Returning to Work: 8 Tips for Facilities Managers

Facilities managers will be responsible to identify, plan and deliver a safe enviornment when returning to the workplace. You’ll need real-time workplace management data and analytics, so you can model what-if scenarios and shore up working plans.

As you work to formulate the best facilities plan for your specific business, you will have to balance two important objectives— keeping your people safe and conserving cash during economic uncertainty. Here are eight tips on facilities management you need to consider:



1).  Social Distancing


In a typical corporate office, social distancing between employees will be very difficult to accomplish and will require intentionality and planning. The most troublesome areas are common shared spaces, such as meeting rooms, break rooms, coffee stations, rest rooms, and even areas around shared printers.

Most cubicle arrangements will have too much density and too much shared air to allow for adequate distancing. Open office arrangements with no barriers between workstations won’t work at all.

To solve for social distancing, facilities managers will need to identify areas where distancing is not possible, plan to close those spaces and make other spaces available that confer a smaller risk of contamination. This might mean more remote workers. It could mean working in shifts. It could mean rearranging the office layout to reduce density. Perhaps you’ll need to decentralize amenities like coffee and water stations, employee refrigerators, printers and vending machines so that employees don’t congregate together. Finally, deliver workplace tools, such as reservation systems, that empower employees with safe workspaces.




2).  Workspace Density


It has probably been the goal of your organization to increase workplace density to improve the return on real estates. To do this, many businesses have shifted to an office hoteling, or hot-desking, strategy where workers are not assigned a seat, but rather reserve a space day-by-day within their team’s workplace zone. The bad news is distance, rather than density, will be the goal for the foreseeable future. The good news is reservation systems used to assign workspaces can pivot rapidly to help maximize distance by only accepting reservations at desks are far from other desks in use. Facilities managers can use density analytics to model reconfigured square footage that would accommodate fewer workers with safer spaces.



3).  Sanitization


The facilities team’s plan for returning to the physical workplace will need to emphasize sanitization and cleaning to keep employees safe by reducing the ways the virus can be transmitted. Sanitization consists of three parts:

  1. Preparing for return through proper installation of hand sanitizing stations and making sure the facility is well-stocked with approved cleaning solutions and protective equipment for the janitorial staff.
  2. Scheduling more frequent cleaning of all flat surfaces, high touch items (door knobs, faucets, elevator buttons) and high traffic areas. Ensuring all workstations are cleaned daily after use. It will also be best practice to sanitize shared spaces, such as meeting rooms, as soon as they’ve been used and to prevent such areas from being booked by other employees until that cleaning has taken place.
  3. Planning for a disinfection routine in the event that someone who is COVID-19 positive enters the workplace. Corrective Maintenance –best practice to sanitize shared spaces as soon as they’ve been used. Fire up a work ticket to janitorial.




4).  Fixed Asset Management


As employees return to the workplace, they will want to have more ownership and control over the tools they use every day to perform their jobs. They will not want to feel like they are sharing items that are touched a lot by other employees. They may now need a dedicated office phone, keyboard, and mouse. They may also not be eager to hot desk, unless workspaces are being thoroughly sanitized between users. Facilities teams will need to be able to track more fixed assets and may need to provide storage areas, such as lockers, where employees can secure these sensitive items and feel confident they aren’t being touched.



5). Environmental Quality


Noise levels, natural light, and air quality all impact employee health, happiness, and productivity. Many buildings use environmental sensors to monitor temperature, humidity, light, noise, air pressure, and air quality. Employers will take a close look at how to safeguard employees from spread of infectious disease in the workplace and also how building environmental quality can contribute to overall health.

SARS-COV-2 spreads easily. Its virus particles are very small, and several studies have shown small aerosolized respiratory droplets may travel farther and hang in the air for up to several hours.   SARS-COV-2 virus particles are too small to be contained by HEPA or MERV filters.  However, in a scientific review published in mSystems, a team of researchers suggested buildings can help lower the transmission of COVID-19 by increasing fresh air ventilation (opening the windows) and keeping the air more humid. Humidity lowers the distance that viruses can travel and can affect the envelope that protects many virus particles.

If your building is equipped with environmental quality sensors, review your data carefully. Study whether buildings and spaces are properly ventilated for maximum employee health and performance. Make adjustments to the amount of fresh outside air and indoor humidity levels in order to lower transmission levels.



6).  Reservable Shared Spaces


As employees return to the workplace, they will probably need changes in the arrangement of workstations. Closed offices provide the most effective barrier to virus transmission. Open tables confer much greater risk. In fact, of organizations planning to transition to an open office floorplan prior to the pandemic, 54% say they’ve cancelled those plans or put them on hold indefinitely.

For some period of time, most organizations will discourage large groups in meeting rooms. Meetings will often include people still working from home, so it may be safer to have everyone join a web or teleconference from their own workspaces. Meeting room booking analytics reveal how many people use a room of a given capacity on average, which can help facilities managers plan for greater distance and lower density in the future. Adjust reservation settings to lower the number of participants allowed in a meeting room.



7).  Contamination


In spite of the best efforts of employees and workers, at some point, someone will enter the building with an active, though perhaps asymptomatic COVID-19 infection. When your organization discovers this fact, how will you respond?

Real-time workplace management data help facilities managers perform the “spatial forensics” you’ll need to trace contacts for additional testing or isolation and to mitigate contaminated spaces with deep cleaning and sanitation. From workspace and meeting room reservations to badge swipes, network logins and emails, workplace management solutions can help you uncover a virtual trail of people and places that interacted with the infected individual. Based on those known locations, you can get a pretty complete idea of the shared spaces like bathrooms or breakrooms the person might have used, too. Quickly put your cleaning mitigation plan into action. You should have a plan to rapidly switch the workforce back to work-from-home if needed while sanitation crews deep clean the building.



8).  Communication


A recent survey by Forrester found 41% of employees were afraid to go to work due to the risk of exposure to coronavirus.  As organizations ask workers to return to the workplace, they will need to provide clear, consistent, and reassuring communications about steps the company is taking to ensure their wellbeing. The facilities management team may want to team up with HR to provide complete messaging for these communications.

Gallup cautions that “to be an effective leader during this time, you must remember that humans experience life about 30% rationally and 70% emotionally.”  Be sure to repeat important COVID-19 safety information in frequent communications.



For more information on planning your organizations return to the workplace – download the Safe Space Playbook designed to help Identify, Plan and Deliver Safe Workplaces.