The coronavirus has flipped around everything. After adjusting to the work-from-home lifestyle, we are now starting to consider how we can get ready to get back into the workplace.

BUILDING COMMUNITY, REINFORCING YOUR ORGANIZATION’S CULTURE, AND STRENGTHENING RELATIONSHIPS WITH COLLEAGUES IS STILL WHAT THE WORKPLACE IS ALL ABOUT.

We know from new research, that well planned-out work environment still the most desirable place to be. Before we can return to the workplace, we must ensure that health and safety measures are in place. While working from home has changed our habits and skill set, it is time to make arrangements for how we can return a large portion of the workforce back to the office. Here are a few ideas on the initial steps organizations can take in the short-term.

Back to work: initial steps:

Social Distancing

While we will all be accustomed to this phrase and the physical barriers that it presents, we must not neglect its importance in the workplace. Employers should make preparations to space out meeting areas, collaboration areas, introduce appropriate screens where desk clusters are necessary. This may even require downsizing of desk sizes to accommodate a greater walkway. Employers should also be encouraging Virtual Collaboration where appropriate. This could mean designated areas for individuals to use remote conferencing facilities without interruption to neighbours.

De-densify workstations

This is perhaps the greatest challenge in accommodating many of the workforce with added white space in the floorplan. Try using every other desk when they are in large banks/clusters, or assigning new work areas in those spaces where collaboration or group gatherings would normally be occurring. Adding partitions that are at least 40cm tall can provide another buffer for those who sit facing each other, while upgrading to Perspex screens can still allow for open communications without sacrificing personal space.

Limit desk / tech sharing

In some offices, you may find “hot desks” or shared desks, where a job share or flexible workers may be assigned. It would be beneficial to assign these spaces permanently to avoid contamination.

Increase cleaning protocols

A clean environment is a safe environment. The best way to prevent disease spread is to clean the surfaces in an office, in the collaboration areas, waiting areas and meeting rooms. It may require an extra day for cleaning (perhaps even when employees are not present for better efficiency) or a third-party professional cleaning provider for those SME’s. Employers should also provide disinfectant wipes and hand sanitisers throughout the office. Clean desk policies will help make this process much more effective.

How is your air?

We are all breathing the same air, and in enclosed offices, air filtration and cleaning will help reduce risk of disease spread. More state-of-the-art systems can even alert employers and employees to the current air quality and act as a continuous disinfectant.

Personal hygiene

Employers should be reinforcing good hygiene practices, while also providing well-stocked bathrooms and sanitiser dispensed in all major areas and walkways, with contactless dispensers where necessary. Adding additional signage throughout the office will help to reinforce these best practices.

Learn from healthcare

Many of the changes we need to make in our workplace are already in practice throughout the healthcare landscape, with contactless dispensers, sanitiser lined hallways, motion activated doorways etc. Integration of this technology into our workplace is vital.

Power to the people

Rather than mandating a back to work date, allow your employees to re-enter the workplace at their pace. Perhaps a phased or waved approach. Coming out of lockdown will a big adjustment, especially for those with young families who will struggle to find childcare. This will provide the necessary social distancing and a allow employees a greater sense of control over their health.

Going back to work means embracing new ways of working

We will have found new ways to work together, and these may continue when we return to the workplace. We should embrace change and nurture it, as we may find ourselves a better, more efficient workforce.

To conclude, we are all experiencing changing circumstances, a “new normal” as has been said. We will need to relearn old skills, embrace new ones, and integrate lockdown habits into the workplace. Building community, reinforcing your organization’s culture, and strengthening relationships with colleagues is still what the workplace is all about.