Planning for a Return to the Workplace

 Leaders of businesses will return to a more discerning workforce that will expect continuous assurances that they are working in a safe environment. This will include posted displays of updated safety, health and wellness information and resources for employees, visitors, and occupants throughout the building, both inside and outside the workplace.

Establish a multi-disciplined Team: It is critical to establish a multi-disciplinary task force to help plan and oversee re-entry efforts across the portfolio. Consider including leaders from the following disciplines:

  • Business Leadership
  • HR
  • Health Safety Environmental
  • Operations
  • Real Estate & Facilities
  • Finance
  • Legal
  • Technology/ IT
  • Procurement
  • Security
  • Communications

Communication: Continuous and frequently updated communication to employees and visitors to provide education and awareness of safety, health, and wellness activities underway will be paramount to re-entry and occupancy success. Leading organizations are putting a heightened focus on communication, recognizing that this must be an ongoing and thoughtful effort that touches and engages all key stakeholder across both physical and virtual work environments.

Thoughtful Re-entry: Early lessons from Asia indicate bringing teams back “wholesale” is unwise and inconsistent with most public health guidance, which recommends that social distancing measures be reduced in a gradual and thoughtful manner. Employers will need to establish a plan that enables gradual increasing numbers of people to return to the workplace.

Additional Safety Measures: Both occupiers and landlords should give serious consideration to new levels of service, materials, and activities necessary to facilitate a return to the workplace. Items that will likely require advanced sourcing and increased funding include enhanced cleaning; introduction of new access protocols (e.g., temperature screening, touchless technologies, etc.); increased quantities of supplies such as hand sanitizers, wipes, gloves, masks; reconfiguration of work environments and associated technology and equipment; increased utilization of sensor technologies and more.

Portfolio & Workplace Strategy: Occupiers should conduct a holistic review of business requirements across their portfolios to assess and optimize their medium- to long-term positions and options that incorporate changes to workplace strategy in a post COVID-19 world. We anticipate most occupiers will settle on a balanced approach that builds in greater resiliency by introducing a spectrum of physical and technological solutions that align with their business needs.

The Physical Return to Work: Preparing to reopen requires the development of detailed plans for each location, reconfiguration of the physical environment to de-densify and support social distancing practices, and continuous communications. The facility readiness process is extensive, and no detail is too small to consider. It entails conducting a comprehensive assessment of the physical building and taking steps to prepare for reentry and enhanced health and safety protocols.

Reconfiguration: Public health guidance strongly suggests that social distancing measures should be stepped down very gradually. Companies can convey their safety efforts to employees by taking tangible steps to make changes to the physical environment that support physical distancing and other safety practices. Bonus: The best employers will see this as an opportunity to also re-align their workspaces with the needs and desires of today’s workforce, thereby enhancing collaboration, innovation and talent attraction and retention!

Ongoing Management of the Workplace: Reoccupying work environments for the long-term should be approached as a “reset” of ongoing soft services to support the workplace environment. Start by conducting a comprehensive review of all operational activities and services that occur in the work environment.

Continuous Response and Readiness: Once the space has been reoccupied and work resumes, occupiers and property owners should remain vigilant and quick to respond to unexpected or unwelcome events. Both parties should keep protocols in place, and share them with the other, so they can work together if exposure concerns return. Working together, occupiers and landlords can both benefit from open, proactive, and practical dialogue about what the total workplace environment from the front door of the workplace and common areas to the occupier’s offices, needs to look like for a safe and healthy return to work. Everyone should be prepared to return to “response” mode in the event of a suspected or confirmed exposure. Occasional drills are a good idea.

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