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What Will Be the COVID-19 Takeaways for the Workplace?

Coronavirus is keeping many of us from the office, but it shouldn’t keep us from thinking about how to improve it when we return, particularly when it comes to sanitation and safety, writes HOK’s Director of Consulting Adam Stoltz.

Many companies will weather this COVID-19 pandemic with the realization that remote work has an important role to play in their real estate and operational strategies going forward. Some will emerge with new appreciation for the workplace and value of in-person collaboration and teamwork (with a new understanding that distributed work can be an alternative when necessary). Others will consider implementing flexible work to reduce the size of their portfolios.

What all companies will be sure to have in common post COVID-19 is a renewed focus on creating spaces that are safe, healthy and embrace wellness principles and practices. Many will surely seek to enact new policies and protocols around space management and cleaning. As we consider these office changes, we should consider what we’ve learned in recent years about office cleanliness and safety.

Take those assigned desks. What most people don’t realize is that in offices with assigned seating, desks have been proven to be dirtier than many toilets. That’s because cleaning crews are typically instructed not to touch anything on a person’s desk. But in unassigned environments with a clean desk policy, the desks can actually be cleaned every night and are more sanitary.

We also need to make it easier for employees to maintain proper hygiene, especially when it comes to washing and sanitizing their hands. Additional sinks in kitchens and break rooms offers one solution. So, too, do the hand sanitizer devices you frequently see in hospitals and doctor’s offices but, until now, have been somewhat of a rarity in corporate workplaces.

When we return from remote work, let’s acknowledge that there are big and small adjustments we can make to improve sanitation and safety in the workplace. We should begin with HR policies that consider remote work when possible, and that perhaps go a step beyond just encouraging people to stay home when they’re ill. And we should press on to consider how to address our HVAC systems, cleaning protocols and other workplace safety standards.

A silver lining of our forced COVID-19 isolation is that it has given us a lot of time to think more holistically about our built environments. Let’s use this time to make them better.

About this series: HOK WorkPlace leaders are sharing their thoughts and client insights about the state of today’s work environment and how it will adapt to the new coronavirus realities.

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