Over one-third of the world’s population is living life with restrictions due to the pandemic. Many businesses have closed down. Some have sent their employees to work from home. Others are staying alive with government-funded support.  Without taking away from the plight of retail and factories that are so often in the news, there is little discussion of what will be the effects of COVID-19 on office-workers.  As millions go back to work in office towers with every kind of white-color office workers.  What is the “New Normal” going to look like for accountants, lawyers, consultants, finance, insurance and every type of business services.

As we get used to remote working, business owners and entrepreneurs are thinking about life beyond the pandemic. The office and workspaces may change beyond recognition. There is going to be a massive shift in workplace approach, space and design to stop the spread of bacteria and viruses.  There are bound to be some serious discussions about facilities and office protocol.   And tenants and landlords will be talking about common area maintenance costs (CAM) and liability.

How will workplaces look after workers start to return?

As a business owner, you need to be prepared. Explore the possible changes you may need to make in your workplace. Know how to take social distancing and adequate safety measures for your employees.  Since flu viruses can survive 8-12 hours on paper or cloth, 24-48 hours on nonporous surfaces like doorknobs or desks, and up to 72 hours on wet surfaces, they can remain contagious overnight in an office or that is not properly cleaned.

New guidelines from OSHA include “Administrative controls require action by the worker or employer. Typically, administrative controls are changes in work policy or procedures to reduce or minimize exposure to a hazard. Examples of administrative controls include: Minimizing contact among workers, clients, and customers by replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual communications and implementing telework if feasible. Establishing alternating days or extra shifts that reduce the total number of employees in a facility at a given time, allowing them to maintain distance from one another while maintaining a full onsite work week”.  – Department of Labor – Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 – OSHA 3990-03 2020

Distance Will be the Key

The CDC has recommended maintaining at least a 6-feet distance between people. Your crowded office space may need a redesign to ensure the recommended gap.

You will need to rearrange the desks, tables, and chairs.  Offices that had cubicles or the box design will have less work.  However, offices that use open spaces will have to do a major shifting of furniture. You may also need to put up partitions or walls to separate working spaces. Your employees will also want to maintain social distance, so expect a rise in demand for solo and isolated working spaces.  At risk workers will need accommodations.  Who will provide the masks and hand sanitizer?

Many companies may continue to provide remote working options as it ultimately saves overheads. With fewer employees in your office, you may have some extra space to implement social distancing effectively.  Companies are talking about working in shifts to isolate parts of the workforce.

Collaboration Rooms May Need Extra Space

“Every business is different. Some need more rooms to collaborate better, for instance, and will need a different amount of space as well as proper design,” said Bruce Fogelson, Founder of chicagoofficebroker.com

Businesses may try to stick to the 10-person limit for some time in case of gatherings to check the spread of coronavirus. Companies with more employees will need to think of some strategies to transform their collaboration spaces like conference and training rooms.

You may need to take out some of the chairs and create more space to ensure distancing. Or get rid of the big single tables to maintain the 6-feet distance.   You may simply have to many chairs too close together.

However, most companies may not be going for training anytime soon. In such cases, you can use your conference rooms or training rooms to create private working zones or separate spaces.

Till the time things get back to normal, consider holding remote conferences or training. Employees can use their mobiles or desktop to collaborate over chat or video conferencing.

Healthy Indoor Air

Most offices use HVAC systems that heavily compromise on fresh air. All it does is circulate what’s inside the building with added carbon dioxide, gases, and other chemicals. Germs – including bacteria and viruses – are also part of the package.

Experts agree central air conditioning can increase the risks of spreading coronavirus. The low temperature and humid conditions in offices can easily provide a means of contamination. Most air conditioners also don’t filter small pathogens like coronavirus.  Office building heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems vary between buildings, spaces and certainly the age of a building.  Specifying the right equipment for HVAC may now enter the discussion when negotiating for new space.

Promoting the No-Touch Concept

Workspaces need several changes to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission. This means reducing the possibilities of touch in spaces like elivators, entries and restrooms. Some of the options aren’t as expensive as you think them to be.

  • In case of doors, replace unidirectional doors with swinging doors. If you have a little money to spare, go for automated doors that open by detecting motion – the likes you see at shopping malls or airports.
  • Business owners might even go for innovative approaches like self-cleaning door handles. Or, you can just attach a small platform below the door so that people can pull it with their feet. Here’s your chance to get creative!
  • The “no-touch” approach can also extend to places like the restrooms. Consider installing automated soap and water dispensers as recommended by the CDC.  Also, provide paper towels and proper bins to dispose of them. It’s time for landlords to keep bathrooms well-stocked for increased hand-washing.

Visual Signs to Ensure Social Distance

It’s not always easy to remember social distancing norms while you are caught up at work. Employees may unconsciously get close to each other while fulfilling their daily duties.  What will the rules be for how many in an elevator?  Where to stand in line?

Signage and visual indications will be crucial to ensure your workforce maintains the required distance. Draw out circles on the floor near desks, receptions, and any place where close proximity can be a challenge. This is also important for places like the cafeteria and the break room.  Visual signs can encourage desired behaviors and reduce contamination. You can, for example, paint arrows on walls to indicate the way employees should move. It’s a strategy utilized by healthcare workers who walk on clockwise in hospitals to check the spread of pathogens.  Look to adopt similar approaches for your office, common space halls, office building bathrooms and lanes around them.

Hygiene and Sanitization

Keeping your office free of germs and contamination will be a top priority as workers take the desk. Employers need to do their part too.

  • Offer resources like touchless sanitizers and disinfectant wipes. Place these at various corners of your office and ensure its easily visible.
  • Your employees can use a paper mat for their desks and dispose of them after signing off. The housekeeping team should also do their rounds and disinfect surfaces several times a day.  It may be time to confront your office landlord about what is a regular cleaning and who pays for what.  Be cautious about how these costs are passed along to tenants.
  • Assess your office and determine what you need to ensure optimum hygiene. Then plan accordingly.  Your building’s plan is part of your plan too.

Visitor Check-In and Management

Reception is usually a high-traffic zone for all businesses. Guests, visitors, delivery boys, and other people stop at the reception for information. However, that needs to change after COVID-19.

To start with, you will need to maintain social distancing successfully in the reception area and lobby. You can put up a glass in front of the reception to block droplets released by talking or sneezing. Encourage the offer and use of protective gear like masks.  Can your building get bulk  supplies?

  • Look to rearrange your waiting area. Rearrange the chairs so that you have a 6-feet distance between the people. Some offices are doing away completely with seating arrangements for the time being.
  • Rethink the visitor check-in and management from the lobby on up. Remember contact tracing!
  • Do not encourage the use of visitor badges or cards that go from one hand to another.

With contact tracing as a key part of a COVID-19 strategy, office buildings will have to contain their parts.  “Tackling visitor in-flow can be a major challenge should you or your building not have the right office system,” Fogelson said. He suggests looking at visitor management solutions that can help you provide touchless entry and registration.   Business owners can then track every visitor in the office what do landlords plan for buildings.  What is the effect of a tower of tenants all using the same elevators?  Where is the line between office and building management’s liability?

Technology

Expect the use of more technology to help you out. Some companies have already started using sensors that can track employee movement through mobiles. It can help companies measure the efficacy of their new design and whether it works or not. You can even sound a warning on the mobiles if employees get too close to one another.

Many companies already use sensors for building management., which can pick up crucial data and help automate processes like climate control. Use the sensors to track air quality and warn when a place becomes too cold or dry to raise risks of contamination.

We can all expect an increase in the use of teleconferencing or video conferencing technology. “It’s about using the right technology that goes in with your office design. Not every technology is going to work for your business and not all office spaces will either,” Fogelson said.

Final Thoughts

The office or workplace we know will be going through a big transformation in the coming months.   And we should all expect more spikes in the curve of the outbreak.  We should closely follow the updates from WHO, CDC, and other credible organizations and implement recommendations to keep our workforce safe. Social distancing will be the key factor, along with ways to minimize contamination and spread of COVID.   It’s time for a well-informed conversation with your landlord.

Your office leasing broker can be a key resource and Bruce Fogelson considers office services to extend through the lifetime of a lease.  “The time to review your lease is early and often” says Fogelson.  ChicagoOfficeBrokeers.com is a gateway to resources.  Soon office tenants will be having to negotiate their way through these issues with their landlords.  Proper office brokerage services help effect and inform those negotiations while keeping tenants and landlords a safe distance apart while preserving the relationship.  Space needs are likely to change, even in mid-lease.  As Fogelson’s trademark says “Time is of the essence in office leasing ™”

Get in touch with Bruce Fogelson for professional guidance. We are open to fulfill all your office and workspace needs at Chicago Office Brokers. com