Advice from the office guy: Getting back to work requires safe practices

COVID-19 changed the working world, first by forcing many of us to vacate the office entirely. As Missoula gets back to work, it’s important to return with care, avoiding another round of quarantine if possible.

While we don’t have all the answers for getting back to work without COVID-related anxiety, there are some small steps to take towards a safer return. Emerging research from industry leaders in office environments can help ease the transition.

Maybe the most difficult – and necessary – change to put in place immediately is reducing in-person encounters. Coworkers reentering the workplace will probably be excited to engage in person again. Setting expectations for social distancing and hand washing in advance will help all staff reengage safely.

Making environmental changes, like shifting furniture, are advised across industry research. While hotdesking (unassigned work spaces used by different staff at any time) never caught on in Montana, it will likely be the first casualty for safer offices.

For more common workspaces in Montana, like open office workstations and bullpens, surface cleaning should become a priority. Even private office surfaces will need frequent sanitation. Consider more janitorial service and putting stronger cleaners, like bleach, into the sanitation rotation.

In open office workstations, reducing density is essential. Herman Miller recommends a least of six feet between people- measured from center of chair to center of chair. Extra physical barriers like higher partitions between workstations, screens and flexible walls can be used to provide another layer of safety between colleagues.

Extra sanitation measures, physical barriers and a reduction in 1:1 interaction is a good start. But, flexibility will be crucial as COVID continues to reach new peaks across the country. More flexibility in work from home arrangements, online meetings, and flex work hours allow for social distancing.

Closing the office can impede collaboration and creativity, stalling out productivity in the long term. But what if offices close again in Montana? Home office packages are available to provide staff a comfortable alternative to the kitchen table. Taking precautionary measures both at the office and at home with help reduce the potential for prolonged economic challenges stemming from quarantine.

As you explore the best way to return to the workplace, remember that each of us can protect our colleagues every day. Wash your hands, wear a mask when prudent, and clean your workstation often. Let’s work together to slow the spread of COVID-19 so we can all see our friends, coworkers and neighbors out enjoying Montana again soon.

Jared Butterworth is the territory manager and principal of Contract Design Associates in Missoula.