As businesses try to regain their footing and grapple with a "new normal" as they reopen, one of the main challenges is how to deal with office space because of coronavirus. Here are some things to consider.

Allow remote work when it makes sense

For many businesses, remote work has become the new norm, and even before the pandemic, quite a few were already headed in that direction. In March, employee office use fell to 80 percent below historical averages, according to VergeSense, which analyzed data across 15 million square feet of global office space.1

While working from home isn't a fit for every business, those who are able to do their job remotely are likely going to be eager to continue doing so, at least until the threat of coronavirus is significantly reduced. Business owners should keep this in mind and support remote work in cases where tasks are able to be carried out as efficiently as they would be in the office.

There may still be times when employees are simply needed in-house. If this is the case, consider setting certain times for employees, on a case-by-case basis, to come to the office to perform the tasks needed, and then letting them work remotely when the job can allow for it. The fewer people in the office at any given time, the safer the space will be overall, and the more comfortable those who are present will feel. One option may be to rotate certain days or times of the day that specific employees come and go.

Let your team spread out

For those whose physical presence is required, do what you can to increase safety by allowing them to spread out within the office space as much as possible. Consider an activity-based work setting, which allows people to move around the office as needed, rather than confining them to an assigned area. Social distancing practices will need to take place, but this gives employees the freedom to work where they're most comfortable, such as away from others.

According to Ted Moudis Associates, these types of settings were already on the rise before the pandemic, increasing from 24 percent of employees in 2018 to 26 percent in 2019.2  It's also worth considering that such a set-up allows for easy, on-the-fly flexibility as situations change. The whole office doesn't have to be up-ended to accommodate changes that may needed in the future.

Regular, through cleaning is now a priority

Cleaning throughout the office must now be a higher priority than ever. In fact, it should be the absolute top priority. If the space isn't kept sanitary, it can present a danger to anyone there. This includes employees, clients, and even yourself. There is no way to know how many people inside your office space may have been exposed to the virus. One thing you can control, however, is how you react to the new standards of cleanliness. There needs to be a system in place that allows for regular, frequent, and thorough cleaning and sanitizing. Refer to the CDC's guidance for cleaning and disinfecting your facility.3

Remind workers regularly of safety rules

Utilize signage throughout the workplace to help keep cleanliness and safety guidelines top-of-mind for everyone there. Send out regular emails reinforcing these guidelines. While everyone may be aware of best practices and policies, it's easy to get comfortable and let things slide. It's important that everyone continues to take guidelines seriously and not relax their standards.

Look for ways tech can reduce contact

Find ways to reduce the amount of time people need to be face-to-face, even when they're physically at the office. Utilize tools like email, instant message, video calls, or even simple phone calls. If people can use their own phones for conversations, even better, as this would eliminate needless touching of company equipment that may be used by others. There are also quite a few web-based collaboration tools that can connect everyone without having to put people physically in the same space.

Take the break room virtual

It's no longer ideal to have an area where people can congregate when they leave their desk. Gathering around the water cooler may return one day, but right now, it should be considered an obsolete act. It is, however, still important that workers are allowed to take a break, and they should still be able to use this time to converse with colleagues. Try setting up a "virtual break room" using a web-based solution. A collaboration tool like Slack®, for example, can not only help workers collaborate more efficiently, but it can also be used to set up a "room" for random discussion and chit chat. Or use an outdoor space with social distancing.

A new office set-up may take some getting used to, and you may need to experiment with different strategies and solutions to get it right. Listen to feedback from your team and consider what they have to say. Address concerns and be flexible when possible. The goal is to provide a productive office environment in which everyone can feel safe.

1. https://vergesense.com/resources/employee-office-use-approached-near-zero-levels-due-to-coronavirus-last-week

2. https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/bf5c4b_c6e7020b593947e590743cc3d917e587.pdf

3. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/disinfecting-building-facility.html

 

The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank. Nevada State Bank is a division of Zions Bancorporation, N.A. Member FDIC