As New York City anticipates a phased reopening beginning on June 8, the city has begun to
breathe a sigh of relief that, hopefully, the worst of COVID-19 is behind it. However, it still
remains imperative for all people to stay vigilant, follow social distancing and follow
CDC-guidelines on hygiene. In order to successfully curb the spread of the virus, these
initiatives must extend into the soon-to-open places of work as well.
For business owners, now is the time to prepare workspaces and develop guidelines for the
return of employees. There are several considerations that a New York City business owner
must look at and develop to create a return to work plan following COVID-19.
Health and safety must be the top priority. Once a business is given permission from the
government and internally decides to open, health and safety must be the main focus;
employees will not feel secure returning to a workplace if they do not believe their health is of
the utmost importance. In addition, without an intense focus on these initiatives, coronavirus will
continue to spread.
The first step for all businesses should be to hire a professional cleaning and sanitizing
company to disinfect both common areas and individual workspaces. Although an additional
expense, these companies have access to high-grade cleaners that are highly effective in
comparison to products found in typical grocery stores. In addition, they are highly trained and
much less likely to miss the small nooks and corners where the virus can hide.
After the full disinfecting and sanitizing process, the method in which daily cleanings occur in the
place of work should be enhanced. Many companies previously focused solely on vacuuming,
bathroom and kitchen cleanings, and emptying of garbages. However, this is not enough to
eradicate coronavirus. Contracts with daily cleaning companies should be revised to include
disinfecting efforts, multiple times per day, in common areas.
Promote good hygiene. Cleaning and disinfecting a workspace will only do so much if
employees are not doing their part through proper hygiene. Employees should be required to
maintain the highest standards of basic hygiene rules such as cough and sneeze etiquette and
hand washing techniques. Flyers should be hung in common areas throughout the office
reminding employees to maintain good hygiene and to stay home if they feel ill.
To help promote employee compliance, it would be best practice to make it as easy as possible
for employees to comply by keeping plenty of supplies in stock. Prior to allowing employees
back in the office it is advisable to be fully stocked on disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer and
soap, tissues and face masks.
Hand sanitizers should be placed throughout the office for easy access. Disinfectant wipes
should be placed in common areas, such as kitchens, to promote employees to clean up and
wipe down after themselves. Masks should be offered, or even required, while employees are
in common areas of open workspaces.
Require social distancing. While social interaction should be encouraged for workplace
morale and a sense of “normalcy,” it is important to update workplace policies for social
distancing guidelines. Common areas such as kitchens, break rooms, elevators, stairwells and
bathrooms should be limited to a safe number of employees at a time. Large meetings should
continue to be tele-conferenced.
A good way to ease back into the normal work routine while enforcing these guidelines is to
have employees return to the office in stages. There are various ways this can be done, such
as by name, seniority or department, and it will vary company-by-company. However, this will
allow people to adjust to the office’s “new normal” with fewer people around.
It is important to understand that employees may be nervous or hesitant to return to work
following COVID-19, and they will likely have an abundance of questions on how the workplaces
have been prepared for their return to ensure safety. It is important that Human Resources is
patient, provides thorough answers to employee concerns, and is willing to be flexible in a
constantly changing landscape. The transition back to the office will work best with honest
communication, flexibility, and a unified goal of adhering to the new guidelines.