Your blueprint for the COVID-compliant workplace
Safely welcoming employees and visitors on-site during COVID-19 brings about a myriad of new challenges. If workplace leaders don’t have a plan in place, that could not only disrupt business continuity, but could put their team at risk and leave their organization liable should something happen. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. That’s why we partnered with the experts at Density to put together a blueprint for setting up a COVID-compliant workplace.
Safely welcoming employees and visitors on-site during COVID-19 brings about a myriad of new challenges. Workplace leaders must adapt their space to meet social distancing guidelines. You need to certify that your team is healthy and meets your criteria to come on-site. You should provide sanitation supplies and increase cleaning and disinfecting schedules. Most importantly, you need to make sure your team feels confident and safe coming to work in the office.
Navigating these challenges could require significant changes in office design. Conference rooms may have new capacity limits. Hallways may become directionally one-way. Restrooms may close for short periods for regular cleaning. Your business may adopt hot desking so employees can work at a safe distance from one another.
Failing to make these changes could not only disrupt business continuity, but could put your team at risk and leave your organization liable should something happen. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this, you’re not alone. That’s why we partnered with the experts at Density to put together a blueprint for setting up a COVID-compliant workplace.
About the author:
Dave drives digital content and content strategy for Density, the people counting platform that helps workplaces make safer, more cost-effective decisions about their space. Density measures how people use space in real-time without invading privacy. Organizations use Density to improve efficiency and enhance the occupant experience in their buildings, workplaces, and real estate. Unlike a camera, Density’s platform doesn’t capture personally identifiable information and is purpose-built for accurately measuring how people use physical space.
01 Setting up common spaces for socializing safely
One basic aspect about people is that we gather. Social distancing has caused a dramatic shift in the way we interact, but it doesn’t change that basic human tendency. As you welcome employees to your workplace, you need to take this into consideration. What will happen to water cooler conversations? Or when someone wants to stop by a co-worker’s desk to catch up? How will employees manage grabbing coffee and having a friendly exchange on a quick break from work?
Fortunately, it’s not impossible to encourage safe social behavior at work. It just takes diligence, data, and a plan. The best place to start is in your workplace common areas.
Here are four ways you can keep employees safe in common areas.
1. Set safe capacities
The first key piece to keeping people safe on-site is knowing how many people can be in your space at any given time. It’s important that you calculate what capacity each of your offices can accommodate safely. But it’s not as simple as picking a number and applying it across the organization. Investigating each individual space is a time-consuming process and the results may change week over week. Setting up systems to monitor occupancy in targeted areas will help keep employees safe.
2. Clean amenities based on use
The CDC recommends limiting shared appliances and resources as much as possible. Reducing high-touch points like coffee makers and snack dispensers will help limit cross-contamination. Sensor platforms like Density can help workplace teams identify how often employees use amenities and trigger alerts for when those spaces need cleaning.
This way, instead of cleaning offices on a time-based schedule, facilities teams can streamline efforts and target areas that employees have frequented more than others. There’s no use cleaning a break room no one’s visited. With the increase in sanitation demands, identifying which areas need attention will help keep common areas safe for employees, while helping facilities teams avoid wasting resources on spaces that don’t need them.
3. Make cleaning supplies convenient
Putting out cleaning supplies so that employees can conveniently access them may sound simple, but it works. If cleaning supplies are readily accessible, employees are more likely to use them. This goes for hand-sanitizing stations, disinfectant wipes, and disposable masks. You should make these products easy to find and use throughout the office, especially in common areas.
Maintaining a COVID-compliant workplace is a group effort, and employees need to own some of that responsibility. That means it’s as much about education and enforcement as it is about convenience. One way to help is by using digital signage to communicate to employees where they can find these supplies. In doing so, they can remove all the guesswork and inconvenience in cultivating a safe and clean workplace.
4. Ask employees to wear masks
Masks work. Many organizations have mandated wearing a mask in common areas in their workplace safety protocols. While employees are at their hot desks working or eating lunch, they can choose to wear a mask or not. However, it’s a good idea to encourage all employees to wear a mask when in shared spaces like break rooms, kitchens, and coffee bars.
Once you have your workplace ready for safe socialization, it’s time to move on to your seating arrangement. While safety is key for the COVID-compliant workplace, it’s also important to keep in mind that your team needs space for productivity and collaboration.
02 Setting up socially distant seating
Social distancing requires more than moving desks six feet apart or blocking off every other seat. Employees travel throughout the day. They go to the bathroom; they print documents; they go to meeting rooms. As you plan out your new seating arrangements, you should first factor in foot traffic flow and note any high-congestion areas. After you map those out, you should have a clearer picture of the space available for your socially distant seating.
Establish directional foot traffic patterns
Before you get to seating and desk arrangements, you’ll want to think through how an employee will reach their workstation. Employees should be able to travel to and from the main and emergency exits, printers, and other office facilities while passing by the fewest number of people possible. Establishing clear footpaths through common areas can make social distancing easier for employees.
In order to enable employees to safely walk throughout the office, you’ll want to create a series of one-way footpaths. This will help employees avoid walking directly past one another while on-site. Your current office setup may not support this. For example, a workstation against your back wall may block your ideal footpath.
You may have to move desks away from walls to remove dead ends and create space for the new footpaths. If you have ample space to work with, create long paths that loop around the office in a single direction. Even if that’s not possible, small looping paths can limit close-quarters interactions between employees.
Tip: Before you welcome employees onsite, walk the office for yourself. Identify any furniture you need to move or areas to close off to create one-way traffic patterns. Note these on your floor map to plan out the footpaths. Then physically mark your floors with tape to direct employees where they can walk around safely.
Identify high-congestion areas
Next, you’ll want to identify any high-traffic areas where employees might visit often or congregate near. Consider printer areas, break rooms, restrooms, and entryways. You’ll want to limit seating near these “busy areas” to give employees more space. Mark these spots on your floor map so employees cannot book those desks or remove the workstations altogether.
If you don’t have a floor map already, it should be straightforward to sketch one out. You could use an official blueprint or draw it out yourself. Even estimated distances should be accurate enough for the purposes of creating socially distanced desk arrangements.
Tip: There are some areas where your team cannot avoid face to face interactions, such as your front desk. Install transparent partitions to create a physical barrier where social distancing isn’t always possible. While partitions might not be the peak of office design, they do offer reassurance to your employees and visitors that you are thinking about their health and safety.
Create six-foot buffers around desks and other seating areas
Now that you have a clearer idea of the space you have to work with, it’s time to measure the recommended six feet around each desk. Use a tape measure to create buffers between each seat. The CDC states that six feet is about two arms’ length in distance (in case you don’t want to break out the tape measure).
Imagine placing a circle with a six-foot diameter around every desk. Block off or remove workstations that aren’t able to adhere to the six-foot distance. Repeat this process for every desk and room in your office, including conference and break rooms.
Tip: Employees will likely move seats throughout the day—particularly in conference rooms. Use tape or stickers on the floor to indicate where each seat should remain to maintain proper distancing.
Manage your workplace capacity
Start by checking local regulations for capacity guidance. Some cities and states have different mandates for how to measure occupancy. Some use square footage to calculate maximum capacity, and certain types of businesses may require more space, like retail or food service. The CDC and local government websites should have up-to-date guidelines.
Then, evaluate how many seats can fit in your workplace as determined by the first three steps above. That should give you the best idea of how many people can use each area of your office while still maintaining six feet of distance.
Tip: Capacity management can be a daunting task, but with the right technology in place, it’s easier. Use an employee registration tool, like Envoy Protect, to help you automate capacity management. Protect 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 to prevent overcrowding and meet social distancing regulations.
Set up hot desking
Once you have your socially distant seating arrangement planned out, you’ll need to execute it. This is where hot desking technology comes in handy. Look for a tool that will do the heavy lifting for you by making it easy for employees to find and book an available desk when they plan to work in the office.
Tip: With Envoy Desks, you can designate which desks are available to book, permanently assigned, or unavailable to maintain social distancing. Employees are automatically assigned a desk when they sign in via Envoy Protect, or they can choose a different seat from an interactive map in the Envoy mobile app to sit next to their project team or claim the quiet spot by the window.
In addition to creating your social distancing plan, you’ll want to think through your communication plan. Detail how you are informing employees about updated health and safety protocols before they come on-site. Make it easy for your team to submit feedback along the way so you can iterate and improve.
03 Clearly communicating changes and expectations on-site
Employees are dealing with new seating arrangements, updated health and safety protocols, and different working conditions—not to mention a global pandemic to worry about. Plus, any changes to office design can be disorienting. It will be key to over-communicate expectations to avoid frustrated interactions when employees come on-site.
This is where digital signage will be helpful.
What is digital signage?
Digital signage is a digital installation that displays informational video or multimedia content. This can be a TV screen with sign-in instructions in the lobby. Or a digital map displayed throughout the workplace for wayfinding. Or an iPad displayed outside of a conference room, letting employees know if the room is free or occupied.
Companies can install displays that convey updated health and safety strategies to help employees navigate changes without feeling inconvenienced. For example, if you decide to implement hot-desking, a display could be more effective than your front desk staff. A digital display or personal device featuring which desks are available and which are not will help steer that person to a workstation without interruption. That employee is free to continue listening to their favorite podcast or song and move throughout the office. Your front desk staff can carry on with their important work. The information is clearly communicated. The employee has agency over which of the available desks they would prefer. The whole interaction only takes a few moments.
The benefits of digital signage
The benefits of digital signage in the workplace are far reaching. This is especially true as workplaces are in a state of change and disruption—and while workplace teams may not be physically in the office. With digital signage you can:
Digital signage helps to automate the communication of workplace information. This creates a better balanced, less frustrating environment as employees adapt to changes.
Customize messages dynamically
Digital signage is completely customizable, which makes it a perfect avenue to share information that may change as time goes on. As your workplace protocols evolve with each passing reopening phase, you can dynamically change the content of your digital signs. With Safe by Density, digital displays outside of rooms will automatically update to tell employees if there’s enough space for more people based on the room’s current capacity.
Capture employee attention
You may walk past a physical poster once and read it, but the next time you walk past you’re far less likely to pay attention. With digital signage, there is always new content displayed on screen so it’s far more eye-catching to passers-by.
Signal to internal teams
Another benefit of digital signage is that it can work as a signal to internal teams. A digital sign can tell janitorial teams that a meeting room or desk is ready for cleaning. Instead of assigning a member of the workplace team to act as a hall monitor, you can provide the info on a digital sign right at the area that needs attention.
Manage content remotely
One of the most important benefits is that workplace teams can easily update digital signs from anywhere. This is key, as many teams are still working from home. There’s no need to physically be in an office to change or update the information on a sign. This makes it extremely efficient to display digital signs throughout the office.
Other means of workplace communication
Digital signage is just one means of clear workplace communication. Here are other ways to get the word out about important information and announcements:
One of the most trusty ways to communicate key, company-wide messages is over email. Particularly if you’re sending lengthier or more in-depth announcements. But keep in mind, email is effective for one-way messages, but not the best for two-way interactions if there’s a sense of urgency.
Employee communication apps
Does your team use Slack, Microsoft Teams, or another group messaging app for work? This can be a great way to communicate important messages to employees. Plus, you can either send direct one-to-one messages or post in a channel to specific groups or all employees.
If your company uses a workplace app, like Envoy Mobile, then you can ensure employees are up-to-date, no matter where they are. With mobile announcements, you can share important information with your team and keep FAQs and important updates top of mind.
The time for digital signage is now
Workplaces are changing—fast. As you roll out changes to traffic flow, seating, and off-limit areas, it’s important to over-communicate with your employees. The more you communicate, the more they feel in control and in the know. Clear digital signage is a great means to communicate your efforts to create a safe and collaborative working environment.
Your blueprint for a safe and compliant workplace
Setting up your workplace for safe social distancing and clearly communicating expectations to employees is just the start to creating a COVID-compliant workplace. From there, you’ll want to be sure that you’re collecting the right information before people come on-site and storing it securely. Not to mention all of the corporate and physical security compliance regulations that existed before COVID-19. If that sounds like a lot to you, you’re right. Luckily, there is technology that can help.
Envoy’s workplace platform is a complete solution to help you set up a safe, flexible, and compliant workplace so you can confidently welcome employees and visitors on-site. With Envoy Protect, you can manage workplace capacity and create customized health questionnaires to make sure everyone coming into your space is healthy. You control which responses to your health check you retain or keep private. Then greet employees on-site with safe, touchless sign-in to limit the spread of germs. Once they sign-in, employees can easily reserve a desk with Envoy Desks for the day to collaborate with teammates while keeping a safe distance in the office. Envoy Visitors is key to helping organizations create or carry out corporate compliance policies like OSHA, ITAR, and SOC2.
Envoy connects with 50+ out-of-the-box integrations from top technology providers. This way you can connect with the tools you need to stay in compliance. Like Density’s smart and anonymous people counting platform. By connecting Envoy with Density, you get insights into who is in your space, where, when and why. Safe by Density incorporates digital displays, analytics, and alerts to help you make safer, more cost-effective decisions about your space.
Want to talk to an Envoy expert about how you can use Envoy and Density to help you set up a COVID-compliant workplace?