As shelter-in-place orders begin to lift, many of us are excited about the chance to return to the office and reestablish the boundaries between our personal and professional lives.
But it’s become clear that a return to work doesn’t mean a return to normal. Offices will need to change substantially in order to help safeguard employees before a vaccine or effective therapeutics for COVID-10 are widely available.
Enter the Workplace Operator Readiness Council (WORC), a global group of flexible office space providers and industry-specific companies who have teamed up with recognized leaders across architecture, engineering, design, construction, real estate, government, healthcare, and public policy to reimagine the office with health and safety at its core.
WORC has released the Return-to-Office Playbook: A People-First Guide for International Workplace Operators. The playbook walks through the various decisions stakeholders will need to make in order to care for their members’ health and safety, sharing insights and real-life examples from workplace operators along the way. It also provides a glimpse at what it will look like for many of us to once again step into the office.
Cleaning and disinfection
It should come as no surprise that cleaning and disinfection are top of mind for workplace operators around the world. Expect locations to be cleaned more frequently and at a higher standard, with particular attention being paid to high-contact surface areas such as door handles. In India, workplace operator Awfis is disinfecting the shared surfaces and appliances in its kitchens and cafés every thirty minutes. The Great Room — a workplace operator based throughout Asia — is disinfecting mail and packages, then delivering them to members by trolley to avoid direct contact.
Since COVID-19 can be spread through airborne particles, even HVAC systems are being updated and adjusted to help create cleaner working environments. Operators are running these systems for extended hours, reconfiguring their settings, and adding new filters to ensure a greater intake of fresh air.
A number of changes workplace operators are implementing center around distancing. The Centers for Disease Control recommends staying six feet apart in order to avoid person-to-person transmission of COVID-19. To accommodate that amount of personal space within the office, workplace operators such as JustCo are updating layouts and removing some of the furniture in common areas so that seating, for example, is properly spaced out. Meanwhile, European workplace operator MindSpace is providing its members with partitions that can be set up to help avoid person-to-person contact.
But how do you create physical distancing when people are on-the-go? One solution is to introduce specific, one-way traffic patterns to control where people are moving. This approach prevents people from crossing paths and having incidental face-to-face interactions, and makes it easier to stay an appropriate distance away from other members walking in the area. Another is to introduce single occupant spaces for calls and video conferencing, like phone booths, that can create better physical distancing than taking virtual meetings in open, shared spaces.
Behavioral changes and accountability
In order for any of these new measures to be effective, workplace operators must find a way to ensure that everyone in their spaces adheres to them. At Industrious, our members and employees alike are asked to sign a community pledge demonstrating their commitment to our enhanced health and safety standards — created with the help of medical experts — before returning to the office. Members receive a back-to-office kit with items they’ll need to uphold these standards, such as high-quality reusable face masks. (Single-use masks are also stocked on-site for visitors or anyone who forgets a mask at home.)
Industrious has also taken care to communicate openly with members—so that they understand why it’s critical that they embrace these behaviors—because maintaining health and safety under COVID-19 is ultimately a community endeavor. At the same time, we understand that different markets, locations, companies, and members may all have different reactions to the current moment, so our on-site staff take care to personalize every interaction and to respond to each situation with empathy. We also solicit feedback from everyone who uses our spaces and update them accordingly so that we can continue keeping our community safe today, tomorrow, and for the months to come.
Industrious is the largest premium workplace provider in the country. Our professional and thoughtfully-designed spaces can accommodate companies of all sizes and stages — from startups to Fortune 500s.