Before the pandemic hit, consumer engagement and insight agency Jackman Reinvent was in the process of planning a move to 80 Atlantic, a stunning new office building in downtown Toronto. Then everything came to a screeching halt. But after several months of hunkering down, it became apparent that the employees were craving the type of human face-to-face interaction that allows for the free exchange of ideas and collaboration in the workplace. So, rather than making the decision for them, a survey was sent out to try and understand what they wanted to do: return to the office or continue working remotely full time?
The answer was a bit surprising. The majority of employees expressed a strong desire to return to the workplace. They also, understandably, expressed concern around the safety of doing so. The leadership team was now tasked with finding a way to open our office doors, while maintaining proper safety and health measures. After many conversations and much planning, the agency has recently started allowing employees to come back into the office. It took an effort of reinvention and new thinking, but here are the main areas that were focused on:
COVID-Aware Office Design
Design the office to allow for six feet of distance between occupants and establish control over entry points, including for any deliveries. Specify seating assignments to give ample space between seats and to avoid desk sharing. All spaces should operate at reduced capacity, including meeting rooms, and small rooms should be made single occupant only. Remove chairs from meeting rooms so people don’t linger, and so there’s one less thing to keep clean. Designate and design direction of foot traffic with one established direction through the primary circulation paths. Consider installing low-touch or no-touch switches, doors, drawers and other fittings.
Give Employees a Say
Offer an anonymous poll to employees prior to opening up the workspace to determine what their needs and desires are. Ask them how many days they want to come into the office and what schedules and arrangements might work best for them. Be mindful of the fact that childcare options have drastically changed for many people and don’t punish them for it. Clearly set employee expectations, with an emphasis on making them feel secure. Allow employees to work from home or change their schedules when needed. Conduct polls frequently after the office reopens to make sure things are working smoothly.
Prepare the Workforce
First and foremost, the return to the workplace must be voluntary. Everyone’s situation is different, and some employees might not be comfortable or able to come back to the office at all. Business leaders can help mitigate the anxiety of returning to the workplace through change management planning and solid two-way communications with workers. Ensure that your leadership is in complete alignment upon re-entry. Offer clear communications to employees around the back-to-work plan, including safety protocols, and allow employees to ask questions and make suggestions. Give those working on in-flight projects the first option to return to the office. Make it clear that employees who are feeling unwell should stay home or leave the building immediately if they’re already in the office.
Create a Common-Sense Safety Plan
Provide temperature checks on arrival using a handheld remote scanner. Reinforce handwashing, social distancing, and use of PPE by providing wipes and sanitizers at reception and throughout the office. Have employees sign a form acknowledging that they’re symptom free and that they agree to abide by the six-foot distancing rules. Vendors should not be permitted past the lobby.
Reduce Touchpoints & Increase Cleaning
Look for ways to reduce the use of touchscreens and other high touch items (e.g., iPad bookings, remote controls, vending machines). Regularly sanitize all workspace areas, including conference room, breakroom, cafeteria, restroom, and other common or high-traffic areas. Supply disinfectants near or on each desk or work area and enable DIY cleaning by providing employees with ample hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Ensure that employees have access to secure designated storage areas for their personal items.
Now, more than ever, leadership teams must understand the importance of being flexible and responsive to evolving needs. Acknowledge that things will change, and that policies may change too. HR policies are usually definitive, but in this case, organizations need to be more fluid and respond to changes that may be coming and that aren’t always anticipated. Continue to get a pulse on how employees are feeling and let that help guide next steps.
Joe Jackman is CEO and Founder of Jackman Reinvents and author of The Reinventionist Mindset: Learning to love change, and the human how of doing it brilliantly.