Offices Are Changing, Is Yours?

We read and talk a lot about how to bring employees back to the workplace; do we screen for symptoms, are masks required or are we going to require them, can we social distance in the office, and on and on. What we don’t see as much is, what workplace are we bringing our employees into? Chances are the workplaces look different. If they don’t, maybe they should. The current health crisis is forcing property managers and business owners to take a look at how we work in an office setting, and those changes are likely. As businesses look to the future, they are weighing how to best use their office space for both now and going forward.

One of the world’s largest commercial property management companies, CBRE, has published several guidance documents on return to work. One piece of advice they give is to be prepared “for a more discerning workforce that will expect continuous, credible assurances that they are working in a safe environment. This will include clear displays of updated safety, health and wellness information and resources for employees, visitors, and occupants throughout the building and specific workplace.” They also say this may look different, depending on the business occupying the building. For example, retail stores will look different from an office building or a warehouse.

Some things you can do:

  • Be sure you have clear signage regarding safety measures, screening processes, and expectations that workers and patrons stay away if they are feeling ill, or have any concerning symptoms.
  • Make sure you are communicating with all your stakeholders like vendors, employees, suppliers, property managers, customers/clients, business leaders, and HR. Those relationships may need to be re-set or re-defined. They need to know that coming into your building is as safe as it can be, and you need to know they are adhering to your safety protocols.

Another thing to consider is office reconfiguration. Employers must evaluate every detail of the facility to be sure it can accommodate social distancing and safety measures. CBRE says, “the facility readiness process is extensive, and no detail is too small to consider.”

While many offices are looking at meeting room occupation and making sure people can stay six feet apart, there are other aspects to look at, including but not limited to:

  • Schedules for being sure the number of people in the building at any one time meets state or local requirements under current health orders.
  • Queues for the elevator, restroom, cash registers, dressing rooms, bathrooms, copy rooms, break rooms, or other pinch points in your building. Do you have signs or dots on the floor?
  • Speaking of elevators, how are you going to manage those? Some building managers are putting dots on the floors with directions, so that the occupants are both as far as they can be from each other, and they don’t face each other.
  • Traffic flow; how do people move through the building? Do you have enough space to have one-way traffic in hallways?
  • Do you have outside space that can be used as a workspace, when the weather permits it? If you are in a state prone to extreme weather, how can you creatively adjust the outside space for more year-round accessibility?

While employers are having seemingly infinite conversations about maintaining workplace culture and employee performance while intentionally moving toward a more remote workforce, it’s essential to also look at what the in-office experience will be when employees return in some way to their workplaces.