8 Changes for Your Post-Lockdown Office

The office environment, as we know it, has been completely transformed. As many organizations across the nation begin to reopen their doors, it’s crucial to understand how businesses can protect their employees, customers, and vendors and return to work as safely as possible. So, what does that look like in practice? We’ve put together a list of changes you should anticipate as you navigate the new challenges facing you and your employees, as well as tools and protocols to manage these changes and minimize disruption.

1. Flexibility

Employers everywhere will have to adjust and provide greater flexibility to keep their teams safe. One approach is to stagger in-office workdays and shift times to minimize the number of people interacting with each other. Another option is to allow more remote hours, continuing the telecommute trend that many have grown accustomed to in recent months. Not all positions are able to work remotely full time, but those that can may find higher levels of productivity with increased flexibility.

By allowing these schedule and work environment changes, your teams will feel more comfortable as they ease into their new normal. They may be eager to return to the team dynamic of the office, but they will also want to be confident they can perform the duties you’re asking of them safely. According to a study conducted by Qualtrics in late April 2020, 61 percent of American workers want to make sure they can practice social distancing when they return to their workplaces. You can help maintain a safe environment and assuage unease by implementing more flexible office policies.

2. Data Infrastructure and Security

If anyone on your team will still be telecommuting and using cloud-based systems to work, teleconference, and file share, you need to know that your cybersecurity is up to par to handle proper encryption and other digital safety measures. Cloud security can be deployed to internal systems or Oracle systems, offering high levels of protection to thwart hackers who are increasingly active and trying to exploit the current environment. As you move more of your processes to the cloud, it will also reduce the need for handling papers by hand.

The old-fashioned practice of printing endless sheets of paper and hand-delivering them between departments may be a cause for concern when virus control is of the utmost importance. By implementing technology and protocols that are powerful enough to handle everything, the work environment can remain as efficient as possible, and coworkers can reduce unnecessary face-to-face interactions. Make sure your professionals also have the tech support they need so they do not get burned out, and clients don’t miss deadlines due to downtime.

In addition, the latest cloud applications mean not having to have a physical data center to run or maintain. SaaS applications from Oracle, for instance, offer health and safety tracking, scheduling solutions, and great remote working support. There are even tools that will enable HR to track and help control occupancy or space utilization, building location, and which areas are more likely to become infection zones. Employ processes that report infections while still keeping within HIPAA compliance.

Oracle has even announced that it will be licensing its Health & Safety cloud module to existing HCM Cloud customers for free for the next 12 months in order to help amidst the COVID-19 landscape. To complement this move, Meta, too, is offering some free services during this time. We will implement the module for COVID-19 management at no cost to you, on a first-come, first-served basis.

3. Employee Support

With fears still abounding about COVID-19, employees will no longer be able to “just work through” sick days in the office. Pushing through illnesses may save time and help keep work on track in the short term, but it could cause apprehension and tension between employees and risk the health and safety of the entire team.

If any office team members become infected, you may have to temporarily close, adding further interruptions to productivity. Employees will need more mental and family support, especially those who need to care for children or aging relatives, or who hesitate to take time off even when they really need it.

Living through a pandemic and extended quarantine has been a collective traumatic experience, and providing more support and understanding to your employees could be a significant factor in keeping top talent in a post-lockdown world. Even something as simple as relaxing dress codes can improve office morale and reduce employee stress, as some people feel more productive when they are comfortable, and those who would normally need to dry clean their clothes can avoid high costs while maintaining cleanliness.

4. Infrastructure

Rearranging workspaces might be another necessary change to make workers feel safe as they return to the office. Employees want to see that measures to protect them are not being taken lightly, and that includes the layout of your office.

While open offices have risen in use over the last decade, their lack of division may now do more harm than good. Germs can be spread just from breathing and talking normally, and the uninterrupted airways in a large, open space could infect entire floors of an office in a matter of hours.

Office traffic patterns should also be reevaluated. Using one-way arrow signs can help decrease unintended interaction (ideally, a social distance of six feet apart) between individuals while they carry out daily responsibilities. Be sure to plan for policies around the use of elevators, stairwells, conference rooms, bathrooms, and any other common areas to limit the number of people who can use these areas at one time. And those who own office spaces should look into investing in better filtration systems to clean the air as it gets recycled from room to room.

5. Cleanliness

This is a big one. Employers everywhere will be adopting stricter policies for cleanliness to protect both their teams and their businesses. Introduce policies that limit the use of common areas and require wiping down surfaces after touching them. While many employees will own their own masks, you may consider providing extras as an additional safety measure.

Around the office, call for a more thorough job from your cleaning crew at the end of each day and implement a stricter janitorial plan. Place hand sanitizer stations in high-traffic areas and be sure the bathrooms always have adequate supplies of soap.

Meals and break times can pose a unique risk, as some employees may not have time to wash a dirty dish as soon as they’ve used it, or they may not wash and store it properly. If possible, have a dishwasher installed to minimize these risks and limit items that can be brought from home. Alternatively, you could use disposable, compostable products instead.

6. Public Interaction

While you can reasonably assure the safety of interactions within your office, involving the public becomes an entirely different scenario. Public-facing employees should be provided with protective equipment, whether that includes masks and gloves and/or installing glass or plastic guards at interaction points. Handshakes and other common touches should be eliminated. You will want to consider how your team members should greet clients/partners.

You cannot know every move an employee makes, but it is safe to presume that you have a better idea of where they have been and what they have touched than customers who are rarely in the office. Another consideration is the items sitting in common rooms. In the past, magazines, candy bowls, pens, and other things were provided for common use. These objects are very difficult to keep clean and safe when used by different people throughout the day. Minimizing their use wherever possible will protect both your employees and your customers.

7. Efficiency

If efficiency wasn’t already a major focus for your daily operations, it should be now. Whenever possible, keep meetings short and only invite the necessary attendees. If a meeting needs to involve a large group of people, cover a lot of material, or involve group brainstorming, replace it with a teleconference. You should also train your employees on how to communicate more effectively via email, phone, and other digital tools and organize daily virtual check-ins to reduce the need for impromptu meetings.

When workers all over the country got their stay-at-home orders and businesses first shuttered their brick-and-mortar operations, more and more people began to jump onto the highly popular video conferencing platform Zoom. Usage quickly multiplied to numbers they never expected, making the leap to today’s 300 million daily users and requiring the capacity for the equivalent of 93 years of high-definition video, every day. Realizing they needed to drastically expand their usual amplitude practically overnight, Zoom’s team turned to the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI).

Zoom chose Oracle’s cloud for its superior performance, scalability, reliability, and data security capabilities. Zoom got hundreds of thousands of virtual meeting participants onto OCI within mere hours of deployment and continues to host millions of video conferences, all at the same time. This is no small feat—it takes over seven petabytes of data transfer each day! With that level of processing, you can be confident that Oracle can manage anything your organization throws at them, too.

8. Business Continuity Plans

As you saw earlier, there is still a chance for many people to become infected simultaneously if COVID-19 sweeps through your office. If this happens to your business, you’ll need a contingency plan to prevent disaster from taking hold. You do not need to witness another wave of infection firsthand within your company walls. No one wants any harm to come to their employees, and most of us cannot afford any more significant interruptions.

Have your HR professionals put together a disaster preparedness plan for in-office exposure or infections. While we always hope for the best, everyone needs to know what to do in a worst-case scenario. If you follow the measures we’ve recommended thus far, you’ll be able to minimize the interruptions in productivity and maximize your team’s safety.

Only about 30 percent of HR executives have built a rapid exit plan, which is much too low, given the uncertain nature of the circumstances today. Be smart and ready with strategic protocols in place, so you avoid unnecessary damage. No one could have seen what was coming with the first wave of COVID-19, but if another comes around, you will be better situated to make good decisions because you were proactive for the sake of your workers, your customers, and their families.

Prepare Your Organization for Any Challenge

We know the safety and well-being of your employees are among your top priorities, and we have many years of experience in helping organizations just like yours craft plans that make them feel secure at work, no matter what happens. We do exactly that through cutting-edge software that is best equipped to keep up with the transformations the world has been seeing so much of these days. Contact Meta if you would like to speak with a seasoned representative about how we can implement best practices through powerful systems so your organization and clients can be ready for anything. The time is now—get ahead of your rapidly changing environment, so it doesn’t get ahead of you.