Should you? Shouldn’t you? Reopen your office, that is. It’s a question several businesses are wrestling with today as they figure out how to resume work after months of lockdown.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit earlier this year, businesses across the world were forced to begin operating remotely at a moment’s notice. Some settled into a normal rhythm easily. Others struggled with remote work.

About three months later, restrictions are slowly lifting and businesses are gearing up to return to a physical workspace. In India, the government has partially lifted the lockdown and its latest guidelines say offices can reopen with staggered timings but work from home is encouraged.

But with the crisis far from over and a vaccine some distance away, the process of returning to the office will be slow and calibrated. Social distancing norms will force organizations to change both their pattern of working and the architecture of the office to keep the virus at bay. Here’s how companies can pandemic-proof their offices as they draw up plans for their staff to return to physical workspaces.

1. Capping Employee Numbers And Rotation

Most companies are unlikely to return to a shared workspace at full capacity immediately. Controlling the number of employees that return initially will undoubtedly play a critical role in preserving workplace health. It’s important to determine who needs to come back first based on the criticality of their roles and keep the numbers down according to the size of the office.

Organizations should implement a staggered reintegration plan, which involves rotating between working from home and the office every few days. Rotational operations are a good way to enable employee distancing.

Controlling employee numbers in this manner makes formal roster or shift schedules essential. Businesses will have to ensure an effective system of communication to alert employees about any changes to the roster.

2. Reassess Physical Setups

Reopening workspaces by no means signals the end of this pandemic. It does signal the need to adapt in order to live with the pandemic both personally and professionally. Businesses need to observe regulations about social distancing, employee gatherings, and hygiene practices. As a result, organizations also have to reorganize their office spaces to adapt to a post-COVID world.

To begin with, employees should be seated at least six-feet apart. Meeting rooms can be used as offices to maintain physical distance between people. Depending on the layout of an office, foot traffic and movement should follow specific and guided paths so that people don’t bump into each other.

Shared spaces like bathrooms must follow a strict sanitization schedule. It goes without saying that businesses should set up thermal scanners to check the body temperature people and provide employees with masks and hand sanitizers.

3. Preserve Workplace Morale

Returning to work amidst COVID-19 will be an unsettling experience for some people with fear and uncertainty constantly hovering over their heads. Moreover, going back to a physical workspace after months of working from home will be a mental challenge for many employees.

It is no secret that successful businesses thrive on motivated workforces, so it’s important for leaders to invest in rebuilding workplace morale. Employees should acknowledge their concerns and handle them with sensitivity. This is a great opportunity for businesses to encourage cross-functional collaboration and create virtual engagement events that help employees stay connected. When the time is right, and regulations permit, consider a fun team-building event to lift spirits and help employees decompress.

4. Maintain and Strengthen Remote Working Capability

Regardless of the availability of space and the convenience of working from an office, some businesses will continue to operate remotely for a few more months more if they can. Especially because restrictions are still in place in some areas where the threat of COVID-19 remains high. For those who choose to open up, having fewer employees working from a shared space and a majority working remotely is an effective strategy to navigate the coronavirus crisis. By now, many businesses are in a position to build upon the learnings from the lockdown periods to enable successful remote working capabilities.

Of course, all this depends on an effective communications system. Both with and between employees working remotely.

It won’t be easy, but at the end of the day,  all businesses need to follow just one mantra until a vaccine is found: keep people safe.


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Tariq Hazarika is Manager, Operations at Harappa Education. He did a self-designed major in Anthropology, Journalism, and Gender and Women’s Studies, from Knox College in Illinois. He worked in AI research straight out of college and has been working with digital products ever since.

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