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Workplace Health and Safety

How to Maintain a Healthy Office During, and Beyond, COVID-19

Peter Ankerstjerne

Chairman of the Board of Directors, International Facility Management Association (IFMA); Global Facility Management & Experience Services Operations Lead, JLL Corporate Solutions

Facility leaders across the world are banding together to meet the COVID-19 crisis by supporting healthy people with healthy buildings. In offices, facility managers (FMs) and other workplace leaders are tasked with delivering a workplace that champions safety, health, and well-being.

At the same time, the pandemic is proving that work-from-home will remain in some capacity, though the office is also taking on renewed importance. According to recent JLL research, many people want to continue working from home post-crisis — the majority at least two days per week. However, 74 percent want to still have access to the office to collaborate, problem-solve, and socialize. It seems months of isolation have cast a new light on the value of in-person, human engagement and the way the office can foster connection, community, and collective experience.

With thoughtful FM strategy, we can create an office that’s safe, inviting, and productive for all.

Office safety measures to take now

Different states are approaching reopening, or shutting down again, in different ways. Wherever you are located, the following tactics can help curb the spread of disease in the office: 

  1. Adjust physical space to support social distancing. In a typical office, this might mean spacing workstations out at least 6 feet apart, and removing desks and chairs to maintain a safe distance while working. Setting up clear plexiglass barriers between workstations may also be a good safety measure where applicable.
  2. Provide alternatives to high-touch, shared-use items. Examples include replacing coffee pots with single-serve options and offering bottled water in lieu of water fountains.
  3. Empower wellness through clear communication. Use signage in lobbies, conference rooms, and elevator banks to remind people to maintain social distance and wash their hands. Some of these efforts can fuel general wellness initiatives, too. For example, to reduce crowding in an elevator, urge folks to take the stairs if possible and get the health benefits of moving more.
  4. Adjust employee schedules to avert crowding. Many organizations are bringing teams back in a phased approach or arranging rotational scheduling to avoid crowding. A variety of workplace apps can help coordinate such efforts by, for example, designating time slots for when to come and go.
  5. Enhance cleaning and HVAC protocol. Assess HVAC functionality, buckle down on janitorial procedures, and make personal protective equipment available throughout the office. Make sure cleaning becomes a visible part of office activities so everyone can see how things are being sanitized, by whom, and how frequently.

Preparing for the future

Looking ahead, office health and safety will be about far more than moving chairs and reconfiguring work schedules. As the purpose of the office evolves to serve as the connective hub for collaboration, innovation, and community building, facilities leaders must reimagine their approach to managing their people and workplaces.

Increasingly, that means balancing the needs of people who want to collaborate with those who want to focus, and the desire for spaces that are connected to nature with those that are digitally enabled. Through all these changes, it’s clear the time to plan for a healthier, more experiential office is now. 

For example, enhance shared space with some of the comforts to which remote workers have become accustomed. According to IFMA research, employers expect to provide more productivity tools for remote workers in addition to customized spaces in the office setting that offer some of the comforts of home. A mix of space options, from a tranquil meditation room to inviting social areas, will still be desirable in a post-COVID world. They just may need to include wider aisles. 

A future-friendly office will also brim with connective technology, making it easy for employees to collaborate seamlessly whether they’re meeting together in the conference room or via video with their colleagues who are working remotely. 

As companies navigate the next normal, facilities leaders will play an important role in not just keeping the lights on, but in giving employees a safe, healthy, vibrant, and collaborative workplace. There is no time like the present to embrace new mindsets and set new standards, helping reimagine the future workplace for the collective better. 

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