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Reopening Your Office Safely During COVID-19

As if living through a global pandemic wasn’t enough — you’re a business owner, so you have to become an expert on SBA loan guidelines and now learn all about CDC recommendations too?

We’re here to help you out.

Here’s the CDC’s workplace decision tree and our advice about what to think about when reopening…

Setting expectations

By now, you should already be in near constant communication with your team on key office decisions in regards to how the pandemic affects your employee’s day to day work life. As you work on reopening it will be imperative to set crystal clear expectations. Reopening may provide some much needed financial relief for the company, your employees face additional stress by returning and adapting to yet another “new normal.”

Encourage everyone to be clear, be kind, and be patient as this is an adjustment for everyone. Here are some high level considerations for you and your team as you think about reopening:

  • Face masks should be worn by everyone in the office
  • Encourage frequent hand washing
  • While hand washing is still more effective than hand sanitizer, you’ll want to stay well stocked
  • Abstain from handshakes, high-fives, and “desk gatherings” for the time being
  • Keep people from crowding elevators or common areas and post signage as polite reminders what the limit of people should be
  • In-person meetings should be avoided as much as possible
  • Gloves should be worn when cleaning common areas and they should be cleaned after each use

All of these changes will take what Joseph Grenny calls “200% adherence” in his Harvard Business Review article on reopening…

“The only way to create and sustain change is to have 200% accountability: Employees must understand that they are not simply responsible to follow safe practices themselves (the first 100%), they are also responsible to ensure everyone around them does as well (the second 100%). Instruct employees that when anyone sees anyone violate safe practices, they are to remind them of proper protocol with a polite, “Please.” For example, “Please wear a mask when you’re in the office.”

Why, who, and when to reopen

First and foremost, consider why you need to reopen and which roles are key to returning first. If you have large machinery that employees need to access, it may make sense to bring those workers back sooner than those considered more “knowledge workers” who can continue to work from home.

And we all know that terrible meeting dynamic of being the only person who’s remote while everyone else is in-person so, in this mixed environment of some in-office workers and some at-home, keep meetings virtual so that they remain equitable.

We’ve been practicing remote work for the past few months, is that working well for your team?

If so, consider the option of continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future. Remember, older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness, so these employees may elect to continue to work remotely. Others, while not immunocompromised themselves, may be the caretaker for someone who is making coming into the office risky.

Keep in mind that until childcare services can completely reopen, some of your workforce may need to continue to not only keep a watchful eye on their little ones, but may also need to balance their workload with childcare and homeschooling for the foreseeable future as many schools consider what fall may bring.

Your physical space

Consider how you’ll need to rearrange the office floor plan. Not only should people sitting at desks remain six feet apart while working, you’ll need to set new guidelines for common areas such as the elevators all the way even down to the coffee maker and printer.

To help with this, real estate giant, Cushman & Wakefield has published recommendations for office design and reopening detailed in a 34-page guide “Recovery Readiness” along with what they’re calling the “Safe Six Checklist” shared below.

Daily logistics

Before your on-site employees even get to the day’s work you’ll likely want to monitor everyone for signs of illness. Some companies are going as far as taking everyone’s temperature before they are allowed back to their desk. Others have shared their complete list of protocols. One such example can be found below.

Another point of consideration as you reopen is to have everyone sign a waiver verifying that they do not display signs of infection, understand the new company policies, and are committed to following them. An example of this, created by Tim Thompson at RevThink, can be found here.

Is this even worth it?

With all of this in mind, you may be asking yourself if it’s worth reopening before there’s a vaccine? First, if your business is suffering greatly due to your building’s closure you have clear motivation to open sooner rather than later. If your team can adhere to the guidelines set out by the CDC you can minimize the risk to each other and the greater community.

Secondly, not everyone has a good work-from-home situation. Let those in that camp come back while others remain remote.

Also, for many in the U.S., we typically spend more time with our co-workers than our own families. This places an even greater emphasis on the human contact aspect reopening. Assuming you’ve built a strong company culture, your team likely misses seeing each other, which can have a negative impact on productivity in an already stressful situation.

As you are thinking about the future of your office, what factors are you considering? Why would you want to re-open? Let us know in the comments below.

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