How often will your cleaners be scheduled? How will you verify cleanings have been complete to your new, stricter standards?
3. Space & resource planning for safe social distancing
With only 30-50% of usable space remaining to you, your employee numbers will no doubt far outnumber the desks available. How will you stagger and schedule desk and room usage to remain safe and compliant? How many desks will your office be able to accommodate under the circumstances? In what configuration? How do you decide which people to bring back to the office, and when? Where will they sit, meet… and for how long?
A strategic and precise approach to planning resources and space usage is critical to safety in the return to work. Before COVID, hotdesking was used for a small percentage of office space; now it’s a solution for most (or all) of your available seats – and an effective way to manage space constraints and allow the maximum number of workers to safely occupy available desks. To manage all this, facility managers will need a tech solution that automates the process seamlessly; one that allows authorized employees to book – via their phone — available desks and fully sanitized rooms.
4. Health monitoring
According to a recent US survey by The Conference Board, 67% of respondents indicated that they are requiring screening, testing, or temperature checks of employees before welcoming them back to the office. What will be your policy? At minimum it is recommended that you roll out the following:
Employee health questionnaire
Ensure you have a system to survey employees on their health symptoms and exposures before they you physically invite them back to the office.
Be sure to utilize the right technologies and tracking tools that enable you to see “who was where, and when” in your facility, at any given time. Should someone in your building fall ill with COVID, it will be critical to act quickly, and alert others who may have been in contact with them.
5. Enhanced sanitation to keep surfaces/air virus free
Finally, an exciting array of new sanitation products and technologies have emerged, for those who have the money to invest. This includes everything from self-sanitizing coatings that can be applied to high-touch surface keeping them bacteria-free for up to one year… to infrared lighting that disinfects spaces without the use of chemicals. Additionally, there are new touchless technologies for work washrooms, kitchens, and trash receptacles that should be considered, such as touchless faucets and soap dispensers. Consider whether there are doors and other touchpoints that can be eliminated. A complete survey of your space to isolate high touch areas is now essential.
Rising to the challenge of ensuring a safe office in the return to work is not going to be easy. But it’s nice to know a solutions-driven approach will give you peace of mind you’ll get it right, without missing any essential steps – or leaving gaps that could put your staff or workplace at risk.
As the head of IBI Group’s Office of Innovation, Deepak is driving IBI’s transformational pivot to a technology-driven design firm through focused efforts catalyzing core growth, transforming IBI’s business models, exploring future tech disruptions in the industry, and fostering innovation.