Returning to Work Amidst the COVID-19 Crisis: Steps Employers Are Taking To Prepare and Protect Their People
by Bruce Platzman
As states across the country are re-opening, AIS is hearing from hundreds of companies that are preparing their workplaces for the return of employees. With many concerns and challenges in front of them, customers are looking for AIS to help them modify their office furniture in an effort to keep teams and visitors safe. Whether it’s a small business or a large employer, there are many common concerns and needs to consider as all prepare to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here’s a summary the top activities AIS and many of our customers are doing:
Protocols for employee well-being and safety. Many leaders realize it’s essential to have their teams feel positive and secure within their work environments as all return to the factory or office. There are many activities leaders can do to support this.
- Good communications during this time is critical. Being very open and direct with employees about what your organization is doing to keep people safe is important. Whether you create a safety video (see AIS video here), regularly share your COVID-19 Response Plan, or send updates directly to employees via email or a company newsletter, it all matters.
- Celebrating the return of employees to the office is a small gesture that can start the process off on a positive note. Many are making banners to hang in the office and creating care packages for all. Giving each person a few supplies to keep at their desk is thoughtful and appropriate. We’re providing each of our employees with a supply of disinfecting wipes to self-clean personal office areas, hand sanitizer, two washable/ reusable facemasks, and tissues.
- Instill and enforce social distancing practices across your organization. It is important to create and share guidelines for how people enter the building; how many people should be in the cafeteria at one time; how many in the restroom at one time; etc.
- Be clear and consistent with temperature checks. Let employees know how and when temperature checks will occur each day and follow through.
- Scheduling teams of employees in/out of office on different days or staggered start times. Each manager may have the freedom to create the schedule and plan that works best for their department. It’s important that leaders be patient with everyone. This is new territory for the team and everyone has different levels of comfort, stress, and acceptance.
- Keep guests and suppliers safe. While employees must feel safe and secure returning to work, it’s critical to think about all your visitors, too. Constructing, implementing, and communicating good protocols is essential.
- More frequent and deeper cleaning practices. While most see this as an obvious need, it’s one of the most important activities an employer can do. Be sure your cleaning crew is following through daily. Everyone will notice if they aren’t and the expectation here is high.
Modifications to the workplace. Many employers are realizing the office layout we had in February won’t work for our needs today. What this translates to is modifications in big or small ways as we work to ensure the office can support the new needs during this pandemic.
- Retrofitting offices is a common practice. Whether adding screens to desks, panels systems or tables, we’re seeing this is a popular solution. New or higher screens can often be retrofitted into a space, making them less costly than replacing workstations. Some are using mobile screens to divide spaces and separate workers, while others are adding higher panels to their existing stations.
- Return of the cubicle. We can’t really determine if the high panel cubicles are coming back for good, but we can share that a resurgence of interest has occurred. New office projects often have panel systems at higher heights than we’ve seen in the recent past – and often with some glass panels, ensuring daylight can come through and users have views beyond their workstation.
- Reorienting users in space. New projects are more sensitive to the layout of users. As employers work to prevent workers being face-to-face all day, furniture is being planned to keep users strategically separated.
- More concern for cleanable materials. It’s no surprise many clients are seeking materials on their furniture that can withstand high frequency cleaning. We’re seeing glass, laminate and more vinyl and polyurethanes being explored for this reason. Some want to ensure their seating upholstery can be bleach-cleanable and this need is growing.
- More exploration of antimicrobial materials. Very often the screens, panels, and seating in workplaces can be specified with an antimicrobial material. There are different types of materials out there to support this need and we’re seeing great interest in specifications for this as employers further work to protect employees.
Work from home office furniture packages. Some employers are allowing workers to continue to work remotely for a period of time. Often, these employers understand the importance of ergonomic furniture for the health and productivity of their people. AIS has constructed many Work From Home packages for customers during this time as the need continues to grow.
Setting guidelines for mask wearing. Many employers are requiring masks be worn with different guidelines for when and where to wear them. Employers are working to ID the balance where employees are protected while still being comfortable and productive. Mask wearing guidelines vary from wearing it all the time to wearing it when away from one’s desk – and everywhere in between. This is an area where individual companies will have to identify what works best for them – and then communicate and enforce it regularly.
About the author:
Bruce Platzman is the President and CEO of AIS, a $220 million office furniture manufacturer located in Leominster, Massachusetts and a designated Essential Employer during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
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