Office workers at their desk working

What is the future of the office after COVID-19?

Last week, as I sunk into my couch and resumed my daily scroll through a litany of insignificant social media, a post on Tumblr made me raise my eyebrows. As far as social media sites go, Tumblr no longer registers among the likes of prominent networking tools like Instagram or Twitter, but it occasionally spits out odd kernels of wisdom that keeps users returning for more. 

The post, which had reached 118,078 notes at the time, proposed a question for prospective employees to ask future employers: “How did your company respond to the coronavirus and what measures were taken to ensure the health, safety, and security of your employees?’”

For some companies, this question will offer a welcome opportunity to flex their impressive response measures. Some companies will be able to say that they gave their employees the option of working from home. Other companies will mention that they provided all their employees with Protective Personal Equipment (as mandated by OSHA) and that they permitted flexible hours to the employees having difficulty finding adequate childcare. Some companies will be emotionally and structurally supportive of their employees’ needs throughout the duration of the entire crisis. 

But many companies will not. 

Several weeks have elapsed since the stay-at-home order in California, a strangulating condition on many small businesses that rely on in-store purchasing and warehouse shipping. Now, businesses are attempting to slowly return to some semblance of normalcy, adapting the office environment around social distancing and safe practices to halt potential viral transmissions. Perhaps more pressingly, businesses must evolve their workplace or risk being ordered to cease all proceedings, eliminating the possibility of success before a looming economic downturn. 

There’s writing on the proverbial wall. If fledgling companies want to survive, it is imperative to institute several key changes to ensure the “health, safety, and security” necessary for your office environment to thrive: 

  1. Masks, Gloves, Hand Sanitizer

Right when employees walk through the door, if they are not already adorned with their own set of masks and gloves, then it is the responsibility of your company to provide them. A single mask and pair of gloves last the duration of a standard 8-hour workday, so equipping your front desk reception with these items will allow everyone who enters the office to immediately protect themselves and reduce the possibility of contaminating the area. Another useful item to have available, although not necessarily required, is hand sanitizer. Preferably, each desk station should have a 4 oz bottle of sanitizing gel for employees to dispense at will (in addition to liberally washing their hands throughout the day).

  1. 6ft Social Distance 

This change is certainly the most difficult one to institute effectively, but there are various ways to accommodate this CDC-recommended directive. First and foremost, alter seating arrangements: have employees move their computers, stationery, snacks, and other personal supplies to staggered locations around the office. Move the furniture around if you have to. In the break room, make sure that employees are aware that they should maintain a safe distance even while socializing on their lunch breaks.

  1. Work from Home

Although many employees will gradually return to the office, you will have some workers who are uncomfortable with returning in the midst of the pandemic. They may live with elderly relatives or immunocompromised individuals, and some employees who are they themselves immunocompromised may feel hesitant to disclose the nature of their illness. To minimize discomfort and promote emotional welfare, allow employees to continue working from home without asking them to justify their choice. Tact is key. It’s easy to give the impression that you would prefer their physical presence in the office, but you do not want to accidentally present your employees with only two devastating options: risk serious illness or lose your job. 

  1. Flexibility and Understanding

All companies want to expect the best performance from their employees, but even the most dedicated and invested worker will experience problems in these strange, uncertain times. Parents are still struggling to find daycare for their kids, and according to recent findings from Express Scripts, a prescription benefit plan provider, the use of anti-insomnia prescriptions have increased by 21% in the months following the US declaration of a national emergency. With such ubiquitous, cultural anxiety contextualizing our new normal, its no wonder that so many people can’t seem to get a handle on their sleep schedule. For employers, this means practicing mindfulness. Your company will earn a positive reputation and solidify the loyalty of your employees if you respond to their struggles with compassion. 

At Blue Beat Digital, we have been fortunate enough to import Personal Protective Equipment for all on-site employees, and many Blue Beat Digital content developers have elected to keep working from home. For the foreseeable future, all of the changes listed above will need to be exercised to the fullest extent until the federal government provides further preventative measures, cultivating a healthy environment that serves the company in every respect.