As vaccines continue to be distributed and we start returning to the new normal, many offices have already begun returning to the office, or have at least started their plan to reopen this year.
Even though 81% of workers would prefer to work remotely full-time or on a hybrid schedule, many employers are anxious to reopen offices in some capacity. Some companies feel that the office better fosters their culture and improves productivity.
Whatever your reasons are for wanting to reopen your office, it’s important to do so with your employees’ health and comfortability in mind.
Engineering your office to reduce risk of transmission
It’s recommended by the CDC to consult a HVAC professional to help improve ventilation in your office building. It’s important to increase the amount of outdoor air in your building by using economizer HVAC modes, and using natural ventilation like opening windows if the weather allows.
If a space is frequently occupied, the total airflow supply to the area should be increased. You can also use a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan to enhance air cleaning.
Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) is another tool that is very effective at killing airborne viruses. High-touch areas should be cleaned thoroughly and often. This might include door handles, bathroom areas, phones, and handrails.
Continuing to regulate social distancing in high-traffic areas is still encouraged by the CDC. In shared workspaces, consider adjusting seating to maintain distance between employees. You can alternate desks to keep space between workers, or install transparent shields to create a barrier.
Maintaining an empathetic, understanding, and open culture
It’s important to know that some employees might be hesitant to return to the office environment. It’s understandable that people might be feeling anxious about the upcoming changes. Try not to discourage them from having mixed or negative feelings.
Even if you’re feeling positive about reopening, your positivity might make them feel dismissed or pressured to hide their negative feelings. Acknowledge that coming back to the office might feel intimidating for some, and offer opportunities for feedback.
Anonymous surveys to gauge your employee’s sentiments might be a good idea to help prepare for reopening. This allows for people to be forthcoming without fear of judgement. You might want to consider regularly using surveys to elicit feedback even after the office opens to find opportunities for improvement.
If it’s possible, offer flexibility to employees on when and how often they come into the office. Abruptly asking employees to work in the office 5 days a week again can feel very sudden and intimidating – starting your reopening in baby steps gives people a chance to reacclimate.
You might consider piloting your reopening with certain teams if it makes sense for your organization. If a certain team has been communicating a need for coming to the office, prepare for them to return, see how it goes, and collect feedback to use when opening the office to everyone.
Keep everyone healthy
When looking back at our pre-pandemic world, it’s strange to remember how normal it was for people to go to work sick and expose others to their illness in the name of “toughing it out.”
If someone is showing symptoms of illness, encourage them to stay home until their symptoms pass (even if they don’t think it’s related to COVID-19 or they’ve been vaccinated). You don’t want to risk exposing your office to COVID-19 or any other virus just because someone feels pressured to come to work.
- UV light in the HVAC systems and wall-mounted fixtures
- MERV 13 air filtration system (the same standard for hospitals nationwide)
- Air quality monitors to capture real-time output
- Cleaning and sanitizing daily
- Social distancing and masks for unvaccinated guests
If considering a return to the office environment, it’s important to keep your employees health and safety top of mind. Of course, please refer to trusted sources like the CDC for up-to-date information about the risk of COVID-19 and ways to limit exposure in public.