Your employees may feel a range of emotions as the office reopens for business. Excited to see friends again, of course, but also nervous about new expectations and cautious amid new surroundings. Were those plexiglass barriers always there?
The comfort and safety of workers is paramount as you return to an office setting, and you as a small business leader can take plenty of precautionary measures to alleviate many of the worries people have about clustering together again. Some will likely be changes to your physical space, such as designated traffic lanes and occupancy limits. Others will represent evolutions in your policies and best practices.
It’s a strange time, but the “next” normal is officially here. It’s important to do everything you can to meet it head-on.
Creating an Adaptable Workspace
Difficult situations with no clear answers require a flexible approach. What works today might not work six weeks from now, never mind six months or a year out. You need to be nimble when it comes to office setups and managing employee expectations.
Here are a few solid places to start:
1. Reconfigure the Space
Your workspace may not currently comply with social-distancing guidelines, and that’s understandable. My company, Vari, has long championed collaborative layouts that encourage movement while working. While we aren’t pivoting entirely away from that idea, we also recognize the need for change in order to keep employees safe.
You don’t need to revert to stuffy cubicles to maintain the proper amount of social distance. Adding barriers and dividers in higher-density rooms is a good place to start. Consider acrylic panels that provide protected individual spaces but also allow the room to feel open. Replacing workstations with furniture and filing cabinets can decrease the head count in an area, and potted plants are an aesthetically pleasing element that can provide the additional buffers that employees seek.
2. Reimagine the Schedule
Your business, and maybe every department within it, needs to figure out the right approach to office reentry. The physical office is a company’s home where culture, collaboration, and communication happen organically, so figuring out how to get everyone back safely is a huge step in this recovery. Get creative with the calendar if you can.
Consider having employees return in phases. Some companies are experimenting with a hybrid model where a portion of employees work in the office on certain days while the others work remotely. Gallup found that at least 62% of employed adults were working from home in mid-April, so we know many roles can be done remotely. We also know that people miss going to work and spending time around their colleagues, so striking the proper balance is key. Perhaps you break the day up into morning and afternoon shifts to provide the flexibility employees need in these times.
3. Reevaluate the Processes
Your people are your greatest asset, so commit to prioritizing workplace health and safety. Consider your company’s sick leave policies. More than ever, it is critical to discourage employees from coming to the office while sick. You can facilitate that with stronger policy language, as well as process updates such as standard temperature checks at the front door. These new measures may feel a little bit extreme to some people, but they’re likely to become commonplace for millions of employees sooner rather than later.
Eliminating common touchpoints (e.g., door handles) where possible is also a smart move — and not difficult to accomplish. Contact-free features like automatic soap and hand-sanitizer dispensers, coffee stations, and light fixtures are also good investments to make. UV phone disinfecting stations can help keep your handheld devices clean. How often do your cleaning crews come through the office? It’s probably time to increase their presence, too.
One thing is clear: The old ways of doing business aren’t going to work in a post-coronavirus world. If you can keep an open mind and a flexible stance on the workspace, you’ll be able to adapt to the next normal.