Post-Pandemic Employer Guide for Re- Opening Office Space

One of the biggest challenges companies are dealing with is how to re-open as Covid restrictions are lifted. Even as of the time of this writing (April 2021),  the situation with COVID-19 is prone to rapid change. Some states are still struggling with vaccines rollout, while others are ahead of the curve. While the national guidelines are largely easy to comply with, the states also have their own requirements for offices to reopen. Re-opening requirements are fairly uniform across the nation while intricacies incertain states (California and New York) should be discussed.

 

 

Adhere to CDC Guidelines

Every business should strive to comply with the nationwide CDC requirements for reopening. These consist of a mixture of requirements and recommendations. Let’s take a look at some steps every business should take before reopening and inviting employees back into the office place.

 

 

Step One: Thoroughly Evaluate Your Building

Continued occupancy has the effect of preserving a building thanks to the lighting, heating, and cleaning that accommodates its occupants. Office buildings that have gone unoccupied for the duration of the pandemic might have generated a number of risks that need to be assessed.

 

For instance, mold can easily take root in office buildings that have been cold and dark for months. Your first step in preparing to resume business operations is to examine the building for any mold growth, as well as architectural and structural problems that may have developed. After assuring the basic safety and cleanliness of your office building, you can move on to COVID-specific requirements.

 

 

Step Two: Assess Common Areas and Items

Crowded common areas and items such as coffee pots and drinking fountains can be flashpoints for COVID transmission. Before reopening, look for points that might present a high COVID risk and either dispose of them or enable a means of touch- free operation. You might install a foot pedal-based drinking fountain rather than the more common hand-operated ones. Additionally, providing snacks and drinks in one- time packaging and encouraging employees to bring drinks from home are inventive solutions. Consider installing hand sanitation stations and encourage employees to keep their hands washed and desks clean.

 

Step Three: Comply With and Enable Effective Social Distancing

Make it clear that you expect employees to comply with social distancing requirements. Put down visual markers such as tape, signs, and other cues in parking lots and hallways. Additionally, make sure that your floor plan and office layout enables workers to do their work from a safe distance. If it’s not possible to rearrange seating to give workers six feet of distance, then install physical shields in the spaces between them.

 

 

Step Four: Improve Air Quality

Ventilation and air cycling are – alongside masks – some of the most important ways to reduce COVID transmission. The CDC offers a few recommendations to improve air quality and ventilation. For instance, you might operate the air conditioning system to maximize air replacement for two hours before and after working hours or simply open windows and turn on fans to improve air quality. Upgrading Air filtration systems may be needed. It is recommended (at a minimum) to replace air filters and update maintenance timing on those filters so they are changed out more frequently.

 

 

Step Five: Develop Administrative Procedures

In the pre-COVID landscape, it was fairly normal for someone to come into work if they exhibited a minor cold or light flu. Now it is safer to suggest employees stay home if they exhibit any symptoms of illness. If someone does come into work with what could be COVID symptoms, management is required to act.

 

Take steps to immediately separate the employee from the rest of the population. Keep masks on hand and provide the employee with a face mask. And kindly direct the employee to go home. Recommend that the employee follow up with their healthcare provider, who will be able to provide testing or otherwise instruct the employee on the latest guidelines for those who may be sick. And if necessary, ask the employee to provide a doctor’s recommendation on returning back to a work environment (this can be awkward and uncomfortable to ask, but important to keep down the possible spread of infection).

 

 

Step Six: Communicate any Changes to Employees

Communicate, communicate, and communicate. Be sure all employees understand the new expectations. Advise and tell them what management has done to help them successfully comply with COVID restrictions. Likewise, inform employees of any changes in sick day policies that are meant to help them stay home and avoid spreading illness should they appear to be presenting symptoms.

 

 

Final Step: Comply with Local/State Guidelines

Overall, the CDC guidelines are straightforward, the CDC has left many details of reopening policies to the states. Most states have fairly negligible requirements for office buildings, although these vary and are prone to change.

Currently, the two states with the most challenging requirements to meet are California and New York.

 

 

COVID-19 Resources:

 

 

California COVID-19/Pandemic Guidelines

 

California manages COVID on a county-by-county basis and uses a color-based tier system; yellow, orange, red, and purple. In counties with the purple designation, office buildings cannot resume work and office workers must continue to work remotely. More and more countries are reaching the milder designations; San Francisco county recently reached an orange designation. As such, office buildings were allowed to reopen but are expected to maximize their use of remote workers.

 

While the situation is susceptible to change, the current publication of the California Employer’s Playbook allows office buildings to reopen and proscribes the following reopening process:

 

  1. Perform a detailed risk assessment and create a work site-specific COVID-19 prevention plan
  2. Train workers on how to limit the spread of COVID-19. This includes how to screen themselves for symptoms and when to stay home
  3. Set up individual control measures and screenings
  4. Put disinfection protocols in place
  5. Establish physical distancing guidelines
  6. Establish universal face covering requirements (with allowed exceptions) in accordance with CDPH guidelines.

 

While somewhat more stringent than the CDC process, the steps are fundamentally similar. Most important is the step of setting up control and screening measures, plus the necessity of adhering to the CDPH mask mandate.

 

 

New York COVID-19/Pandemic Guidelines

 

New York is currently in stage 4 of its phased COVID reopening program. Office buildings were able to reopen under Phase 2, so long as they comply with the minimum state requirements. You can find these requirements in the Interim Guidance for Commercial Building Management During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. While most of the requirements are the same as the CDC recommendations, there are some noteworthy additions.

 

For instance, elevators and small meeting rooms may only be used at 50% capacity with all occupants wearing a mask. It’s also necessary to keep the onsite workforce at a sufficiently low level and social distance those at the office. Above this level, you need to rely on remote workers to supplement your employees who are onsite.

 

New York also requires employers to procure face covers and provide them to the onsite staff without charge. Beyond these requirements, the state-specific guidelines largely comply with guidance from the CDC.

 

 

NOTE: This guide is not meant to replace any recommendations by your local, county, state, or federal government health officials. It is not all inclusive, nor has it been vetted by a licensed health professional. This article is informational only, read at your own discretion.

 

 

If you have any further questions, or feel like we missed something, please reach out. All updates to this document will be published (and kept up to date) on the FieldConnect Field Service Software Blog.

 

 

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