With cases of COVID-19 increasing across North Carolina—and indeed throughout many regions of our nation and the world—businesses large and small are seeking ways to safely re-open offices. Bringing employees back into the workplace amidst a pandemic requires, at minimum, a plan for infectious disease preparedness and response. And while guidance from governmental entities like the CDC and OSHA have provided guidelines, these are neither standards or regulations governed by federal law.
“The bottom line,” said Kevin Oberman, V.P. of sales at Copiers Plus, “is that, no matter the sector, management is responsible for developing policies and procedures that align with state and municipal regulations; that’s going to look very different from one office environment to another, depending on lots of variables.”
Communication is Key
According to the World Economic Forum, the communications that employers deliver to their staff will be “among the most important information they get about this epidemic.” The Edelman Trust Barometer confirms “a person’s own employer is the most trusted of all social messengers… the tone, accuracy and relevance of employers’ advice can make all the difference between calm and panic.” Communications should be clear and concise with transparency serving as the guiding principle. For example, management should outline all policies and procedures regarding:
- Temperature checks/front door screening
- Use of masks
- Indoor spaces including elevators, stairwells, break rooms (especially fridges and coffee machines), and bathrooms
When it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19, experts agree the most cost-effective measures are often the simplest and most successful. Before offices reopen, management should:
- Determine where, how, and to what sources of COVID-19 workers may be exposed.
- Determine who needs to come back, and how they will be grouped.
- Outline policies and procedures in the event an employee becomes infected:
- Implement contact tracing plan
- Implement alternative (remote) work procedures if intermittent quarantining is necessary
- Install hand sanitizing stations in every room.
- Eliminate physical mail within the building to reduce close contact between employees
- Provide single-use paper placemats for desks
- Arrange for daily cleanings of all office space. (Yes, this is a must!)
Please, Don’t Touch
“We’re seeing lots of creativity in the way managers are addressing office layout and shared equipment such as multi-function printers with high-touch surfaces,” said Oberman. “Many of our customers are re-designing office space that embraces collaboration technology and remote work.” This includes investing in Blue tooth technology for in-person conferencing, personal tablets, laptops, and phones for employees so they aren’t sharing keyboards. Occupancy sensors, voice recognition software, and touchless, app-controlled elevators are also increasingly in demand.
Walk this Way
Global real estate company Cushman & Wakefield has designed and implemented the Six Feet Office, in compliance with the six feet distance rule mandated by many governments. Central to the plan are a plethora of signs including circles around desks; directional arrows in corridors; and those encouraging workers to walk clockwise.
Technology to the Rescue
From the outset of the pandemic, technology has played a crucial role in enabling businesses to pivot efficiently. Collaboration suites like Microsoft Teams and OneDrive, that allow employees to work in real-time, as well as secure, remote access with multi-factor authentication, will continue to be essential. “There’s no going back to the old ‘normal’ anytime soon,” said Oberman, but at Copiers Plus our goal remains the same: to provide excellence in sales and service, supporting our customers, especially in these challenging times.”