With more businesses reopening their doors, most of us are adapting to what is now considered a new working normal. Here’s how yesterday’s workplace has transformed into the health-and-safety-awareness job environment of today.
Touch Becomes No Touch
In yesterday’s business environment, deals sealed with a handshake or pat on a colleague’s back were part of the norm. Today, with social distancing, touch-free may become the order of the business day throughout the workplace.
Before: Turning on taps and flushing toilets with a lever or button
Sanitary door openers (devices that allow doors to be opened with the foot, elbow, wrist, or using a plastic sleeve)
A New Type of Face Time
At one time, showing your face at work was important, as was having face time with your colleagues.
Today, wearing a face mask has become acceptable in some work situations and mandatory in others. Businesses may consider educating themselves on what types of protection they need to provide employees, including personal protective equipment (PPE).
Before, we used to show respect to colleagues by spending time with them at work and, sometimes, outside the office. Today, we may want to show respect to our colleagues, customers, suppliers, and others by keeping a safe distance.
Social distancing might consist of transforming the workplace into a “6-feet office,” maintaining this distance between all people at all times. Among the considerations are:
Do a thorough examination of the current workplace setup regarding safety and where you can make improvements.
Create traffic routing in the office that helps keep everyone safe.
Establish workstations 6 feet apart.
Separate open-plan offices with high partitions and, where needed, Plexiglas shields.
Use crowd-control stanchions and partitions and safety cone areas to keep people apart.
Designate and train an employee responsible for advising on social distancing measures.
Put in place clear rules of social distancing.
Changing the Way That We Work Together
For many employees and employers alike, the transformations of the workforce have been disorienting and, in some cases, distressing. Many organizations have gone from working together in a physical building to working alone at home. Most recently, working again together may be conducted in a way that is at once familiar but quite a bit different.
The return to work in a physical building requires wise change management so that everyone understands and can accept the value of the precautions being taken. Employers may consider communicating with employees before they return to work, outlining the new changes and the reasons for them, and perhaps giving some virtual training in the new safety protocols.
Clear, frequent communication is key to getting everyone to understand that the differences from the old workplace are positive — to help keep everyone safer and allow colleagues to work together again in the same facility.
Considerations for the communications plan include:
How the organization is following government guidelines in keeping everyone safer
Measures undertaken for the safety of returning employees
Alternative commuting suggestions
Information about new policies and practices
Information about physical changes to the workplace (reallocation of desks, availability of meeting and common rooms, etc.)
desks, availability of meeting and common rooms, etc.)
Why certain people or groups were chosen to return to work (if not everyone has)
Rethinking Open-Floor Plans
Open office plans previously gained popularity in workplaces. Now, businesses may be considering ways to break up office space and keep people apart. High partitions and Plexiglas shields could be part of this solution. The before scenario of working at common tables or shrinking the distance between workstations may become workstations and desks that maintain the recommended distance with a separation barrier.
Other suggestions could be discouraging crowding, perhaps requesting, for example, that employees go from floor to floor using internal staircases and reducing elevator usage.
The workplace layouts enforcing safer distances can also be supported by controlled access measures to facilities. Some of these may include:
Controlling entry points, including deliveries
Reconfiguring gathering and lobby areas for social distancing
Providing sanitizer, wipes, and PPE as appropriate
Disabling touch screens
Making Common Areas Safer
At one time, workplaces were built for function and productivity. Now, safety is expected to play an important role. So, for example, a small room used for meetings might need to be repurposed for a single person’s use.
To this end, signage could play an important role in reminding workers and visitors of safety measures. It could be placed in common areas promoting worker safety by emphasizing basic infection prevention measures, including posting hand-washing signs in restrooms. Signs (including general signage, wall signs, and floor signs) could be posted in building entrances and lobbies, telling people about safety measures and policies, and be used as wayfinding measures, helping guide people through safer routes in a workplace.
Some other precautions employers may want to take for common areas include:
Providing clean hand washing facilities.
Offering alcohol-based hand sanitizers when regular facilities are not available.
Removing magazines and papers from receptions and common rooms.
Making sure ventilation systems are working properly.
Dedicated to Cleanliness
While businesses used to be careful about cleanliness, a fervent dedication to it may now be necessary. Consider increasing the frequency and thoroughness of sanitizing measures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers its guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting facilities. Its recommendations include:
Cleaning with soap and water and then using a disinfectant
Practicing routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces
Putting wipeable covers over electronics when possible
Follow manufacturers’ recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting electronics
The CDC recommends that you prepare a plan of action if someone in the workplace contracts the coronavirus. Consider closing off certain areas in response until cleaning and disinfecting as recommended by the CDC can be performed.
The Rising Value of Virtual Meetings
If the space capacity of the meeting rooms is reduced in the workspace update, virtual meeting tools will allow for social distancing. Even with meeting attendees physically in the building, not all may fit in the same meeting room space. Cloud-based, peer-to-peer video conferencing software solutions will still be in demand.
With the ability to hold live meetings, share computer desktop presentations, and use other collaboration and communication tools, virtual teams have, in many cases, been able to conduct business as usual. This method will most likely continue in the future.
About the Author
Peter Giffen is a writer and editor who specializes in business and technology.
All content provided herein is for educational purposes only. It is provided “as is” and neither the author nor Office Depot warrant the accuracy of the information provided, nor do they assume any responsibility for errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein.
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