7 Ways To Safeguard Your Office For A Safe Return To Work Post COVID-19

The importance of health and safety in the workplace was always an essential task, but what we have learned from the impacts of the recent pandemic is that employers must be aware of all interactions in a new light as employees return to work. The change of lifestyle for employees balancing work from home recently took adjustment, and then with time, it became the new normal. Returning to work comes with its own set of anxieties and concerns for employees, particularly concerning how safe the workplace is. 


New work safety practices are essential for keeping both employees and customers safe during daily interactions. The reality of doing business with social distancing practices in place means clear communication, an action plan for how work will be performed under new safety guidelines and reassurance that their health and safety have been put first. Our team has some helpful tips for you to consider when creating a plan for your employees to return to work at the office.


1. Create a Plan for returning to work 

Key management personal should meet to ensure that they understand the concerns of their employees and that communication is clear throughout the duration of the pandemic. It’s important to ensure plans to re-open has buy-in from all departments. Government regulations regarding operations and social distancing may vary from province to province – so it’s important to familiarize yourself with local guidelines.


In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, social distancing measures must not be taken lightly. A clear plan of action must be established by leadership as to how you will ensure the health and safety of your employees. Having clear guidelines in place at the beginning ensure managers have the correct information to answer questions and reduce the distraction of answering questions. Additionally, if there are health concerns, managers have the guidelines they need to decide on the actions required. Leadership must also demonstrate by example, there is a danger that this practice will lapse over time.


2. Inspect your Workplace

Perform an audit of your current workplaces’ health and safety manuals and do a thorough walkthrough of your facility. Make a list of all areas that you will have to address in your health and safety procedures. Identify what instructional signage, floor markings and safety precautions would need to be put in place to ensure they are safe for employee use. Evaluate your workplaces’:

  • Indoor air quality and circulation

  • The quantity and accessibility of hand sanitizers and soap dispensers. You may also want to order additional stock of soap and sanitizer as it will be expected to be used more frequently with more awareness of handwashing practices. 

  • Individual desks and workspaces where they are currently situated and the current practices for keeping them clean. An open-plan office may no longer be suitable depending on employee proximity to one another, and cubicle workspaces may solve challenges for your organization.

  • Also consider that sharing desks/hoteling workstations to maintain social distancing will require extensive end of day cleaning before being occupied by other employees the following business day. These cleaning measures should not be taken lightly as it is imperative to preventing the spread of germs.

  • If there are shared desks, for example, standing desks, decide if these will remain in use and if so, who will be responsible for keeping them clean.

  • Conference and breakrooms require thorough cleaning and should be sanitized on a more frequent basis. Markers should also be put in place in breakrooms to identify table/seat settings that are 6 feet apart. Similar to how gym equipment requires wiping down, your facility should ensure that paper towel and disinfectant spray is readily available for employees to use before and after use of common areas.

  • Additionally, breakrooms will need to have timing staggered for use to ensure social distancing. 


3. Ensure all workers have the proper equipment

With social distancing in place, there are new situational needs for personal protective equipment including jobs with customer interaction, contract worker/visitors entering the building, restroom hygiene to name a few. For areas where there are interactions with customers, it's important to question if functions can be carried out safely with the introduction of new equipment.


Look at each employee's job function and daily tasks to identify where new personal protective equipment could be needed. Employees should be given care instructions for equipment that can be reused safely and maintain its proper care. For equipment that needs disposal once used, it is essential to communicate this procedure to reduce the risk of infection.


For example, can an electronic signature be introduced for building visitors to reduce face to face requirements within your reception area? Contact your account manager at Staples Business Advantage to conduct a facility consultation that is tailored to your company’s needs. If you do not see something you need on eway.ca – your account manager can work with you to source the products you need in a timely manner. Ensure you’ve fully prepared with resources and Personal Protective Equipment to keep your workforce safe. It’s also a good idea to order the necessary products to keep your business running as a future pandemic planning measure. Planning, preparation and timing are key to protect your business investment and protect your employees.



4. Prepare all Physical Space

The biggest challenge of preparing a return to work safety plan is to prepare all physical spaces. With little notice given regarding the impact of the pandemic, many offices were closed in a hurry and must pick up where they left off.


  • Facilities must be prepped and cleaned prior to re-opening. Consider using in-house cleaning staff with the addition of contracted cleaners for deep cleansing. If you are outsourcing, this will need to be booked and organized ahead of time. The frequency of cleaning visits may increase to adhere to workplace health and safety measures.

  • Workstations may require reconfiguration if there are not significant distancing measures already in place. Office cubicles may be a temporary solution to open-plan facilities when employees are seated in close proximity.

  • Utilize physical barriers where appropriate, such as sneeze guards or temporary plastic sheeting, that protect employees and customers. 

  • Consider a new layout to allow for reconfiguration of seating areas and desks to ensure physical distancing is possible.

  • Review all meeting rooms and shared spaces and update signs and booking procedures to allow for a lower maximum capacity in meetings. Where possible, utilize video conferencing for meetings to avoid using closed environment/ shared spaces.


5. Provide visual safety aids and messages

When employees return to the office, there will be new scenarios that may cause confusion or hesitation. Using visual safety aids allows for clear messaging and direction to help reassure everyone that safety is your priority. You could include:


  • Floor tape could be used to display ideal spacing in elevators, lines and other vital areas.

  • In shared spaces where seating cannot be removed, mark the appropriate areas to sit to maintain a social distance. 

  • Set up appropriate signage for prompts for handwashing and hand sanitizer use. Reminders of social distancing are essential, mainly as time goes on.

  • In larger offices introducing name tags above cubicles can remove any additional interaction if a person needs to find another individual. When possible within a larger office building, video calling, or chat messaging should be employed to reduce contact.

  • There should be clear identification of cleaning supplies and what items are suitable for what use for employees use.


6. Communication Back to Work Procedures and Empower your Employees

It is crucial once you have your managerial team informed that the information is accurately conveyed to all employees. Clear communication through internal company memos reduces stress and allows for a safe return to work. Make recommendations about what will be expected of employees when they return to work and what additional safety measures employees will have in place. 


As with all health and safety practices, this will be a shared workload and employees must be part of the ongoing efforts. This list could include:


  • Fair usage of personal protective equipment and the requirement to follow correct instructions.

  • Wearing masks and gloves at all times when 6 feet social distancing is not possible

  • Best practices for safe use of restrooms and cafeterias. What employees will be expected to do on their end to maintain a safe environment for those around them.

  • New ride-sharing/carpool policies  

  • Taking responsibility to maintain their own space and to clean doorknobs, handrails or shared facilities as used.

  • The requirement to not share or touch others' office supplies such as pens, notepads, keyboards, phones, shredders or monitors.

  • The responsibility to clean computer HDMI or VGA connections, before passing it to the next person for use during presentations.

  • Keeping a personal plan for your cleaning responsibilities so you can remember to do so. Setting reminders in calendars is the most straightforward suggestion for employees to ensure they meet their cleaning responsibilities.


7. Maintain Cleaning Records

Safety Logbooks have always been an essential health and safety requirement. Most companies have included cleaning logs within their safety list, but for some companies, it was not still a priority. Post COVID-19, cleaning records will be essential to stay up to date on what area is a priority for cleaning. It is vital to work with both your in-house cleaning team and contract cleaners to maintain proper and accurate records. Also, this will be a useful tool for your office manager to gauge new order times for cleaning and janitorial supplies as usage levels increase. 


Taking the back to work process one step at a time ensures you have a comprehensive plan in place and can be confident, reassuring employees of their safety. Returning to a clean, healthy office will create a smoother return to work transition and reduce breaks in productivity. If you have questions or need support in any areas, reach out to your safety and cleaning partners who can assist with expert industry knowledge. Understanding what other companies in your industry have put into action will help you feel assured regarding your companies being sufficiently prepared. 


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