For many offices and workplaces around the country, this spring hasn’t just brought warmer weather and longer days. As COVID-19 restrictions and infection rates drop in the wake of increased vaccinations, many offices are beginning to open to employees for the first time in over a year.
Whether your workspace has been completely empty with employees working 100% remotely and is now moving back to in-person working or has been partially occupied and is now returning to full capacity, the process of fully reopening your office comes with unique challenges as you strive to keep people safe, happy, and productive.
Here’s our guide to the best way to handle reopening an office — including why the best, most cost-effective route may be to hire a professional facility management service provider.
Who should be involved in the reopening process?
The key to successfully reopening your office is to involve the right people at your organization as early as possible to ensure a smooth transition and provide clear communication so that everyone is on the same page.
If your office space is rented, contact the owner or property manager to let them know you plan to return to in-person working. Work with them to determine what tasks will need to be completed before employees can safely return.
You’ll also want to involve managers who will be working at the site, getting their input about the best way to keep employees safe, comfortable, and effective as they transition back to the office.
Finally, you may also want to include the services of a professional facility management company like Encompass. We’re equipped to handle the full range of tasks related to reopening an office, from dealing with the potential effects of a long-vacant office to ensuring that all equipment is fully functioning before reopening. This can take the stress of reopening entirely off your shoulders, so that you and your teams can get back to running your business as quickly, safely, and efficiently as possible.
What CDC guidelines for reopening offices do you need to adhere to?
The CDC offers a webpage with some basic information about how office buildings should be reopened in the COVID-19 era. While your specific workplace will need its own approach based on the type of business you have, the layout of your office space, and the current status of the pandemic in your region, there are some important aspects of the CDC guidance that you should follow when you reopen your office.
Check for hazards stemming from a prolonged shutdown
Buildings that experience long periods of disuse can develop a wide range of problems, from mold growth and stagnant water systems to the potential for rodents or other pests who may have taken advantage of the long lack of human presence.
Check ventilation systems
If a building has been vacant, the heating, HVAC, and ventilation systems will likely have been shut down. Ensure that they’re all reactivated and operational and don’t need maintenance.
Increase air circulation
While the COVID-19 pandemic has been experiencing a positive phase of reduced cases, it is still very much an active pandemic. As such, the CDC recommends that all reopened offices take steps to help reduce the chances of spreading the virus. This includes increasing the circulation of outdoor air through the space, which has been shown to reduce the likelihood of spread. If weather conditions allow, consider opening windows and doors and adding fans throughout the space.
Check water systems
Stagnant water systems will need to be checked after a prolonged shutdown to avoid the risk of waterborne diseases such as Legionnaires’ disease.
What do you need to do before reopening?
Aside from the CDC’s specific guidance outlined above, there are some additional steps you should take to help ensure that your office is a safe and productive place for your employees to work after the prolonged shutdown.
Conduct a hazard assessment
We mentioned above how poor air circulation is one risk factor for the spread of COVID-19. You and any other relevant leadership should put together a thorough hazard assessment that details any other potential risks, including potential solutions for how to minimize those risks when you reopen your office.
Identify risky areas
The CDC still advises that 3 to 6 feet of space should be maintained between people when indoors to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Before your office is reopened, you should tour your workspace with fresh eyes and look at areas where people are likely to congregate closely, creating an unsafe situation. Consider doing some light rearranging of workspaces or furniture in order to avoid unnecessary close-quarters situations.
Include your employees
One of the biggest mistakes that organizations make when managing the reopening of an office is failing to include their employees. Communication is key, and employees want to be in the loop when it comes to the decisions that affect their work life and their health. Let employees know that you’re considering a return to in-person work, garner their feedback on your plans and their suggestions, and ensure that your people feel listened to throughout the process.
Include contractors where necessary
Remember that it’s not just salaried employees who will be affected by the reopening of your office. Any contractors who spend time in your office space will also need to be included in your reopening plans. Be sure to communicate with any contracting companies to let them know how work processes will be changing to prevent transmission of COVID-19 and keep them and your employees safe.
Overall, the key to successfully reopening your office is proactive planning and action. Ideally, you will already have a reopening plan in place long before employees return to the office.
At Encompass, we’re highly experienced with everything that comes with facility management services — including reopening offices after long closures. From keeping your employees protected from COVID-19 to making sure your office space is at peak operating condition after a long, potentially hazardous shutdown, we’ll help manage the entirety of your reopening process so that your return to in-person work is safe for your employees, effective for your bottom line, and ultimately a positive return to normalcy for your business.