The New Workplace: Are You Prepared?

By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC

If you are a managing partner and are deciding when and how to reopen your office, keeping in mind the safety and well-being of your staff, what steps will you take? More important, do you know whose brains to pick to do the reopening well and properly?

Consider who your advisors should be: scientists, doctors, public-health officials, interior office design professionals, air-quality professionals and architects.

As for your employees, you should consider whose roles are essential and whether they can function remotely. In order to establish a baseline of safety, you should ensure the heating and air conditioning systems are cleaned and sanitized to mitigate the chances of those with allergies or breathing difficulties to become ill. Clean circulation of air is vital to mitigate the existence of respiratory droplets, so be sure that your air systems are assessed by an indoor air quality professional. If you go to the American Society of Heating Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers you will see guidance offered on the best ways to keep your work environment up to standards. There is also the Indoor Air Quality Association that provides guidance on preventing and solving indoor environmental problems.

The “New Normal” Workspace

Coffee Klatches. There are places within offices that we take for granted, such as the coffee break room. This is the area where employees mingle to talk about current projects, firm news, or what they did on the weekend. It is usually a bustling spot, especially during the mid-morning and mid-afternoon when everybody needs a caffeine jolt. What can be done to limit the chances of close contact? One idea is to suggest every one bring their own coffee to the office. Even better, they can purchase a hot water kettle that can be filled with water, plugged in, and voila, heated water in a few short minutes.  Employees can bring in their own instant coffee mix or tea bags. These machines can run anywhere from $15 to $35 without all the bells and whistles at such places like Walmart.

Simple enough, no?

Bathrooms. Then of course, there are the bathrooms. Let’s admit it, these are infection petri dishes. While the protection devices may not be aesthetically pleasing (who after all needs a fancy bathroom at work?), they will reduce the chances for aerosolization of germs, such as when toilets are flushed. The bathroom stalls should probably be floor-to-ceiling height and hand dryers should be replaced with biodegradable towel dispensers. Consider toilet and sink sensors, as well as improved ventilation.

Elevators. Another area of concern in the workplace is the elevator; this goes along with the lobby area where workers queue up to get on the next elevator. On those morning when there are workers, clients, vendors and other visitors lining up, it is difficult to adhere to the six-foot social distancing requirement. What can be done?

If your practice shares space with other businesses and is on the upper floors, think about what happens when offices begin to open up. Elevators don’t have proper ventilation, and placing footprint stickers on the floor will limit the number of riders each up and down cycle; although, let’s be honest, an elevator car is not the size of a living room. You made need to hire a vertical transportation consultant who will study ways to increasing the speed of up elevators, improving ventilation systems, and installing touchless systems.

Desks and Cubicles. Then of course there is the work area, which covers individual offices and cubicles in an open room. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are (as of March 2020) 431 approved pesticides to kill SARS-CoV-2. While cleaning companies have been using these products, there has been no study on their impact on humans. Whether you decide to keep your current cleaning company or are looking to switch, find out what cleaning materials are being used. If the company is using an electrostatic disinfectant sprayer on desk and chairs, perhaps you may want to eliminate potential allergic reactions and instead purchase disposable desk mats, alcohol wipes and hand sanitizers that are strategically placed around the office area.

A Different Approach

Because virtual work environments have become de rigueur, and would avoid the above challenges, perhaps as your firm is nearing the end of its lease, you should consider not renewing it. If you have the appropriate leadership and staff; technology infrastructure; communication protocols; and strong client relations, then close down the office and create a completely virtual firm. However, if you are not of that mindset, then apply some leverage with your landlord for the installation of safety upgrades; from the bathrooms to the lobby elevators; from ventilation systems to touch sensor systems. There won’t be a rush of new tenants to take over space in this market, so what you negotiate (within reason) can easily be approved by the landlord.

Even when a vaccine is created for the Covid-19 virus, business and personal health practices should become part of a new and better normal.

 

About the Author

Steven Sacks is the CEO of Solutions to Results, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in helping individuals, firms and organizations meet the challenges of communicating with clarity and purpose. Visit his website at www.solutions2results.com.