The COVID-19 Office: Lessons We’ve Learned From the Re-Opening

For many of us, the novelty of working from home has worn off. At first, not being forced to commute to work every day was a nice change of pace. But the invasion of work life into personal life quickly took its toll.

In Southern California, life is slowly returning to normal. Many businesses are reopening, albeit at limited capacity. We’re certainly not in the clear yet, but the reopening of the economy has offered us a few best practices and areas of caution. These lessons are especially important for companies that hope to soon resume office work after months of having employees work from home.

A Long Road

Since early May, Southern California residents have witnessed a slow return to life as it once was. May 26 marked perhaps the single biggest development in the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, as Los Angeles County allowed retail establishments to reopen at 50 percent capacity. County officials are expected to announce the lifting of additional restrictions on June 12. 

It’s still difficult to say whether these reopenings have been entirely successful or not. On one hand, the federal jobs report released last Friday indicated the economy added 2.5 million jobs in May. Most analysts expected the report to be one of the most dire in the nation’s history, so the actual results were a welcome relief for everyone.

But, at the same time, the rate of COVID-19 transmission in Los Angeles County appears to be on the rise once again. Needless to say, Southern California and the country as a whole aren’t in the clear just yet.

We’ve previously discussed measures businesses can take to do their part in preventing the virus’ spread. Now, with the benefit of being able to see the challenges reopened businesses have dealt with, we can take a deeper dive into areas facility managers must address before reopening their offices.

Here are a few new details to consider.

1. Elevators

It’s impossible to keep six feet of distance between people on an elevator. We can all agree on that much.

Not only are elevators cramped spaces, but they also don’t circulate air well at all. With all of these concerns in mind, you might think it’s best to suggest everyone just take the stairs. But this ignores the needs of employees who might have conditions preventing them from making the climb.

Luckily, it’s possible to take the elevator safely as long as a few precautions are taken. First, employees need to wear masks. Most of us are used to this guidance at this point. But it’s always worth repeating. Employees should also avoid making contact with surfaces in the elevator. One way of doing this is by using either toothpicks or a tissue whenever you go to touch a button. 

The last measure will admittedly be a bit awkward for most employees. Experts advise elevator riders to face the wall and avoid speaking with other riders throughout the trip. This will obviously not be the easiest measure for your teammates to internalize, but it will help protect their health and the health of their families in the long run.

2. Entryways 

Few areas in an office building get as much foot traffic as its entryway—especially if your building houses multiple businesses.

It’s still possible, though, to stop the entryway from becoming a problematic area of your facility. One easy measure you can take is coordinating employee arrival times with other office managers in your facility. Each manager can propose arrival times for their company’s workforce and from there you can all plan a schedule that fits the needs of the building’s tenants.

Your company can also recommend the building managers replace all porous surfaces in the entryway, such as rugs and carpeting. These surfaces are difficult to clean and can become unsanitary because of constant human contact. By replacing them with tiling or a different, non-porous material, the building managers will make life easier for the janitorial staff and protect the health of all employees.

3. Hallways

Not many facilities have hallways wide enough to maintain six feet of distance between employees. What’s more, few realtors can afford to expand all of their hallways. As a facility manager, you’ll need to get creative if you want to make your hallways a safe space for everyone.

One measure we’ve mentioned before is a movement plan for employees. Under this system, all employees are directed to move either clockwise or counterclockwise around the office. This prevents teammates from making contact with one another.

Even if your company isn’t in a position to put in place such a plan, you can still apply the thinking behind it to your own office. As a facility manager, you can designate hallways as being one-way, meaning employees are only permitted to walk in one direction through them.

Although this might not always keep employees six feet apart from one another, it will prevent them from facing the same direction. This will directly help slow down the spread of any pathogens from one teammate to another.

It’s also worth mentioning all of this will eventually pass. We’ve overcome major challenges in the past and will do so again this time. The steps we take today will only make us more prepared for whatever the future holds. 

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