For those of us in Office Management or Administrative positions the thought of getting back into the office can trigger feelings of both joy (yes! finally!) and fear of the unknown (it WILL be different, after all). For the indefinite future, COVID-19 has radically changed the way our world and our offices operate. Most offices, no matter their function or industry, have had the advantage of working from home but, eventually, people will be going back to work (except, Twitter apparently) and it is on us admins to make sure it’s done seamlessly. Based on questions posed by my peers in forums and conversations with friends, I’ve gathered some emerging best practices and ideas on how to get your team back to work safely—or, as some have put it, build your “reboot” strategy.
Below are the thoughts and ideas I’ve picked up in my own research for a harmonious transition back to the office.
Initial deep clean – Prior to return, have a deep clean completed, with a focus on disinfecting. Depending on your set up, there are a bunch of options for this but your standard cleaning company should be up to speed by now on how to accomplish this for you. Continue to have deep cleans done weekly for the foreseeable future. Basic disinfecting procedures should happen daily (surface and high touch areas especially).
Airflow – There is a lot of evidence that keeping the air fresh and moving plays a great part in lower transmission numbers. When possible keep doors and windows open. Additionally, you could request that your HVAC systems have their fresh air intake adjusted higher, and filters changed often. Fresh air is also linked to higher productivity, it’s a win-win!
Ensure that your team knows the plan – Circulate a plan in advance of re-entry with details on how your office re-entry is being conducted to ensure everyone is safe. I personally recommend sending an official plan that must be signed before returning to work. You can usually do this via a service like Hellosign, or a people operations programs like Bamboo HR. This ensures that they have read or at the very least acknowledged all of the new rules in place.
Create/purchase signage – Right now people don’t know what to do in most situations that used to be natural to them. The more information and guidance they have, the better. Set your team up for social distancing success by having posters explaining social distancing rules, visual markers on the floor around workstations, and elevators to clearly define the amount of safe space recommended. Arrow markers to suggest how team members are expected to walk in common areas and which entries and exits to use. Be sure to use wording like “please avoid” and “it’s advisable”) instead of the negative (e.g., words like “do not” or “not allowed”). This is all very taxing on us humans, the more empathy and positivity you set around your office, the happier your team will be. People need guidance right now, it’s comforting.
Have “too many” sanitation areas – Set up hand sanitizer stations or wipes within eyesight from every seat within the office, as well as in major walkway areas, kitchens, elevators, and near conference rooms. Make sure everyone knows where they are by creating maps. Use only waterless hand sanitizer and/or disinfecting wipes. Have a no gloves rule!
Practice social distancing within the office, where possible – It is recommended by the CDC to ensure that all employees have a proper social distancing (six-foot) distance from each other during the workday. Keeping work-from-home days 100% optional is an obvious way to achieve this outcome. I would also recommend not requiring anyone that has to use public transportation to come into work. Another option is to have alternating work-from-home days, enabling everyone to work 1-2 days per week from home. You can do this using a staggered seating chart method, color-code your seating chart for days of the week. Enforce the rule that eating can only take place at your desk. Taping off every other stall in multi-stall bathrooms and cover the urinals with “out of order” signage. Tape off smaller conference rooms and if you’re employees share desks – do away with that immediately.
Have mask rules – Follow CDC guidelines for face coverings. When possible, provide employees with an adequate number of face coverings for the week. However, save on costs by recommending they bring their own! Cloth or makeshift masks should be worn during the day, except when eating or drinking or seated at your desk. Consider providing “Return to Work” kits as a perk. You could include: The new rules, hand sanitizer, tissues, and a branded mask to start the transition back.
Modify your kitchen, beverage, and snack operations – Think about how many times someone has to touch things in a kitchen area to get a cup of coffee from a Keurig brewer. I would recommend temporarily discontinuing the use of coffee stations unless you have a one-point touch machine. All beverages and snacks provided should be individually packaged. Additionally, temporarily discontinuing the use of community dishware/silverware will minimize contact contamination that would happen by opening drawers and cabinets.
Limit visitors – Having visitors is something that should be under high scrutiny for at least the first 30 days back to work. Over time loosen the stance, but you’ll keep everyone’s fears at bay by making this a slow transition. If you don’t already, implement a sign-in sheet that takes the name, phone number, and details of who they are meeting with for each visitor for proper contact tracing. If someone in your office becomes sick you’ll want to alert your clients, visitors, of a possible transmission immediately.. Only allow visitors access to certain areas of your office/building. You can make one conference room for visitors only, etc. Are you hiring? Interviews should be 100% virtual.
Try to make “high touch” items, no touch at all – Adopting a hands-free experience in all of these areas is not always possible but ideal. You can take lids off trash cans or make sure they are auto or are controlled by a foot pedal. Use antimicrobial or nanoseptic tape covers on door handles in high touch areas. For high-touch shared office supplies (think: whiteboard markers, HDMI cables, etc.) ask that folks take their supplies to their desk and to meetings as needed – like we used to do for classes in high school.
Last but not least, be kind to yourself. This is hard, this is new territory for every one of us and a lot of us are on the front lines to keep our teams safe. It’s a ton of responsibility, and your feelings are valid. Reach out for help if you need it (reach out to me if you don’t know who to talk to!). Our teams need us, and we can’t be there for them if we aren’t taking care of ourselves first.
Have more ideas that I didn’t mention? Drop them in the comments section!