When the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve and we welcomed in 2020, little could have prepared us for the twists and turns to come. As the year has unfolded, the world collectively has experienced human tragedy and economic hardship, while demonstrating the indomitable human spirit.
We have learned new terms like “flatten the curve” and “social distancing.” We are adjusting to wearing masks, maintaining 6 feet from others and figuring out how to work and learn from home. Now, after months of staying home, we have reached a point where, at varying degrees depending on your location, some business can start to plan a return to offices, but not in the same manner as before.
From crowded elevators to tight conference rooms, the majority of offices in the U.S. are not set up for social distancing. In the “new normal,” the list of problems to address in order to reopen safely seems rather daunting. To break it down a little bit, here are four critical steps to help organizations move forward as offices begin reopening their doors.
1. Establish procedures for stocking offices with essential supplies
One of the most critical steps to office reopening is setting up a consistent and reliable means of tracking and distributing cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE). At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a rush on soap, disinfectant, hand sanitizer, masks, paper towels and toilet paper. We witnessed unbelievable price gouging and stockpiling of critical items. And, although many were baffled by the toilet paper shortage, it highlighted how a product that is produced on a steady basis can be impacted drastically by a disaster. Finally, four months later, the supply chain is starting to catch up with the demand but there are still shortages. To reopen offices companies, particularly those with multiple office locations or even multiple floors in a single building, will need to carefully track and preemptively order these items, ensuring that they make it to the right location at the right time. A shortage of even a single item, be it surface cleaner, masks, or hand sanitizer, may mean shutting down that office until those supplies can be procured.
2. Efficiently determine who is able to work, and from where
Second on our list, is developing a system to check-in efficiently with your employees. As offices reopen, companies need to have an easy way to determine who can come into the office, who needs to work from home, and who is not available. When offices reopen, not everyone will be able to return. Some may be ill or have had a recent exposure to the virus. Others may be in the high-risk category and it is safer for them to work from home. In addition, with social distancing measures required, you may only be able to welcome a percentage of your regular employees back in to the office at one time. Understanding who is available to return to the office will help you decide how to segment your workforce to comply with local regulations.
Although a failure to take into account each individual’s situation may have more dire implications during a pandemic, in the wake of any natural disaster there is a need to understand the availability of your workforce. Not only has 2020 thrown at us a novel virus, but when Tropical Storm Cristobal was the earliest third-named storm, it reminded us that in the midst of the pandemic, hurricane season also is here. Hurricanes may displace employees and leave them unable to work, or work with modifications, for days or even weeks.
3. Look at the complete picture for decision making
The first two steps yield a lot of data, and with data can come knowledge. Our third critical step to reopening offices is ensuring that the data collected about office preparedness and employee availability can be viewed alongside other external data. With many disasters, including the current pandemic, we need to understand the information about our offices and employees in light of external data about the surrounding community. The impact of the disaster on the surrounding community can have a direct impact on decisions about whether an office is able to open.
In the summer of 2007, a large steam pipe burst in the second busiest intersection in New York City at rush hour. The large explosion caused a massive crater and initial thoughts were that it was a terrorist attack. A many-block area around the explosion went into lock down, including Grand Central Station. My office was on the edge of the “frozen zone.” Although our offices and employees were not impacted by the event, decisions had to be made on whether the office was to open the next day given the restrictions put in place. When a disaster happens, your operations team needs a single place to access relevant information to determine how to proceed.
4. Keep your employees safe in the office
Once the office has reopened, the potential bumps in the road are unfortunately still plentiful. One of the most tried and true public health tools is contact tracing. When it comes to keeping your employees safe, having the ability to identify who may have been exposed if one individual does test positive can quickly end the chain of transmission. Without this ability, you could find your office shuttered because too many employees are out sick, or the entire office needs to be deep cleaned. Through the identification of those who were potentially exposed, you can break the cycle of transmission and keep your employees healthy and able to work.
All of this is a lot to try to accomplish in a short period. However, for all of 2020’s current problems, a definite advantage compared to the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918 is the abundance of technology available to help us make the transition. After months of economic turmoil, it may be difficult to invest in technology to solve what seems like a short-term problem. However, because of the widespread impact of COVID-19, there clearly is a need to be better prepared to handle not only pandemics but other disasters that could impact people on a widespread or even more regional basis.
As help clients address their reopening challenges and improve business continuity for the longer-term, we have identified leading technologies from providers in our third-party ecosystem. Among these is Salesforce’s new Work.com. This out-of-the-box platform is designed to help organizations get back to work safely now, and keep working safely in the future. It can be expanded to track critical supplies in the office and trace which individuals might have been exposed to the virus. It is fast to implement but flexible enough to cover a wide variety of disasters beyond the current pandemic.
So here’s to “flattening the curve” and to being well prepared for safe reopening.