The COVID-19 vaccine has brought some level of relief to many people. At the time of writing this article, 42.2% of the US population had received at least one dose of the vaccine. People in my immediate circle are dying to return to normalcy, some of them even desperately wanting to start going back to the office! However, we are also seeing that number of cases are going up in many cities and countries. Sooner than later though, we should see this pandemic hopefully come to an end. We still need to be very careful about how we go about our business without getting complacent.
If you are considering reopening your offices, here are some areas you may want to consider to make your reopening journey as easy as possible.
Disclaimer: All of this information is researched by yours truly and obviously not official guidelines. This article aims to convey the work that may possibly go into reopening offices safely and some tools available that will make the entire process fairly easy and smooth. My personal purpose is to make everyone aware in my community that reopening buildings may not be as easy as just unlocking the front door and letting people in. I hope you find this information helpful but do want to disclaim all liability that may arise from using this material.
Understand COVID-19 Cases Locally
An important factor that will help you decide if you should open a local office is the number of cases in that area. You may be interested in looking at daily cases in states, counties or zip codes where your offices are and your employees live. Sources like New York Times, Johns Hopkins University, WHO and several others will give you those statistics. Higher number of cases should discourage you from opening offices.
Consult Local City Reopening Guidelines and Protocols
Consider looking at reopening phases and current risk level declared by your city’sw local officials. For example, at the time of writing this article, the city of Chicago is going through Phase IV: Gradually Resume with High Risk (5+ consecutive days of 10% increase since last week).
Further details reveal that for offices and residential buildings, non customer facing offices such as legal, accounting services, etc. are allowed to open at 50% capacity.
Tip: Bringing different sources together into one unified view will speed up decision making.
Follow Reopening Guidelines
Opening an office location safely will require substantial amount of planning. In the US, CDC has established elaborate guidelines that will enable organizations to resume business operations safely with minimum risk. For example, checking for hazards associated with prolonged shutdown such as mold growth, rodents or pests; minimizing risk from water borne diseases; inspecting and maintaining commercial building HVAC systems, modifying or adjusting seats, furniture and workstations …as you can see, there is a lot to absorb, plan, and work with and we are only getting started!
Here are some guidelines that you may find helpful for reopening your offices safely with minimal risks. Consider reading them thoroughly and creating a checklist to make sure you are following your national and local safety protocols.
2. Employer Information for Office Buildings
3. Guidance for Business & Employers: Plan, Prepare and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019
5. Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace
6. If You Are Sick (CDC recommended precautions)
QuickStart: Overwhelmed? Don’t be. CBRE, a real estate and investment firm in the US, has developed a playbook based on guidelines from CDC, WHO and other similar organizations, public health experts, and other subject matter experts that will give you specific guidance around reopening offices safely in three phases. Guidance includes establishing readiness criteria, mobilizing readiness teams, establishing office capacity, preparing new office protocols, and many other facets of re-opening and making employees comfortable in the “new normal”.
A few details from the playbook:
Here’s a sample Office Preparation Checklist from CBRE for pre-entry, upon entry (week one), and post entry (30-45 days) planning that will help you take care of all the tasks you plan to perform on a daily/regular basis to make re-opening successful while maintaining health and safety protocols.
Last, but not the least, here are some posters from CBRE that you can put on walls around your offices to encourage employees to follow safety and sanitary guidelines.
Tools To Help Manage Reopening Easily
Clearly, reopening your offices will require monitoring various types of information (COVID cases, vaccinations, etc.), going through many inspections, maintenance related activities, several modifications and adjustments to seating and layouts, providing safety and sanitization equipment to employees, following health and safety protocols from local health officials, implementing social distancing, taking subsequent actions when someone is sick or tests positive, and performing so many other checks and balances. No doubt, all of this will be a lot of work. Find a solution that will help you manage all of this easily – be it looking at vital information, tracking facilities and seating capacities, creating checklists of facility managers, providing abilities to employees to “check in” before they enter premises and book seats in advance, and tracking cases in case of sickness or positive COVID cases.
Microsoft’s “Return to the workplace” solution is meant to do exactly that, and more! This ready to deploy solution, built on Power Platform, can really jump start your re-opening journey in phases. What’s really helpful about this solution is that because it’s built on a low code/ no code platform, it can be easily fine tuned to suit your specific needs.
Here are some of the building blocks it comes with:
1. Location Readiness Dashboard:
Helps you understand virus spread locally and the reopening phases your facilities are going through, including readiness checklist, lower activity, and occupancy.
2. Facility Safety Management App
This app provides step by step instructions to facility managers to manage the reopening and readiness of their buildings.
3. Employee App
This app provides employees the ability to provide attestation (“I don’t have Covid”) and book a seat in their facility.
4. Workplace Care Management
This app provides health and safety leaders proper ways to handle cases when an employee tests positive for COVID.
These apps and dashboards provide a lot of functionality right out of the box and are designed to make your reopening journey as smooth as possible. Moreover, if you are considering a phased approach where you start small, maybe with a few employees in one building and in future phases want some more sophistication – for example, integrating it with your badge system, this solution can be easily extended to bring in those abilities quickly.
Get more details on the Return to the Workplace solution on its website.
And here’s a bonus! Because this solution is built on Microsoft’s low code/no code Power Platform, you can use this platform to solve your other issues that have prevailed for so long – digitize manual processes, provide mobile capabilities and modernize applications built on legacy platform after you have reopened your locations and settled into the new normal without having to spend more money on point solutions.
Bringing It All Together
Reopening your offices will be a daunting task. However, with careful research, planning and using smart solutions like the “return to the Workplace” solution, you can minimize a lot of uncertainly, manual work, and frustration and welcome your employees back to their offices very soon. In addition, you can use the Power Platform to quickly solve all sorts of other issues you may have within your organization.
Questions? Feel free to ask them in the comments section!