As we say goodbye (and good riddance) to 2020 and look ahead to a new year, many businesses are making decisions about if, when, and how employees will return to the workplace. Now, after more than 18 years in the office furniture industry, we’re convinced the office isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Throughout the course of the pandemic, we’ve watched many companies attempt to go back to “business as usual,” but that’s not always an entirely realistic goal. Instead, we’re focusing on all the ways the workplace has grown and evolved in the past year, and what we can do to continue to improve it every day.
If you’re planning a return to the workplace, here are several of our favorite tried-and-true tips:
You may not know how comfortable each person is with returning to the office or what degree of “normalcy” they are okay with. Some employees may not feel comfortable coming in every day. Others may need to stay home if they have an at-risk family member. We suggest trying the following:
Give employees a choice. The more flexible you are with your employees’ returns to the office, the better your relationship will be. During these unprecedented times, the companies that have been applauded on the global stage are the ones recognizing their workers’ humanity and basic needs. This might be a good time to utilize your Human Resources personnel to confidentially check in with each employee and see how comfortable they are with a return. You can also ask for anonymous feedback on how safe employees feel coming into the office - you may feel compelled to make a few changes to ensure everyone feels as safe as possible.
Stagger scheduling. This practice is possible even in smaller workplaces. Have employees come on different days so that they will not sit directly next to a coworker. For example, maybe people at odd desks come on Mondays and Wednesdays while those at even desks come on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays, the odds and evens can switch week to week who comes in. Not all jobs can be done remotely, but if possible, staggered scheduling can make a big difference.
Be safer rather than sorry. The last thing anyone wants is for people to get sick from going into work. A good rule of thumb for in-person work is to revert to what the most concerned person is comfortable with. If someone is very concerned about mask-wearing in the office, ensure that everyone wears a mask during team meetings. There will be grumbles along the way (no matter what you do), but this will show your employees you’re serious about making the workplace a safer space for everyone.
Update Your Space
One of the crucial aspects of returning to the office in 2021 is updating your office to meet new standards and safer office practices. Here are our top 3 updates you should consider:
Use dividers. Most offices are experiencing difficulty socially distancing workstations due to a lack of space. The easiest and most space-saving solution is dividers. Not only do many dividers absorb sound, but they can be a physical barrier to prevent the spread of germs. Clear acrylic provides perfect visibility; frosted glass lets workers jot notes with dry erase markers; fabric has many color options and employees can tack up photos and other items; moss walls are lively and mobile; and acoustic PET absorbs sound. Juniper has desk, wing, and room dividers for every occasion.
Sanitizer stations. It is important to make hand sanitizer available and accessible for your employees and visitors. Automatic dispensers are popular because they can be wall-mounted or set on a surface. If you’d like a battery-free option, sanitizer stands with a foot pedal are a great option.
Friendly reminders. Whether it’s signs in the bathrooms to encourage proper handwashing, displays in the break room reminding people to wipe their spot after lunch, or floor decals denoting one-way traffic and social distance standards, there are many ways to promote safer office habits. You can even use your company branding to make the reminders seem more relevant and personal to employees!
Follow CDC Guidelines
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is currently the leading agency in the US for learning about and following the spread of the Coronavirus Disease. Utilizing their vast base of knowledge and expertise is vital for creating a safer work environment. Here’s how to stay on top of things:
Stay current. The CDC is always releasing new information for preventing the spread of COVID-19 and it’s important to stay up to date on the best practices so you can implement them in your safer-office strategy. Frequent their website and follow them on social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, etc.) for updates.
Clean, clean, clean. Though surface contact is not the main way the COVID-19 virus spreads, people can become infected by “touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.” For optimal safety, have employees wipe down their surfaces frequently (especially in shared spaces) and hire sanitizing services to disinfect the whole office weekly.
Provide PPE. Making items like face masks (available in boxes or cases) available to your employees and clients when they walk into your business significantly helps combat the spread of the virus. You can also encourage a safe return to the office by providing employees with a Back to Work Pack that includes items like face masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves.
Juniper’s team is available to help you transition to a safer office. Our expert space planners can help reconfigure your existing space and furniture, provide FREE 3D space planning, and handle project management and installation so you can stay focused on your work.
Contact us to discuss your workspace!