Nearly every state in America is reopening following the pandemic and, by some estimates, almost 40 percent of remote workers eagerly await returning to the office.
Businesses face many challenges as people return to their workplace, especially when it comes to ensuring safety in their offices, conference rooms, and shared facilities.
Social distancing remains a key measure to prevent the virus from spreading. At work, this means employees need more space. In fact, the amount of personal space needs to double — going from 60 to 120 square feet — to enable employees to work together comfortably.
So, what are the best practices? Our experts suggest adapting work environments to primarily accommodate more personal space, touchless solutions and workplace wellness to start. Regular sanitization, increased automation, and health monitoring are also important for a safe transition back to the office.
Hands-Free Systems and Conference Room AV
Touchless solutions are one of the best ways forward. While person-to-person transmission is the most likely way to spread COVID-19, the CDC reports that the virus could transfer from surfaces as well. Now, think of all the surfaces that you touch when setting up a video call in a conference room.
Before meeting participants even walk into a conference room, they’ve likely made contact with either the scheduling panel or control panel on the table — or simply the door handle.
Then, what about all the surfaces inside the room? These include:
Conference room AV (Mics or displays)
Shared mouse and keyboard
Before the pandemic, people wouldn’t have thought twice about entering a conference room. Now, after sitting in a bubble for many months, people will scrutinize surfaces more critically.
Touchless solutions range from voice-activated controls to open entry ways, stools instead of office chairs that have arms, and more.
Organizations will need to adapt their current meeting rooms to become touch-free environments. One such way is to give meeting participants control via their personal devices, like a smartphone.
Inside and outside of meeting rooms, participants will find a QR code. Once scanned, participants can control the meeting room from their smartphone completely — all conference room AV, screen sharing, occupancy and sanitization updates.
Participants forego touching all these surfaces, while utilizing a familiar device and a simple user interface. It’s a win-win.
Workplace Wellness Solutions
Many organizations — including Amazon and Whole Foods — implemented daily temperature checks for employees upon arrival, using thermal imaging cameras that streamline the check-in process.
"We implemented daily temperature checks in our operations locations as an additional preventative measure to support the health and safety of our employees who continue to provide a critical service in our communities," said Amazon spokesperson, Kristen Kish in a statement to CNN Business.
These measures aim to keep others safe by detecting symptoms of the virus, like fever. Putting in these checks, it will help limit the likelihood of COVID-19 entering the workplace, bringing confidence to those organizations now making the transition back to work.
While thermal imaging cameras at entry points is a start, other solutions must be considered within facilities and offices. When will employees know that conference rooms are safe to use? How will you communicate sanitization updates? Addressing these questions, among others, will prove essential during the transition back to work.
Some organizations plan to use digital signage outside of conference rooms to display the last time it was sanitized, and whether or not it’s ready for use. It’s solutions like these that will give confidence to those transitioning back to the office. Without a workplace wellness strategy, some employees might not feel safe returning to work — as was the case for those Amazon workers who staged walkouts over coronavirus safety.
More Personal Space at the Office
Prior to COVID-19, it wasn’t uncommon to pack people into a closed-door meeting room, sitting nearly shoulder to shoulder all breathing the same recirculated air during an hourlong meeting.
Now, that’s enough to induce a panic attack.
To meet safety standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people need more personal space to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The challenge that most businesses run into is they can’t double their entire office space by snapping their fingers — and many are actually looking to reduce their footprint to accommodate a hybrid workforce.
Even so, how can they accommodate employees returning to work?
In a COVID-era office environment, you can expect to see more agile office layouts, divisible spaces, and flexible seating areas to accommodate the increase and decrease of occupancy.
The trendy huddle rooms best used for ad hoc meetings with two or three people aren’t going to cut it by today’s standards. Those 120-square-foot rooms are only suitable for one person at this point, given the amount of personal space needed.
The old medium-sized conference room is now the new huddle room. And the old large conference room is now the new medium conference room.
Personal space must expand to provide the right amount for employees to safely meet in person. As spatial requirements grow, the conference room AV must also accommodate the new dimensions of the room, along with the way people choose to work in that room.
Historically, larger meeting and conference rooms feature more complex technology. This is likely too much for most teams’ needs. Streamlining the workflows and IT support for those rooms will be critical.
You Need a Return-to-Work Strategy
Whether the best solution for your meeting rooms are thermal imaging cameras or expanded floor plans, there must be a strategy. Employees must remain safe as they transition back to work, while doing their best to stay productive.
If you've already created working solutions, tell us about it. If not, let our experts help.
At AVI, our experts can help you discover which solutions make the most sense for your environment based on your needs, use cases and work styles. Contact us today if you have questions about returning to work or ways to make your meeting rooms safer.