Although remote work offers some advantages to employees, there are many benefits to returning to the office. For example, collaboration is more straightforward, technical issues aren’t as big of a worry, and being together in the same building inspires a stronger sense of teamwork and company culture.

Here are some ways to reconfigure current real estate to facilitate the return to the office.

Creating A Safe And Welcoming Environment

Companies are still adjusting to provide extra care and create a safe and sanitary work environment in the hopefully-soon-to-be post-pandemic era. Of course, keeping associates safe and healthy is the key reason here, but safety measures also inspire confidence in your team and your customers. Cautious and secure doesn’t have to mean impersonal or cold as you welcome back your team.

Social Distancing

Spacing out desks is one of the easiest ways to help everyone maintain social distancing while working. In addition, companies will want to reduce traffic in common areas like kitchens and break rooms, such as posting maximum occupancy requirements. Reducing the number of chairs available in meeting rooms, break rooms and other common areas can naturally help to reduce crowding.

Just because desks are distant doesn’t mean the workplace needs to feel that way. Consider adding outdoor spaces for your team to utilize to meet or take breaks. Encourage your team to reconnect with each other by taking walk breaks in the place of traditional coffee breaks.

Cleaning and Sanitization

Cleaning and sanitization are vital, too. Businesses should establish a process of daily sanitization of offices and high-touch areas. You can hire cleaning companies to do this, or the less expensive option would be to assign it to teams within the organization. Turn cleaning into a competition or a game to add an element of fun, however, leave the bathrooms and any other heavy-duty cleaning to professionals. A simple place to start is to provide everyone their own desk cleaning supplies and easy access to frequently replaced supplies such as trash can liners and paper towels. This way, each person can clean their area to their preference.

Updated Sick Leave Policies

Another consideration is reviewing and updating sick leave policies. For example, companies want to avoid an outbreak for obvious reasons, but employees may insist on coming to work — saying they just have a cold (whether or not they know so) — to avoid using sick days. There are specific laws regarding leave, so be sure to talk to an HR professional to make sure any modifications to your policies don’t put your employees or company at risk. As a leader, be sure to set an example yourself by following your policies. Ensure your staff knows it's ok to take time to recover from illness.

Working in Shifts and Teams

An emerging trend for reconfiguring your traditional workspace is considering a hybrid work environment that blends in-office time with remote work. These hybrid models can help adapt to everyone’s preferred work locations and schedules. Not only does this minimize the potential spread of illness, but it allows employees more flexibility in scheduling work around their lives.

There are a couple of ways to approach a hybrid work environment:

The Split-Shift Model: Split the workforce into morning and afternoon crews, allowing employees to choose when they prefer to work during the day. If in-person work is the only option for your company, then this model reduces the team size present at any one time. Many manufacturers have embraced this model to continue operations while increasing safety.

The Alternate Teams Model: Teams rotate their in-office days, whether on a daily or weekly basis. This model offers team members the chance to work in both environments. At Kenwood, we are currently employing this model.

The Hot Desk Hybrid: People can come and go as they please but must reserve a “hot desk” before arriving. The hot desk doesn’t belong to any one employee — instead, it’s up for grabs for employees who want to work in the office for temporary use. Think of your office as a co-working space in this scenario. This allows employees to set their schedules for coming into the office when they need to. This model also gives you the flexibility to extend your team without the cost of added desks or dedicated workspaces.

The New Social Setting

Employees returning to the workplace likely missed those little daily interactions with coworkers. They’ll be eager to socialize when they have time. Aside from health and safety concerns, companies should adapt social spaces to make them more enjoyable to use.

Modernizing Community Spaces

Open concept offices look to be taking over many workspaces. They allow for more collaboration and strengthen culture and camaraderie. However, companies have to balance a more open office with safety concerns. Reducing capacity in the office — perhaps through some of the tips laid out in the previous section — can establish an open concept while addressing distancing issues. And don’t forget about underutilized outdoor spaces for employees to gather safely when weather permits.

Enhanced social settings

Looking to build a more productive workforce? Enhancing social settings gives them a place to relax and recharge throughout the day — they’ll come back to their desks ready to go.

One way to do this is to create “mood rooms.” Mood rooms are spaces set aside for employees to take a break and recharge. With more attention on mental health concerns, providing a space for your team to safely take a break can help them manage stress around the changes to their lives or simply recharge. Using LED lighting, you can set aside a small room and create a comforting environment where associates control their settings. Consider comfortable furniture, plants, maybe even water features. If you have needed to reconfigure for social distancing, there is a good chance you have these items already. These rooms can be controlled by a tablet that plays calming music and changes the colors of the atmosphere in the room.

Bringing “Fun” back into the office setting

Employees might be willing to come back to the office, but businesses should consider bringing some “fun” back to the workplace to make people feel welcome. After months to a year of working at home, many are used to a more casual work environment. Not to mention it helps blow off pandemic and work stress.

It could be as simple as a foosball table, ping pong, darts. However, that’s a baseline. Companies might consider outdoor office socials or events, outings, or friendly competitions between teams to create a more fun culture. If you are reopening your office, consider a welcome back kit. Friendly football pools or trivia can be incorporated into your office even with a geographically dispersed team using online technologies.

The post-pandemic office won’t look the same as pre-COVID. Instead, it’s a balancing act — keeping everyone safe and healthy and juggling various employee schedules while modernizing social spaces.

However, getting it right will make your team that much more eager to return to work, and it’ll build a stronger culture at your company.

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