America’s offices are gearing up to reopen, but not all your employees may be ready for it. 

With worries about safety lowering morale in general, sending out a ‘we’re reopening the office’ memo may just tank their productivity. 

We’ll help you safely reopen your office so your employees feel safe and confident enough to come back. In their minds, it’s not just their health that’s at stake, but the health of their family members too. Risking a potential outbreak at the office is not an option.

So, let’s turn the lights on again. Here’s how to safely reopen the office after the coronavirus pandemic:

 

Part 1: Planning ahead

Before we get to the workplace itself, here are some tasks you’ll have to keep in mind first.

 

1. Confirm you can legally reopen

Along with State laws, be sure to check local guidelines on reopening the office during a pandemic, to see if you can reopen, or you’ll need a special permit. Always consult with the local healthcare authorities if you’re unsure. Ask your landlord about other offices that may be reopening in your building and how they’re doing it. This will also give you an idea of how crowded the area may be. Finally, consult with all the stakeholders in your organization to confirm that they’re onboard with a reopening.

 

2. Create office shift policies

You’ll need to come up with new policies specific to how your reopened office will function during and after the pandemic. This will include answers to questions like – 

  • How many people will return to the office? 
  • How will you divide the shifts between work-at-home and work-at-office? 
  • How will you protect those with high-risk conditions or those who live with people with high-risk conditions
  • How will you ensure employees living in an area with a reported outbreak stay at home.

 

3. Create COVID-related contingency plans

These are to help you establish protocols to follow in case of COVID-related emergencies, such as:

  • Quick shutdown in case of a new mandated lockdown due to a spike in numbers
  • Office closure in case of a new cluster in the vicinity
  • Procedure in case a work-from-office employee tests positive 

 

Part Two: Redesigning the Office

Once corporate policies are set up, you’re now ready to take a hard look at your current workplace so you can figure out and do whatever needs to be done in order to comply with all reopening guidelines. 

 

4. Set workspaces at least 6 feet apart

Particularly in an open office, you’ll want to move your workstations apart so that they’re at least 6 feet away from each other. If a small percentage of your workforce is returning, you may not even need to space the furniture out, but rather ensure every alternate or every third workstation is occupied, leaving the ones in between empty. If two people sit face-to-face on opposite sides of a desk, make sure they move into the workstation to their side.

 

5. Add extra protection to every desk

Shield your workforce further by installing easy-to-clean privacy screens or whiteboards to enclose each workstation to prevent any crossing over of personal space or potential pathogens. You can go the extra mile by providing each desk with a hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and masks they can use while at work. 

 

6. Decide on policies regarding common areas

Depending on the situation in your locality, you’ll need to consider how your returning employees will be allowed to use certain facilities.

  • Will you keep non-essential areas such as the gym, lounge, and rec rooms closed or open with limited functionality? How will you define the limitations?
  • How will you ensure people follow social distancing rules in the cafeteria, meeting rooms, reception, and other common areas, if they are in use?
  • What rules should people follow in essential public areas like the toilets, elevators, toilets, and workstations?

 

7. Add additional workspaces to closed common areas

If you do have a sizable number of employees returning to the office, you can empty the common areas you’re temporarily closing, and move some of the workstations there. That way, you can space out all the workstations to keep a distance of at least 6 feet between each other.

 

8. Reconfigure walking areas for one direction

To go a step further with social distancing, plan for people to walk only in a direction designated for that area. This may be difficult to implement, but creating a flow of people in a single (perhaps clockwise) direction toward or away from a certain point can ensure fewer people walking or bumping into each other which could occur when there are no such guidelines.

 

9. Set up signage on new workplace habits

Prepare posters and signs to educate and remind your returning workforce about proper workplace hygiene and protection habits to minimize the chance of infection. Such signage can include reminders to:

  • Wash hands with soap for 20 seconds.
  • Sanitize hands frequently. 
  • Disinfect the workspace and cell phone once in a while.
  • Cough or sneeze into elbows, not hands.
  • Be mindful of frequent face-touching.
  • Avoid handshakes (Encourage your workforce to invent an alternative)
  • Be mindful of high-contact touchpoints.
  • Wipe down furniture touchpoints in common areas before and after use.
  • Stay at least 6 feet apart.

 

10. Re-optimize the reception, entrance or visitor’s area

A good way to protect your workforce is by setting up cameras, adding detail to your visitor logs and employee attendance, and procuring specialized equipment. This equipment includes an infrared thermometer to check incoming visitors, a full stock of hand sanitizers, and personal protection for the receptionist or security at the entrance. 

You’ll also need to revisit how this area is designed to ensure as few people come into close contact as possible. Among others, create and set up the right procedures for:

  • When employees arrive and leave. (If there are clusters in areas nearby, you may also want to log if your employees have been travelling to or from these areas.)
  • When delivery persons need to complete a delivery.
  • When maintenance or service personnel come for work.
  • When non-employees arrive for business reasons (such as client meeting, job interview, investor visit, etc. Our personal recommendation is to keep these calls virtual.)

Stay ahead on post-COVID workplace design trends. Read here

 

Part Three: Unlocking capital

The lockdown may have affected your business and forced your company to make some difficult decisions. With the economic climate still somewhat unpredictable, you may find yourself at a shortage of funds to reopen business due to lower stocks, pessimistic investors, or a lack of any recent sales. This of course varies business to business, but here are a few ways to unlock some capital in the meanwhile

 

11. Liquidating everything you don’t need

Liquidating outdated or surplus furniture and equipment, during a time when you might be operating at a percentage capacity, is a great way to get some much needed financial relief during an uncertain economic climate. You can use this money to buy or (if you’re seriously crunched for cash, or want to switch to an asset-light model) rent whatever you need to reopen your business. 

Out with the old, in with the new. Liquidate your furniture with BureauOne. Learn More

 

12. Refurnish strategically

Assets like furniture have always been treated in an outdated way, viewed as a massive one-time expense, instead of something way more efficient. It’s almost wasteful when we treat expensive assets as one-time costs instead of a service-based operational cost. 

When you liquidate your furniture and are looking to upgrade to fresh, new furniture to match your new workplace, you can opt to choose furniture as a service, so you can use it for as long as you need at a fraction of the cost, until you’re ready to buy it out. 

 

13. Selling capital-intensive assets and leasing them back

In our last point, we talked about liquidating your assets and using the money to get something new. Here, we’re recommending you to sell capital-rich assets and rent the same assets back.

This enables you to convert a capital expense into an operating one, and even though you’re using the same assets as before, you have now unlocked a good amount of cash and are paying to use these assets at a fraction of the cost every month. At the end of the contract you can buy out the assets, or choose to let them go and procure something new.

Unlock both cash and flexibility when you lease your assets .Learn More

 

Part Four: Cleaning and disinfecting

Once you’ve cleared out assets you don’t need, planned the procurement of assets you will need, and created a fresh new design of your reopened workplace, it’s time to start working in it. But first, you’ll have to disinfect it. During these tasks, if you’re conducting it yourself, ensure everybody involved wears proper and disposable protective equipment. 

Not only will this help eliminate any surviving pathogens in the air, but it will give your returning workforce an immense feeling of security and confidence, which they’ll need to get back to pre-COVID productivity levels.

 

14. Clean all surfaces

Cleaning helps get rid of all the visible and some invisible particles and is essential before you can disinfect. All you need is soap, detergent and water, and ensure you follow the manufacturer’s directions when cleaning both hard and soft surfaces in the workplace. 

Take this time to also declutter and clear away the smaller pieces of things you don’t need like old magazines, waste paper, broken stationary, and expired snacks. 

 

15. Disinfect using EPA equipment

EPA List N disinfectants are those that specifically kill the virus causing COVID-19. 

You can also simply use a household bleach-water mix. According to the CDC, you can disinfect the large surfaces (like floors) with 5 tablespoons of bleach in a gallon of water, and smaller surface areas (using a spray bottle) with 4 tablespoons bleach in a quart of water. 

For the finer surfaces such as small areas and hard-to-reach places, you can use disinfecting wipes in a way that the surface stays wet for 4 minutes. 

For all other items such as electronics, clothing, and porous surfaces, follow the manufacturer’s information on cleaning and disinfection. 

 

16. Dispose of your protective equipment after disinfection

Safely remove and dispose of your gloves, gown, and masks after the process. Immediately afterward, wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds. Ensure that the waste goes into the right bin and is sealed from any potential accidental exposure, in compliance with OSHA’s standards.

You should also protect your workforce from harmful exposure to cleaning agents or disinfectants through proper storage and education of side effects, symptoms, and what to do in case of harm. 

 

17. Set a recurring schedule for cleaning and disinfecting

It’s good practice to repeat the disinfection process from time to time to maximize your workplace’s protection. Involve your employees by asking them to wipe down frequently-touched surfaces before and after they use it with disinfecting or sanitizing wipes.

The safety of your workforce shouldn’t overwhelm you or your budget. Learn More  

 

Part Five: Return to Work

You’ve made it! It’s time to send out that ‘come back to office’ email along with all the new policies in place, the measures you’ve taken for protection, and new workplace rules the returning employees must follow. 

You may have reopened the workplace now, but there are still steps you can take to minimize risk and ensure your reopened office can stay open.

 

18. Ensure everybody follows new workplace safety practices

Hold seminars, host workshops, run drills, do whatever you can to help your returning workforce get into the habit of wearing masks, performing temperature checks at the entrance, washing hands, avoiding handshakes, wiping down high-frequency touchpoints, staying 6 feet apart and more. Operate under the assumption that this new normal is here to stay. Even after the pandemic is completely behind us, these are good habits to have.

 

19. Encourage people to speak up for office hygiene

Shift the onus of monitoring your workforce’s compliance onto your workforce itself. Encourage people to let someone know if they have seen this person forget or fail to comply with the new workplace policy. 

This could get difficult as sometimes people may not want to tell someone they don’t know, or someone with a job level higher than them, to comply with the order. To tackle, templatise the conversation for them. For example, something like this:

If you see someone not practicing good office hygiene, no matter who they are, remind them by saying “Excuse me, <insert name>. Please <insert the habit they failed to do>. I noticed you didn’t when you <insert the action that required the habit to be performed.>” To which the other person must always reply “Thank you.”, and say nothing more, then proceed to perform the habit.

Make it clear that employees can make it less awkward by doing this in private and not in front of many other people. It’s easier for both parties to have this conversation privately. 

 

20. Encourage people to speak up about symptoms

Ensure your employees feel safe and free enough to mention whether they feel unwell, or if someone they live with is unwell so that you can take whatever measure may be needed to protect everybody in case of an outbreak. (Remember, you planned for this in Part 1)

Sometimes, employees may hide or play down symptoms like having a slight fever, coughing too often, or breathing heavily after climbing a flight of stairs. Your job is to ensure they know that they have your support and can safely come to you if they’re feeling unwell. 

Since the symptoms of COVID-19 are quite similar to those of the seasonal flu, a small infection, or even the common cold, and have a great degree of variability from person to person, it’s recommended that people don’t come to work unless they’re at 100%. 

 

21. Support your workforce’s changing needs

Everybody is figuring out where they fit in the post-COVID workplace. Some companies wish to make a full return to the workplace, many companies are making the switch to a total work-from-home setting, while most would prefer to adopt a more hybrid and dynamic structure that’s flexible as employee needs change. 

When you reopen your workplace, understand that the employees who return now may have different needs from what they did before the lockdown, and that these needs are ever changing in a world that’s as responsive as it is today.

 

BureauOne believes in helping businesses grow, especially during these uncertain times. That’s why, not only do we offer the principle services you need to reopen your office safely, but we offer a complete safety-optimized redesign of your space in 3D for free

Incorporating safety guidelines into your office design shouldn’t be an expense. That’s why we’ll redesign your office for you, free of cost. Get in Touch