As we flatten the curve and keep stride while working from home, it's time to start looking forward to a successful return to work. To help you through this important transition, NBF has prepared a wealth of resources for your entire office.
Our two-part introduction to returning to work includes these guidelines for Facilities Updates as well as a guide to Policies and Procedures, which you can explore here. See more resources at our Return to Work Essentials page.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the workplace found its way home and for months entire offices worked within a variety of home office environments. Upon their return, employees will now encounter a brand-new workplace that looks nothing like the one they left behind.
Going hand-in-hand with new policies and procedures, facility management guidelines are the tangible component that will make proper distancing and employee safety possible. The choices made now might not hold true in the next few months, but as we enter the first phase of our return to work, enforcing strict guidelines is more important than ever.
Whether you're retrofitting your existing office, making sweeping renovations, or building out new construction, NBF is here to help you discover everything you need to successfully get back to business. While creating these guides, writing all-new content, and considering our own challenges ahead, we're driven by core pillars of safety and security in order to best inform facility changes:
Ease of Use
It goes without saying, workplace changes are beholden to existing regulations that cannot be broken. Fire codes, building codes, the Americans with Disabilities Act, OSHA regulations, and any other superseding entity will take priority over COVID-related practices.
Be mindful of paths of egress and ensure that any dividers or partitions do not interfere with evacuation plans or disaster preparedness. Equally important, when storing excess and unused furniture, be mindful of the safety of storage spaces and emergency exits.
WAYFINDING, DISTANCING, AND SIGNAGE
Navigating the workplace starts the moment an employee walks up to the building and, in the beginning, regulating all intra-office traffic patterns is beneficial for individual health and creates more succinct cleaning targets. After using guidelines from our policies and practices guide, such as creating one-direction hallways or stairwells and occupancy limits for specific rooms, use wayfinding tools to visually represent these rules.
At the time of writing, the CDC recommends a 6' minimum distance between all persons. To create this adequate spacing, no matter what area you're in, use tools to control traffic patterns.
DIRECTIONAL FLOOR DECALS
With designs made for various different flooring types, vendors are creating custom decals that can be adhered to the floor on a temporary basis, perfectly defining traffic patterns, showing the appropriate distance in queues, and more. As restrictions are lifted, they're easy to remove with little effort. In a pinch, use gaff tape to create the same effect; this is commonly used on sets due to its easy durability and removability.
Wall mounted or standing signage provides the opportunity to use pre-purchased messages or to print custom guidelines specific to your company. Ensure that the fonts used are easy to read, visual in nature, and don't have too much text. Seek out acrylic or other easy-to-clean surfaces as opposed to taping up paper signage.
Crowd control ropes with extendable belts are ideal for sectioning off-limits spaces or for denoting adequate distancing. These easy-to-position solutions can be purchased in varying quantities and attached from base to base with ease. Use these to separate hallways or in waiting areas to create new traffic patterns and pathways.
As you make purchases for additional furniture, ensure that your pieces are made with non-porous materials designed to stand up to harsh disinfectants. Healthcare-grade furniture, now available in modern and stylish designs, meet these requirements.
- Vinyl Upholstery: Compared with other synthetic materials, such as polyurethane, vinyl is even more durable. While reception seating is often available in vinyl, office seating is typically upholstered with other synthetics.
- High Pressure Laminate: For desks, conference tables, breakrooms, and any other surface, laminate finishes are easy to clean and high-pressure laminate provides maximum durability and impermeability.
- Copper and Aluminum: Compared to other surfaces and powder-coated options, the SARS-CoV-2 virus dissipates in hours on exposed copper and aluminum surfaces. While copper is rare in office furniture, aluminum is commonly used in outdoor furniture and some breakroom applications.
- Antimicrobial Coatings: Most common in healthcare furniture, antimicrobial coatings can be applied to upholstery and other surfaces. These coatings do not kill bacteria, however they are effective at slowing the growth and spread.
- Fabric: The most porous material is fabric and, when applied to launderable items, should be cleaned routinely. When used in difficult-to-clean environments, such as on guest chairs or office seating, these are the most difficult to clean upholsteries.
- Mesh: For office chairs, mesh fabric has the same problems and difficulties as other fabrics, despite its breathability.
- Leather: Compared to other synthetics, leather is more porous and is even more resistant to other cleaners. To increase the impermeability of leather goods, use liberal coatings of conditioning oils after rigorous cleaning.
- Wood and Veneers: Wood is significantly more porous than synthetic alternatives and has far more difficulty with rigorous chemical disinfectants. Veneers, in their nature, are extremely thin slices of wood that bear all of the same difficulties.
- Cardboard and Paper: While not used in furniture construction, these items are present in any office and in furniture packaging. Dispose of all packing materials immediately and avoid using any paper goods in high-touch areas.
Consult the CDC website for the most up-to-date recommendations for cleaning on all materials.
ACRYLICS AND DIVIDERS
Often referred to as plexiglass, the use of acrylics is becoming a staple of COVID-19 retrofitting. Companies that have not previously specialized in acrylic partitions have been ramping up design and production to meet our changing needs.
Its desirability comes from total clarity, providing visual person-to-person connection with all of the benefits of a physical barrier. Seek out acrylic partitions for use in every space, going beyond the natural application as barriers on reception desks. Divide conference tables, training areas, breakroom tables, and benched desking using lightweight, movable panels that can be added and removed as necessary.
While there is no official CDC guideline for the height of partitions, it's wise to extend panels beyond the height of employees either sitting or standing, offering as much coverage as possible.
We have recommended that companies maintain online-only meetings, even when staff is in-house, but as rules are relaxed, people will return to conference rooms. It is recommended, and sometimes mandated, that each room's occupancy is lowered, and to bring in parties that are outside of the room, use the same collaborative meeting software to bring in more attendees.
Optimize televisions and screens, stand-alone cameras, microphones, and speakers in all conference spaces and provide adequate training to staff so that these technologies can be used to keep in-person attendance lowered.
RECONFIGURE YOUR LAYOUT
Managing the layout of spaces is no small task. Whether you're retrofitting, renovating, or building new construction, creating a post-COVID setup that suits your company is a challenge that goes beyond this guide. NBF is creating and posting in-depth content that relates to each individual space and, as they're released, we're happy to share them with you. Follow our social channels, sign up for our email list, or simply check back to our blog to see our expert-informed ideas.
If you'd like personalized help with reimagining your workspace, call our sales team at 800-558-1010 or find your local sales consultant to get started today.
REMOVE EXCESS FURNITURE
The easiest way to eliminate unnecessary gatherings is to make them difficult or impossible. In waiting rooms, remove excess seating and put it in storage for future use, reduce accent tables, and purchase smaller seating that can be spaced apart. Similarly, in conference rooms, reduce the number of chairs around the table and have mixed virtual and in-person meetings to cut down on attendance. Casual seating throughout the office can be replaced with décor or storage to maintain aesthetics while discouraging multi-person gatherings.
In communal and private areas that have similar fixtures, universally-beneficial amenities can be ordered in high quantities and placed throughout the office, including:
- Standing or wall-mounted sanitary wipe and hand sanitizer dispensers
- PPE dispensers with masks and gloves, made available to employees and visitors
- Cleaning caddies with area-appropriate cleaners of varying strength
- Signage to post each space's specific expectations and distancing guidelines
- Kick-and-pull devices at the base of all doors
- Trash cans with lids and, preferably, foot-operated mechanisms
We're constantly building out new and well-informed resources specific to each area of the office. Explore these guides as they're posted by signing up for our mailing list or following our social channels. Each area has unique challenges and some of the specific differentiators include:
- Eliminate or store high-touch amenities, such as magazine racks, coffee stations, and literature holders
- Use plants to fill the gaps between well-spaced chairs and tables
- Implement a tablet-based sign-in system to replace paper log books
- Install kick-and-pull devices at the base of vestibule doors or require the use of automatic opening mechanisms
- See more on our comprehensive guide to reception optimization
- Enforce the use of individual key fobs to track who enters the building on each given day
- Place markings on the walkways so that multiple employees arriving at the same time can be evenly distanced
- Consider adding a thermal scanner to conduct contactless temperature scans upon arrival
- Designate specific entrances and exit areas
- Technology-specific cleaners to wipe down screens and peripherals
- Enhanced technology to have video conferences in order to reduce in-room attendees
- Well-spaced chairs to provide adequate distancing
- Use acrylic partitions to add barriers between each seat and down the middle of conference tables
- Food safe disinfectants that are harsh enough to kill viruses
- Single-use utensils, plates, and pre-package condiments
- Use laminated tent cards to denote table occupancy limits
SUPPLY AND COPY ROOMS
- Reduce communal access and designate one employee to manage supplies
- Limit access to paper goods in particular, as they are some of the most porous
- Relocate copy machines to open areas to prevent congestion
- Provide disposable toilet seat covers
- Install hands-free soap dispensers, faucets, toilets, and paper towel dispensers
- Stock an increased supply of disinfecting wipes at each touch point
- Use tablet arm chairs to keep workplaces individualized and well-spaced
- Have all seats facing the same direction; avoid horseshoe configurations
- Two-person tables are extremely common; reduce occupancy to one per-table
- To protect the health of new mothers, increase cleaning measures in these spaces
- Increase the potency of provided cleaning equipment
- Ensure that furniture choices have healthcare-grade materials to accommodate tougher solvents
HALLWAYS AND OPEN SPACES
- Use crowd control ropes to keep paths separated
- Enforce one-way hallways and stairwells with floor decals or gaff tape
- Remove casual seating or other informal gathering areas
Private offices are the most secluded spaces, designed for one person, and for the most part these simply require prohibiting guests and encouraging employees to keep their doors closed and workstations disinfected.
Cubicles offer more privacy than a completely open office, yet their close proximity poses issues. Adequately mark off a six-foot radius from where the employee sits using decals or tape on the ground and, when possible, situate employees in an every-other-cube configuration. For panels, ensure that their height is adequate. While there is no CDC guideline, we recommend 6' high panels either purchased at this size or retrofitted to add additional height.
Offering a less privacy than a cubicle, bullpen-style desking often situates four workspaces with employees sitting back-to-back. For small spaces, restrict the number of employees in the area and place moveable room dividers in the open spaces to create a cubicle-like arrangement. Discourage others from using the center of these bullpen spaces as aisles and walkways.
Common in startups and highly modern offices, benching is the true open office layout. Naturally, these spaces are the most troublesome in a post-COVID workplace. Significantly reduce the number of employees in the area and separate all workstations with temporary partitions or privacy panels on all sides. This is a great application for acrylic panels, as they maintain the high level of visibility and aesthetics of the space.
LOOK TOWARDS THE FUTURE
No matter what comes next, more changes are on the way. While investing in facility upgrades, be mindful of what the next phase might look like. Purchase pieces that have multiple functions and items that can be repurposed down the line. Mobile solutions and lightweight designs can be reconfigured as occupancy restrictions are lightened and heavier-duty permanent fixtures can ensure that their use will extend beyond immediate disaster mitigation.
SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
Many of the above practices have further steps, some of which include physical labor or complicated designs. Don't hesitate to reach out to National Business Furniture in any way, either by your local rep or by phone at 800-558-1010, for design help, sales inquiries, and product recommendations. From there we can help coordinate assistance from a local installer to build and install any new furniture. In your locale, vet contractors for help with moving cubicles or maneuvering large items. We've all been weathering this storm as one and, together, we can all make our way back to work a success.