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Back to Office Transition: How to Formulate a Plan for Facilities

Each organization must create a unique approach that best suits their employees and facility.

May 25, 2021

Many workplace leaders are excited to reopen office spaces and bring employees back. However, returning all employees in a giant wave is not the best way to handle the back-to-office transition following COVID-19. 

Instead, workplace leaders must consider new CDC guidelines, employee interests, and general best practices when reopening their facilities. Planning with, communicating with, and transitioning all employees is no easy feat. 

While each organization must create a unique approach that best suits their employees and facility, we will review some of the most essential considerations for formulating a solid return-to-office facility plan. 

How to Maintain a Healthy Work Environment Post-Pandemic

The goal for organizations heading back to the office is to create a safe, healthy work environment. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, this means something a little different than it may have previously. 

Maintaining a healthy work environment is about minimizing the spread of the virus while still facilitating collaboration and productivity. To do this, facility managers must stay up-to-date with CDC guidelines and best practices. They must also listen closely to employee feedback. 

A healthy work environment requires consistent maintenance. FMs will need to be diligent about keeping track of employee health and responding accordingly to any concerns. 

What are the CDC Guidelines for Workplaces?

The CDC has several key guidelines for workplaces. For one, they actively encourage any sick employees to stay home. 

The CDC states, “Employees who have symptoms should notify their supervisor and stay home. CDC recommends testing for people with any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 and all close contacts of persons with COVID-19.” 

Keeping sick employees out of the office is crucial for limiting the spread and keeping workplaces safe. To ensure your building is ready for occupancy, the CDC says you must check for:

  • Mechanical and safety systems. Check for any hazards that could have come up during the extended facility shut down, like prests, mold, and stagnant water. 
  • Examine the ventilation systems, including the heating, air conditioning, and ventilation. 
  • Find ways to increase outdoor air circulation. If possible, open windows and doors and use fans. 
  • Ensure all water systems are safe for use after the shutdown. 

Conduct a Hazard Assessment 

Examine the ways that employees can be exposed to COVID-19 in the office. Thoroughly assess the workplace for increased risk of virus transmission and exposure. When possible, implement strategies to reduce the hazard of those areas. 

What COVID-19 Testing Does the CDC Recommend for Employees in a Workplace?

They also recommend daily in-person or virtual health checks. Essentially, the CDC suggests screening employees before they enter the facility. A temperature screening kiosk is an excellent way to screen employees and visitors before the entrance. A temperature screening device is a fast, easy way to check for one of the most significant COVID-19 warning signs while also making employees feel comfortable. 

Considerations for Facility Managers Returning Employees to the Office?

Phasing Back 

Facility managers must determine how to bring workers back. For most situations, a phased approach is ideal. A phased approach helps managers evaluate the success of office returns and make adjustments accordingly with small populations at first. 

Phases may involve alternating shifts and/or only certain groups of employees coming back at a time. When planning phases, consider which employees may need to continue working at home. For example, if schools and daycare centers remain closed, employees with children may need to keep working remotely. 

Physical Distancing 

Facility managers should prioritize physical distancing with their office layouts. The CDC still recommends maintaining 6 feet of distance between employees whenever possible. You can use design software to try out several scenarios and find the best plan for different physical distancing layouts. However, facility managers do not want to inhibit collaboration with physical distancing. 

In addition to rearranging furniture, other ways to implement physical distancing include:

  • Transparent shields and physical barriers to adding separation. 
  • Spacing or removing chairs in reception areas. 
  • Use signs, tape, or visual cues to show where employees should sit/stand. 

Cleaning Protocol 

COVID-19 makes the need for workplace cleanliness paramount and evident. Facility managers must develop a cleaning and hygiene plan with their janitorial staff. All surfaces should be wiped down and sanitized after each use. At least once a day, the handles, light switches, faucets, toilets, printers, drinking fountains, etc., should be cleaned and disinfected. 

With the help of management software, facility managers can design demand-based cleaning schedules. Occupancy sensors can be a helpful tool for determining which spaces to prioritize for cleaning. Additionally, employees should have easy access to hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Companies must give employees adequate time and resources to wash their hands appropriately. 

Another crucial part of workplace cleanliness is airflow. Specific air circulation patterns increase the risk of virus infection. The CDC recommends working with an HVAC professional to increase outdoor air, use natural ventilation, and filter the air. FMs must account for air circulation and how to keep the air as clean as possible. 

Track Employee Seating 

Assign employees to desk areas, and track who sits where. This makes it much easier to contact trace. Design clear expectations for communication about sitting in different areas. If it makes sense for your office, allow reservable collaboration rooms. Ensure that a full deep clean takes place between each reservation and have employees submit a seating chart after their meeting. Additionally, make sure they follow physical distancing policies for any collaboration spaces. 

Policies 

Create comprehensive workplace policies for the post-COVID office. Workplace policies must be clear and address the expectations for workplace health and safety. Additionally, FMs should consider policies related to remote work, visitors, sick days, and more. 

Clearly outline when remote work is appropriate vs. when employees are expected to be in the office. Address how employees and managers should handle the situation when an employee feels ill but can still work remotely. Also, discuss how employees should maintain information security when working on personal devices and networks. 

Communicating with Employees 

Facility managers must have a strong communication plan as well. They should determine the best way to communicate the return-to-work plan and new safety protocol with employees. Employees must understand the timeline for returning and how to best adhere to physical distancing in the workplace. 

Part of the communication with employees should also include discussing COVID-19 best practices. Remind employees that the virus can spread even when a person does not have symptoms. Discourage physical contact, like hugs, handshakes, etc. Post reminders and instructions on hygiene, COVID-19 symptoms, and other workplace health guidelines.

Many organizations will plan to return to the office in the coming months. By incorporating the CDC guidelines and considerations above, facility managers can set their organizations up for success. 

It’s essential to be diligent about planning and communication when returning employees to the office. Proper planning can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as well as other illnesses. Having a strong response plan will mitigate any infections and help your entire team feel safe.

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