We’re more than six months into the current global pandemic, and we’ve started to adapt to social distancing, wearing masks and working from home. We haven’t seen the end of the coronavirus yet — we may not even be in the home stretch — but we need to start considering how we’re going to get back to the office when its safe to do so.
What do you need to consider when you’re planning your post-COVID-19 reopening? There are plenty of options worth looking into before reopening your office doors and getting back to business as usual. Here are some things to consider.
Redesign Your Interior Space
Open-floorplan offices have become incredibly popular in recent years. Traditional cubicles have been replaced with wide-open spaces, long tables and collaborative efforts. While these may have worked well before the coronavirus, today, they’re essentially breeding grounds for the virus. Take the time to redesign your interior space.
As much as we dislike cubicles, they may be the best way to keep your team members safe as you reopen your office space. Invest in higher cubicle walls that will help prevent the spread of respiratory particles. Antimicrobial coatings can help reduce the amount of time you’ll need to spend sterilizing your office space as well.
Shut Off Air Conditioning
This isn’t always an option, especially if you don’t have windows you can open or don’t have control over your office’s HVAC system. However, if you can shut off the AC and open the windows — and have your office remain comfortable — it could help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
We’re still not 100% sure if COVID-19 spreads through air conditioning and ventilation systems. However, by studying other viruses, we can come to the conclusion that it is, at least, a risk. If you can reduce the risk with something as simple as shutting off the AC, it’s worth the effort.
We can’t pack employees into open-floorplan offices like sardines anymore. If you have a full office, you won’t be able to have all workers on the clock at the same time. One way to avoid this problem is to create rotating schedules — start early, stay late and break up the shifts so you’ve only got a fraction of the people on the floor at any given time.
You may also wish to rotate employees between being in the office and working from home to make social distancing easier. Consider adopting a part-time schedule like many schools are currently using — in the office for a couple of days a week and working from home the rest of the time.
Create New Safety Protocols
You likely already have safety protocols in place for anything that applies to your industry. Most plans include how to respond to a workplace injury and prevent workers from getting hurt in the first place. You will likely need to create new safety protocols to keep your employees safe and healthy.
Take a close look at CDC recommendations to see what you can do to keep your team safe. This includes things like social distancing, wearing masks when indoors, and increased cleaning and disinfection. Temperature checks before shifts and mandatory paid time off for testing if employees present symptoms are also good ideas.
Repurpose Communal Spaces
How much communal space do you have in your office? From conference rooms to kitchens to breakrooms, there’s a lot of extra space you probably won’t have a lot of use for in your new socially distanced space. Consider repurposing these areas so you can spread your team out further. You can split these rooms into private cubicles with minimal effort.
It might take a bit of an investment to add walls and dividers in otherwise open spaces, but it can make it easier to maintain social distancing. Masks and sanitizer or frequent hand washing are still essentially, but a few sheets of plexiglass can also make a huge difference.
If buying a bunch of cubicles isn’t in the budget, take a page from what grocery stores and restaurants have been doing since the pandemic started. You can create individual spaces with nothing more than plexiglass and pipe insulation to connect your joints.
Plexiglass can be more cost-effective than cubicles and can allow you to bring employees back to the office without putting them at risk. In a pinch, you can even use these makeshift cubicles to create separate workspaces in an open floorplan office, attaching them to existing desk or tabletops.
Upgrade Your HVAC System
Building and business owners may want to consider upgrading their HVAC systems to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Good airflow and fresh air both help to prevent the spread of the virus in enclosed spaces. Some places, such as hospitals and schools, have started having UV sterilizers installed in their ventilation systems to kill any virus that might be in the ducts.
This is an upgrade that may require communicating with building owners and other tenants within the structure. For a huge building with a shared ventilation system, it could be a worthwhile investment. Consult with an HVAC expert to see if your network might benefit from installing UV sterilizers or other filters that could remove any viral particles from the vents.
Health Comes Before Anything Else
The coronavirus pandemic is still in full swing, but companies that can’t keep their teams at home need to start considering plans to get employees back into the office safely. This isn’t something you’ll be able to accomplish overnight. It may require a significant investment, but when it comes down to it, the health of your employees is more important than anything else.
The coronavirus pandemic is changing the way we look at everything, from entertainment to office work. We may start to get back to normal as we navigate the next stage of this pandemic, but we will still need to take steps to ensure offices are safe and keep our teams healthy.