In the spring of 2020, the rules were pretty straight forward: everybody stay home and everybody keep your distance. The spring of 2021 is a little different. Some states are still in lockdown while others have lifted the mask mandate. Although one thing seems pretty consistent, people are returning to the physical workplace, which means empty offices need to be prepared to welcome back the team and to keep them safe.
If you are preparing for such a return, first and foremost it is important that you take the most current local regulations and legislation into account. This is not a case where you can go by hearsay. Check your local DHEC website often for updates. Beyond that, we have four basic rules (categories, really) that will help you bring your people back into a safe environment and give them the confidence that you’re looking out for them.
To facilitate a safe return to the office, there are four basic rules to follow:
- Social distance from one another
- Employ regular hygienic measures
- Call For individual accountability
- Continue to collaborate
1. Social distancing
While we are all familiar with this term, as it has been repeatedly drilled into our brain for the past year or more, we also know that defining its interpretation is key to its success. In the case of returning to the office, it’s important that you control the number of people on the site and leave nothing up to chance. You can accomplish this by:
- Organizing a system of 50% working at the office and 50% from home
- Making a seating plan so that people are not sitting across each other at their desk
- Installing a circulation plan in the office to maximize one-way traffic in corridors, staircases
- Limiting the number of people in elevators, break areas, and meeting rooms – indicate the maximum number of people by a sign and/or take away the excess chairs
- Limit the number of visitors at your site – make a simple document explaining the rules
2. Hygenic measures
Certainly, you’ve always had hygienic measures in place at your office. But now it’s time to step up your game to go beyond social hygiene and to declare all out war on this pesky virus.
First, agree on a rule where and when to wear face masks in the office: Always? Only when moving around? Make sure to align with local governmental rules.
Next, make sure soap, hand sanitizer, or disinfectant sprays are easily available in multiple places throughout your office: at the entrance, in the cafeteria, at the coffee machine, etc. Make sure people have an easy access to refills. Use one-use-use paper towels instead of air dryers.
Be sure to install plexi shields on those locations where social distancing cannot be guaranteed.
And, of course, increase the cleaning frequency of common areas, e.g. door handles, handrails at the stairs, office desks, tables in the cafeteria.
3. Individual accountabilty
This one is the most straight forward, but at times, can be the most difficult to enact. It’s important to communicate to your people about their own accountabilities and responsibilities. Assume nothing. Make sure they know to stay home when they feel ill or symptoms and encourage them to speak up when they recognize better ways to their safety and those of their colleagues. It is recommended that you prepare a small information package, explaining the (new) rules in the office and possibly accompany it with a small gift.
4. Continued collaboration
Not everyone is going to return to the office – at least not all at once. This is true for vendors, customers, and any other office you connect with. According to a recent FORBES article, 77 percent of the workforce wants to continue working from home, at least once a week even after the pandemic is over. It’s important to connect in-office and at-home workers to ensure nobody is left behind. Barco’s ClickShare Conference is a wireless conferencing solution that allows teams from various remote locations to easily collaborate using their favorite device and their own favorite online conferencing solution (e.g. Microsoft Teams, Webex, Zoom and many more). It’s an open system with no need for cables and adapters, making hybrid meetings as intuitive and straightforward as face-to-face and preserving the benefits of team collaboration.
The truth is, the return to work will look different for every organization. Local procedures will play a part in determining what the journey looks like, but ultimately each company needs to find a unique solution for its people. One final suggestion: have the management officially welcome employees on an organized “first-time back-in-the-office” day. It gives everyone a chance to get used to the new setting and understand what is expected of them. Your employees will appreciate this, and their confidence in the actions you took to make your office a safe place will rise immediately.
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