In March 2020, many companies instructed their employees to evacuate their cubicles and set up shop at home. At the time, the decision to send the workforce packing was an easy one. With a highly contagious virus that health experts knew little about rampaging across the globe, it was crucial for businesses that primarily operated in an in-person capacity to go remote, if possible.
Now, nearly a year later, it's a different story. We know much more about COVID-19 and have developed strategies (like social distancing and mask-wearing) that have allowed us to resume some normal activities, such as retail shopping and dining out. When it comes to offices, however, the question of when to reopen has been met with various answers. Big players like Target and Google say employees won't come back to headquarters until summer and fall, respectively, while Twitter is prepared for its workforce to stay remote indefinitely. Other companies returned to business-as-usual months ago.
"Companies are grappling with the challenge of, how do we bring our teams back into the office setting, where we probably had some dense space, and make them feel as though we've taken every step to help make a safe workplace? How do we prove to our employees that we care about their safety?" says Bailiwick's VP of Product Development Joe Hinrichs. Here, he—along with Tim Bennett, Director of Digital Signage Solutions—walk through what a return to the workplace could look like, and how Bailiwick can help its clients feel confident about opening their doors.
No matter when you decide is the right time to open your company's doors—following state and CDC guidelines for capacity limits and mask usage, of course—you won't be able to get by without an abundance of COVID-19 precautions. Businesses are overhauling everything from processes and schedules to furniture layouts in an effort to ensure employees feel safe at work—the COVID-19 "X" factor that you have no control over, no matter how prepared you are.
On the non-visual front, this includes changes like enhanced cleaning, new air purification and vent systems, rotating schedules—where groups of employees alternate days or weeks in the office—and more lenient sick-leave policies that encourage workers to take time off if they feel ill. "We certainly want our employees to be aware that we're doing things like intense cleaning," says Hinrichs, "but the visual things, I believe, are what bring comfort to employees."
By "visual," Hinrichs is referring to the tangible investments companies are pouring money and resources into, like temperature scanning technologies; touchless fixtures including foot-pull door-openers, touch-free faucets and toilet flushers, and contactless water-bottle fillers; as well as digital signage reminding employees of company policies in relation to mask-wearing, social distancing, and one-way traffic flows. Oh, and those trendy open-concept workstations that have been replacing cubicles in recent years? They are being outfitted with see-through dividers.
"There are many organizations that invested pretty heavily in creating these work pods where it's really collaborative with low walls and people sitting in close proximity to one another to work in team environments," says Hinrichs, but now, "we want to make sure we're creating the appropriate social distance, while still allowing for eye contact and collaboration."
With masks becoming the norm in most communities, many companies like Bailiwick are comfortable asking their employees to wear face coverings when not seated at their workstations. But the COVID-19 vaccine is a trickier topic in the return-to-workplace conversation. According to the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers can require employees to get vaccinated, aside from those who are exempt because of a disability or their religion, in which case reasonable accommodations must be made for the employee, such as remote work, if possible. We don't see any organizations putting a stake in the ground with absolute rules for their employees. The employee and their comfort will be the most important.
In short, there are many ways to go about preparing to welcome workers back to the office, and safety solutions will need to be tailored for every individual company.
Masks, socially distanced workstations, contactless features—oh my! As a business leader, the task of safely opening your office to employees again can feel daunting. Bailiwick gets it; we're entering this uncharted territory right alongside you. Learning from our experience, let us be a partner when it comes to your return-to-workplace strategies.
We've partnered with leading sneeze-guard manufacturers to design and produce physical barriers to fit your workspace needs, saving you money compared to national office furniture providers. Bailiwick's team of technicians can install these clear dividers, along with other COVID-19 related investments like touchless restroom fixtures and door-openers.
"Our customers know that we can customize what they need," says Bennett. "If it's the work-space dividers, for instance, we've partnered with a couple of manufacturers that are able to craft custom solutions that won't damage their cubicles. So we're not drilling holes, we're not making permanent changes to the structure. It's that kind of out-of-the-box thinking that's a value-add for our customers."
Beyond Bailiwick's product and service offerings, you can trust that we're following all proper COVID-19 precautions to keep you and your employees safe while we're on the job. "Despite our tight restrictions, we seek to understand our clients' parameters for safety to make it easier for us to do business with them," says Hinrichs.
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