In March 2020, our normal practices were flipped on their heads as the COVID-19 pandemic began affecting the United States. Since then, businesses of all sizes around the country have adopted in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations to establish a “new normal” for the workplace.
As more people become vaccinated, many businesses are considering returning to work after nearly a year and a half of working virtually. Despite the relaxed restrictions, this poses a new set of challenges, such as post-vaccination mask policies, balancing in-person and virtual settings and office design. Address these concerns to create the best work environment for you and your employees.
Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, we have learned a lot about the virus. It spreads through person-to-person transmission, meaning close contact with an infected individual increase the risk of contracting it. Different vaccines are available in the United States and all are accessible for free. Vaccines are effective against contracting and spreading the virus, including its variants. As more individuals get vaccinated, the rate at which the virus spreads decreases to keep communities safe.
There are steps you can take to ensure that everyone is safe when returning to the office post-vaccine.
Knowledge of the threat of the virus is the most important aspect of ensuring everyone’s safety. Sharing resources provided by the CDC about COVID-19, how it spreads and how to protect yourself and others from contracting or spreading the virus lets everyone prepare for a return to the in-person workplace. Encourage your workers to get vaccinated to keep your workplace safe.
In addition to providing these resources, it’s also essential for employers to discuss best practices in the office. Take measures like:
To prepare for returning to in-person work, it’s important to begin with a safe physical working environment. Identify the high-traffic areas in the office and develop a daily cleaning and sanitation routine with the proper tools for those areas to reduce the risk of transmission. If cases increase or you work with high-risk individuals, your office will benefit from more frequent cleaning and sanitation. When your workers return to the workplace, provide them with personal protective equipment (PPE) to regularly clean their personal spaces.
You can also optimize workplace safety by assessing the ventilation. Open windows and use fans to increase the air circulation in workspaces unless these practices will trigger other health conditions, such as asthma. Ensure ventilation and HVAC systems run properly and provide acceptable air quality for indoor spaces. Using directional airflow to exchange less-clean air with clean air will help with maintaining good air quality.
Identify someone to coordinate the COVID-19 issues and make sure employees know who this person is. Implementing flexible policies for sick leave that do not penalize your workers will encourage them to stay home when necessary. Track the absence rate to monitor the health of your office, and ensure you have a plan for continuing essential functions if remote work is necessary for your workers’ safety.
If there is a suspected or confirmed case from someone who recently visited the office, separate their workspace from others and disinfect surfaces they interacted with to maintain other workers’ safety. Develop a contact-tracing system to protect employees and notify individuals who came into contact with the person who contracted the virus. Be aware of the high-risk individuals in your office and accommodate their needs to avoid serious illness.
Taking these three steps will set up you and your workers for a safe and secure return to work.
As you consider the steps to take for returning to the office, deciding on your policy regarding face masks could be vital to the safety of your workers. Here are four questions to ask when considering whether your employees need to wear face masks.
Properly and consistently wearing face masks is critical for slowing the transmission of COVID-19, as masks protect both the people who wear them and those around them. Face masks should fit snugly over the nose, mouth and chin without gaps to reduce air leakage. A CDC-approved face mask should have multiple layers to filter air more effectively. Masks with respirators are substantially less effective in protecting individuals from transmission.
Masks are preventative measures that are beneficial to all, including those who are fully vaccinated, not vaccinated and who have a weakened immune system.
The CDC recommends all individuals over the age of 2 who do not have a disability preventing them from safely wearing a mask do so in public spaces. You should be aware of whether your state or jurisdiction requires face masks for individuals in your area.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also recommends employers continue to require face coverings, especially if it is a highly transmittable environment. Even if masks are not required in your state, the CDC continues to strongly recommend their usage.
For some individuals, it is not safe to wear a face covering. Individuals with certain disabilities may not be able to wear a mask, such as:
If an individual is unable to wear a face mask in the office, the employer should consider moving their workspace to an area where they are less likely to come into frequent contact with other workers. Workers interacting with customers should be encouraged to wear a mask.
Individuals who are not vaccinated and those with weakened immune systems are at the highest risk of contracting and transmitting the virus. Therefore, if you are in an area of substantial or high transmission, requiring face masks in your workplace would help protect your workers. The CDC also continues to recommend fully vaccinated individuals wear face masks when indoors in public due to the highly transmittable variants.
Policy introductions and new mask guidelines should be made clear to all employees to ensure workplace safety. If you require masks to be worn in the office, you should provide information about washing and storing cloth masks and disposing of single-use face coverings. It is a good practice to provide masks for your workers regardless of whether it is required to wear them.
Post-vaccine office meetings may be safe in the near future, but for now, hybrid meetings are the safest option — especially if any number of workers are not vaccinated. The CDC recommends everyone, including those who have been fully vaccinated, continue to wear masks when in public spaces, like office meetings.
For individuals who are present for an in-person meeting, it’s beneficial to:
Placing markings on the floor or at seats that are 6 feet apart is a good way to ensure workers recognize the commitment to safety. Visible reminders about safety policies also encourage everyone to protect themselves and others. Avoid sharing items such as writing utensils and technology before properly cleaning and sanitizing the items.
Reducing shared spaces among individuals who are not fully vaccinated greatly decreases the risk of transmission among individuals. A hybrid-style or fully virtual meeting will best suit most workplaces to protect workers. Video- or teleconferencing allows everyone to participate while also offering additional conveniences, such as polling and recording. These platforms also make it easy to share digital resources and files that are relevant to the meeting. The video aspect of these platforms helps workers feel more connected, as much information is communicated non-verbally.
Virtual or hybrid meetings continue to be the safest option for all workers. As more people get the COVID-19 vaccine and return to the office, it’s important to remember the different ways to safely connect coworkers and create a healthy work environment.
As individuals get fully vaccinated and return to the brick-and-mortar office, employers must consider how to design workspaces in a way that is conducive to collaboration while also upholding the commitment to safety against COVID-19.
Office design heavily influences how people work, as different layouts and considerations have different impacts and advantages. Influencing how individuals can interact with a space affects various aspects of their time in the office. These post-vaccine office considerations for workplace design will help you create a safe and effective environment.
Workplace culture heavily influences workers’ decision to apply for and stay at a job with a company. According to Glassdoor’s 2019 Mission & Culture Survey, more than three-quarters of adults in the U.S., U.K., France and Germany consider the culture and reputation of a business as they search for jobs. Returning to the office is a great opportunity to remind your employees why they were interested in your company.
It’s also crucial to remember that the workers make the company what it is. Many employees find that casual interactions with colleagues help increase morale. According to the Pew Research Center, more than three in ten workers find it difficult to stay motivated to complete their tasks in a work-from-home environment. Pew also reported that people working entirely from home felt less connected to their coworkers than those in a hybrid or in-person work style.
Consider cubicle setups from Arnold’s Office Furniture to facilitate collaboration and make workers feel connected while still staying safe. An office makeover with Arnold’s Office Furniture can turn your workspace from dull to exciting and efficient.
Social distancing, especially paired with proper mask usage, is an effective way to minimize transmission of COVID-19. Pew Research Center found that 57% of individuals working from home by choice are doing so because they are concerned about contracting the virus. Reassuring your workers of the resources available in your office as well as rethinking your physical space can ease those worries.
More than half of workers who had spent the previous six months working entirely from home preferred a hybrid schedule, which allows them to work remotely and in person on a regular basis. Many businesses that support the hybrid schedule will find many people will likely return to the office for collaborative work. From large staff meetings to small breakout teams, having gathering areas for groups of people will help foster opportunities for in-person collaboration.
The hybrid model encourages a balance of collaboration and convenience and takes advantage of the benefits of both in-person and remote work. It also encourages individuals who feel ill or contracted asymptomatic COVID-19 to remain connected with their workplace without putting others at risk.
Different work environments foster different types of culture. Establishing your own version of community at work will help you figure out how to encourage it through the design of the space. If your workers function both collaboratively and independently, then establishing designated areas for teamwork while also providing personal spaces for independent work will likely be effective. Harvard Business Review found that face-to-face interactions dropped by 70% in open floor plans, while virtual communication increased.
Even as more people become fully vaccinated, they are still wary about contracting illnesses from others, whether it’s COVID-19 or a common cold. Especially after working from home for the past year, personal space is very highly valued. A great way to encourage this privacy is by using appropriate office furniture. Arnold’s Office Furniture offers varied types of cubicles that can be adjusted to not only encourage personal space but also reduce the feeling of alienation in the office.
Be sure to consider general employee wellness outside of COVID-19. Although vaccination rates are increasing, worker wellness is still a factor that heavily influences the work they produce. Standing desks are a great way to encourage mild physical activity and keep the mind active. Promote positive mental well-being with outdoor views and indoor natural elements.
In addition to encouraging individuals to get the COVID-19 vaccination, the CDC also continues to stress the importance of assessing mental well-being, especially in the workplace. It is important to provide workers with resources to maintain their wellness to facilitate a strong working environment.
Workplace reintegration post-vaccine does not necessarily mean a return to the practices of pre-March 2020. As we learn more about how to optimize workspaces based on our experiences with remote work, the “new normal” will be ever-evolving.
Revolutionize your office space during this transition with Arnold’s Office Furniture. We’re the sole distributor of the Sunline cubicles, which can give your office the modern, customized feel that you’ve been craving. We deliver and install their products nationwide, and after 90 years of business, we’re a trustworthy source of the best tools for your return-to-work office revamp!
Reach out to our 24/7 sales and design team online or call us at (610) 272-2050.