For some people, the work-from-home (WFH) life will continue for a while longer. Others may soon be heading back to the office. For employers, now is the time to prepare for their return. How will you help ensure your office spaces are safe for people to use? Conference rooms, shared desks, kitchens, and more pose health threats. There are many ways to reduce infection risk. Find the solutions that work for your needs.
In the Office
Open-plan offices have been popular for decades. Space-saving practices such as hot-desking and hoteling have recently become more common too. But all of that is set to change. Protecting office workers may mean altering office layouts and workforce policies.
Forgoing the Open Plan for Individual Space
An open-plan office space is costly to convert to offices. For most businesses, that won’t be an option. There are other solutions that make it easier for people to maintain social distancing.
If it’s possible for employees to keep working at home, this is by far the simplest option. Flexible work schedules may allow people to work at home and come into the office when they need to. But there are reasons why the WFH situation going on now is better as a temporary solution for many companies; for instance:
- Some employees are less productive at home because of distractions and a lack of routine.
- Your employees may not have the technology or gear they need to do their jobs most effectively.
If WFH isn’t the best option for your business, you may be able to create staggered shifts, where only part of your workforce is in the office at any one time.
These measures aren’t necessarily possible in every office, and even if you implement staggered shifts or have people work from home, those who are in the office still need protection. In these cases, using screens, guards, and partitions to create separate workspaces is an effective option. These offer the physical separation necessary to reduce the risk of virus transmission, and it takes the burden of remembering the six-foot rule off of employees.
Partition systems and work cubes have other benefits too:
- More privacy
- Reduced noise
- The sense for employees that they have something of their own at work
All these can help people concentrate better and boost morale.
Hot-Desking and Hoteling for the COVID Era
These terms describe similar practices: Employees have flexible work schedules and are in the office only part of the time. They grab desk space where and when they need it. These practices became popular because they helped busy offices save on space.
If hot-desking or hoteling is something you need to do in your office, it will be important to help employees reduce the risks of contracting a virus like the coronavirus. Provide hand sanitizer and disinfectant sprays or wipes, so people can clean their workstations—and their hands—before and after they use them. Keyboards, in particular, are extremely difficult to clean properly. Consider buying clear plastic keyboard covers, which are much easier to sanitize.
Even better would be giving employees designated workspaces that they—and only they—use throughout the day. You don’t have to erect offices or traditional cubicles to alter your hot-desking or open-plan office space. Customizable partitions between work sites are easy to implement and provide a physical barrier that reduces transmission risk.
Many infectious illnesses—including COVID-19—can be transmitted through touching contaminated objects. In light of this, switching to hands-free or automated processes may help reduce the risk. One such option is installing doors with sensors that detect when a person approaches or scans their badge and open automatically in response. The biggest downside here is the potential for growing pains as people get used to the way the sensors work. This should be only a temporary issue.
What if automation isn’t possible? Another option might be to set up sanitizer dispensers at eye-level at doors and elevators. People can then easily sanitize their hands whenever they have to touch the surface.
During the weeks of lockdown, online conferences became the norm. But with people getting back into the office, it will be important to find safe ways to hold meetings. A few solutions include:
- Meeting less often – Keep correspondence virtual unless absolutely necessary.
- Holding smaller gatherings
- Meeting in larger spaces, so that there’s enough room for people to sit at least six feet apart
What if there aren’t spaces large enough to allow people to maintain social distancing? In these cases, it may be safer to continue holding virtual meetings, rather than getting people together in the same room. If it’s crucial that employees gather face-to-face, plastic screens or sneeze guards can physically isolate people, while still allowing for communication.
The simplest way to reduce infection risk is to implement bathroom measures many offices have already put in place:
- Automatic toilet flushing
- Hands-free faucets
- Hands-free soap dispensers
- Automatic hand dryers
It may also be feasible to ask that people stagger bathroom use so there are only one or two people in at once.
Break Rooms, Lunchrooms, and Cafeterias
These areas have traditionally been places where employees congregate at certain times of the day. Now, it’s much safer for people to avoid spending time in groups or to maintain six feet of social distancing while they do so. Staggered breaks and lunch times offer a solution, but these measures only help reduce the number of people using these rooms at any time.
Making use of screens and partitions could be helpful, particularly in a cafeteria. It’s especially important that people can maintain the necessary distance here, in a room that’s busy and relatively crowded. Providing sanitation stations so that people can wash or sanitize their hands before eating is another useful measure.
Another option is to provide single-use eating and drinking utensils. It’s not the most environmentally friendly option, but it may be the safer one. Single-use items help protect cafeteria staff and your cleaning crew, as well as the people who eat and drink in the space.
Gyms and Game Rooms
If you provide your employees with the perk of an on-site gym or game room, then you’re probably wondering how to make it safe for use. As with other office spaces, this comes down to minimizing the number of people using the space and keeping everything sanitized.
Make sure that machines or games are well-spaced, so that people can maintain their distance while they exercise. Even better, place each machine within its own cubicle or set of partitions, so a stray cough or sneeze isn’t cause for alarm. And be sure people can wipe machines down and wash their hands before and after use by providing both disinfectant and sanitizer.
Getting Used to the New Normal
The new version of a normal day at the office may look a little different than it used to. But with some advance planning, it’s possible to implement measures that help employees stay safe as they get back to work.