Returning to The Office: 7 Thoughts to Create a Safe and Healthy Workplace after COVID-19

When walking out of our office building two months ago, we hardly thought of all the efforts to plan our return. But after several weeks of home office, short-time work or temporary closure of companies, some staff are likely to start coming back to their office in the near future. But as there is no general playbook, many employers are wondering how to ensure a safe return of their team to the office. Without doubt, COVID-19 changed our working environment and employers need to make sure that their workforce stays healthy and safe. And that won´t be a piece of cake.

Shared kitchens, crowded elevators and large team meetings – there are various hazards at today’s workplace that can put employees and employers at risk. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) has published guidelines for a safe return to the office. We took a closer look and will share some relevant thoughts with you – are you ready for the return of your team to the office?

1. Who needs to be in the office?

Crowded public transportation, safety distance and face masks make a return to the office a rather tricky task. Thus, ask yourself as an employer, whose presence in the office is essential to maintain the business. Can some or even all of your employees continue to work from home for the time being? Or are there colleagues who only need to be on site for very specific tasks and thus, are not required to come to the office every day?

2. Do your employees have everything they need to keep working from home?

Some of your employees might belong to the risk group or they live with relatives who are at risk, some prefer working from home. Either way, be prepared that a part of your team won’t return to the office very soon. Thus make sure that they’ve got everything they need in terms of IT infrastructure. After the coronavirus pandemic, home office is very likely to play a significant part in today’s working life. Online collaboration and communication tools make it easier than ever to stay productive and efficient in your own four walls. Many globally renowned companies already announced that their employees will continue to work from home even after the coronavirus pandemic ends, including the e-commerce platform developer Shopify or the micro-blogging platform Twitter.

3. Do you pay enough attention to hygiene and cleaning regulations?

A clean workspace got a whole new dimension. To fight the spread of the coronavirus, you have to keep a close eye on stricter hygiene and a more frequent cleaning process. To make sure that employees are aware of it once they return to the office, communicate these rules transparently via mail, intranet, posters and your other communication channels..

4. Did you reduce the physical contact to a minimum?

Keeping a distance of 1.5 metres is not only part of our private life when queuing up in shops and supermarkets, but also an important rule for employees once they return to the office. Therefore, try to reduce the physical contact between your team as much as possible. It might be necessary to restructure processes and procedures. Keep on holding meetings via video conference, even though everyone might be on site. Or maybe you have to rearrange your table set-up to ensure maximum space in between.

5. Do you have access to all necessary protection materials?

For some companies, the safety distance of 1.5 metres between employees is not realisable. In this case, you have to make sure to provide relevant protection material like face masks, gloves, disinfectant dispenser or even partition walls to separate tables from each other.

6. Do you keep your employees involved and informed?

New home office regulations, safety measures and adapted working hours have a strong impact on your employees´mindset. Therefore, take the extra effort and make sure to inform your team about changes and rules and try to involve them in the major phases of your planning. In such challenging times, it is very important to keep your team motivated and engaged. Give employees the chance to ask questions and share ideas. A transparent and two-way communication will help you to keep up the team spirit.

7. Are you able to resume work slowly?

Resuming work slowly is a good test to check whether you are ready for a post-COVID19 workplace. Are all processes adapted well enough? Can your team get back to the office safely? You might want to schedule rotating working shifts, so it doesn’t get too crowded. By starting off step-by-step you have the chance to identify obstacles and react accordingly.

Are you ready to welcome your employees back to the office?