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INSIGHTS: What's Next? Creating your Plan for Returning to the Workplace

K Jahn 003

Kelly Jahn, AIA, IIDA, NCARB, LEED AP

New York - Interior Architecture and Design Discipline Lead

kjahn@bergmannpc.com

(585) 498-7816

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Creating your plan for bringing employees back to the workplace.

As states begin to lift stay-at-home orders and allow businesses to reopen, business leaders are faced with important decisions around keeping their employees and customers safe. Even if you're not looking to send employees back to the office right away, it's important to start the planning process as early as possible to account for all necessary details.

At Bergmann, we've spent the last month mapping out our Office Guidelines, the guide that our 450+ employees across all 15 offices will be expected to follow. The final 10-page document addresses topics ranging from PPE to workstation use and common area healthy habits. Addendums are being issued for each individual office and state, to ensure that government guidelines are accounted for and adhered to.

Five key considerations for your plan

From our efforts we've identified five key areas to consider when creating your own plan. This list is by no means all-encompassing, with each business requiring different solutions depending on their culture, office set up, business operations and state in which operations are occurring.

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1. Traffic flow

Depending on your office layout and density, you should consider providing clear guidance on the flow of people around the space. Consider limiting entry points, adopting "one way" zones and providing appropriate markings to guide employees and guests throughout their day. Our Workplace Design team has created circulation maps for each of our larger offices which will be shared with team members prior to their return and posted throughout the space.

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2. Space modifications

With social distancing adopted as a key method for mitigating transmission, it's important to make adjustments to both workspaces and common areas throughout the office. Returning employees should keep it top-of-mind, but human nature will lead us to slip back into common habits, from gathering around a desk to review a document, to sitting at a common lunch table. Analyze your spaces to see what modifications - short- and long-term - are needed to support social distancing, taking the onus off of the employees.

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3. Air circulation

Given the airborne qualities of this virus, it’s important to give careful attention to your HVAC systems that control your air quality and circulation. You can mitigate airborne infections by applying the right strategies such as pressurization rebalancing, temperature and humidity level adjustments, exhaust systems enhancements and the application of appropriate duct-cleaning methods. A mechanical systems audit by a trained engineer is recommended for identifying the appropriate steps for your space/facility.

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4. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

This may seem like a given considering the focus on PPE over the last few months. However, the best plans will clearly define for employees what PPE they will be expected to use while in the office, when to use it and how it will be provided. It's also important to identify key points of contact who can source PPE efficiently and quickly, as there have been numerous interruptions in supply chains due to high demand. For instance, Bergmann is providing all returning employees with two cloth face masks and a stylus tool. At minimum, employees are required to wear face coverings whenever navigating the office and working in an area where social distancing is not able to be done. This may, of course, vary depending on state regulations.

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5. Signage

Once back in the workplace, employees and guests will be asked to create many new habits, including wearing face coverings, using a stylus when using the printer and navigating the space in a different manner to name just a couple. It's important to provide helpful and easy-to-read reminders throughout the space, in a way that complements the employee and guest/customer experience. Simple signage that is light on copy and heavy on visuals are most effective. If possible, consider creating signage that matches your brand to provide a familiar tone with the message.

Developing the Right Plan for You

Ultimately, as you create and distribute your plan for returning to the office, it's important to do so in a way that matches your company culture. While some aspects will be mandated by government regulations, others can be crafted based on what's right for your people and your way of doing business. As we created our Bergmann Office Guidelines, we identified the "must have" regulations and then thought carefully about our values and the work style and personalities of our employees to complete the guide.

Through careful review of your workspace and dialogue with employees and office leaders, you'll find solutions that work well for your team.