How to manage workplace capacity during a health crises
Social distancing is a phrase that has peaked in popularity over the past few months due to COVID-19 and the call to “flatten the curve.” Workplaces shut down to adhere to local guidelines to shelter in place. Employees adopted new work-from-home protocols to avoid crowded, public areas.
Now, the country is starting to reopen. Restaurants, shops, and small businesses are opening at half capacity or less. Workplaces are also starting to allow employees back to the office in phases. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has published guidelines that call on workplaces to establish policies for social distancing. They recommend enforcing flexible work hours, increasing the physical space between employees, and closing or limiting access to common areas where employees are likely to gather.
To keep up with these new rules of welcoming employees to the office, you’ll have to monitor and manage how many employees are entering your space each day. You don’t want an overcrowded office that puts your team at risk of exposure. Not to mention, it could make your employees feel uncomfortable and hesitant to come work in the office. Here’s what managing workplace capacity looks like in 2020, so you can keep your employees safe, healthy, and confident to come onsite.
Set up your workplace so that employees can maintain their distance
As you plan your reopening, the first step is to set up your space in a way that promotes social distancing. This can include the following nonpermanent changes to desks and shared spaces:
- Open-floor desk arrangement. Measuring six feet between desks is the standard offered by the CDC. If that’s not possible, because of fixed desks or limited space, you should calculate how many square feet each person needs around them to stay safe. Envoy’s workplace team has built this calculator to help think about how much space you have to work with at your workplace.
- Cubicles. If your office has cubicles, you’ll want to separate employees who work in adjacent cubicle spaces to provide enough room to maintain distance.
- Alternate options. If rearranging desks isn’t an option, you can consider setting up plexiglass barriers or other partitions between desks. You could also replace the standard assigned seating protocol with hot desking.
- Shared spaces. As for shared spaces, one great way to think these through is by doing a visual exercise of your workplace. Take note of all communal areas that might become overcrowded. This could be bathrooms, lobbies, kitchens, or lounges. Consider removing every other chair in break areas and lunchrooms. Or add partitions to tables where employees congregate during breaks.
- Hallways and corridors. One of the trickiest spaces to think through are hallways. You’ll want to create designated one-way lanes in all corridors to help employees maintain distance. This could be as simple as placing tape on the floor to note where to walk.
- Signs and placards. No matter the space, you should have a plan that allows people to keep their distance. The CDC recommends posting signs, tape marks, or other visual cues placed six feet apart to indicate where to stand when physical barriers are not possible.
Plan out how many people your office can safely hold at each phase of your reopening
To meet social distancing regulations, you need to understand your workplace’s max capacity. Then set an occupancy limit so you don’t go over that number. This can help you prevent overcrowding and protect your team from potential transmission.
You should consider both total office capacity, as well as limits on individual floors if that’s relevant for your workplace. This number will change with each phase of your reopening. You could determine this internally, based on your team’s recommendations of what is safe. Or you can follow federal, state or local regulations.
Here are a few resources you can use to guide you in setting workplace capacity in each phase of your reopening:
- Federal guidelines: “Opening Up America Again”
- CDC Guidance for Employers and Businesses
- Cooley: Practical Considerations for Employers Preparing “Return to Office” Plans
- Envoy’s Ready to Reopen Plan
- Coronavirus HR Comms & Resources Guide
No matter whose guidelines you’re following, you should always be prepared for plans to change. Check your go-to resources for official guidance weekly, if not daily. Communicate these changes with your team regularly. Most importantly, listen to your employees. Understand what they are comfortable with or where they are feeling hesitant. Consider regular check-ins with your employees through surveys or “town halls.” And empower leaders to talk candidly to their teammates, then funnel feedback back to you.
Create protocols for your team to come into the office in shifts or staggered days
Planning your workplace capacity, setting limits, and reconfiguring your space are only a few pieces of the puzzle. The next piece is to create office protocols that help your team actually meet these new limits. One of the best ways to do this is to allow employees to come in either in shifts or on staggered days so that fewer employees are in the office at the same time.
Cooley shares a few ways that you can implement staggered shifts. “Have teams of employees come in every other week, every other day or at different start times within the same day. Employers may also consider keeping employees on the same shifts so that any potential exposure between employees can be contained.”
You’ll want to develop a plan for who should come into the office and when. Part of this is deciding if you are requiring that certain employees return, requesting that they return, or allowing them to decide what is right.
To do this fairly, you’ll want to consider the following:
- Does the employee have a role that requires their physical presence in the office?
- Does the employee need to take public transportation to get to the office?
- Does the employee have childcare or other caretaking obligations?
- Is the employee at higher risk of contracting COVID-19?
- Has the employee traveled recently?
Matt Harris, Envoy’s Head of Workplace & Technology, shares that for phase 2 of our own office reopening, “employees who want to return to the office and have a role where physical presence is a priority will have access until we hit capacity. In this phase, we will provide boxed lunches, but the lunchroom and common spaces remain closed. Conference rooms would reopen with limited capacity.”
Cleaning between shifts increases the effectiveness of these protocols. Have your custodial team do a deep clean on desks and meeting rooms that were recently occupied before the next shift enters that space.
Invest in technology that will automate this for you
Capacity management can be a daunting task, but with the right technology in place, it’s easier. This may not be necessary for every workplace. If your team is small, you have personal offices for every employee, or you have a dedicated and well-resourced workplace team, it’s possible that you can easily manage these tasks on your own.
If that’s not the case, you can use an employee registration tool, like Envoy Protect, to help you automate capacity management. This allows you to set a capacity limit for how many people can be in your workplace at any time. Once you meet capacity, Envoy will automatically stop employees and visitors from being able to sign-in. This helps you prevent overcrowding and meet social distancing regulations. You can also use desk booking software that restricts which desks employees can book, ensuring they keep a safe distance.
For larger companies with more employees and more office space, you might also consider investing in and installing occupancy sensors throughout your workplace. Occupancy analytics company Density uses motion sensors to monitor how spaces are being utilized. This can help you keep track of how many people are in your space and where those people are. They explain that “with occupancy data, workplace teams can keep track of occupied and/or vacant space and pinpoint what areas of the offices need cleaning and what areas do not.”
Tracking and managing workplace capacity is more important now than ever. By empowering your workplace team with automatic capacity alerts and accurate occupancy data, you can more easily manage your phased reopening and help to keep your entire team healthy.