By Jason Jantzi, Risk Management Consultant – Fire | (redacted) | 503-559-0389 or 800-285-5461
Many of our districts have entered or will soon enter phase two of Governor Brown’s reopening plan. As you prepare for employees and volunteers to return to your office spaces, it is important to be prepared by implementing both short-term and long-term planning efforts.
When your organization considers beginning a gradual return to work, you’ll need to take several immediate actions to prepare your physical workspaces and establish new health and wellbeing protocols. The following are key steps to consider:
- Prioritize the health and wellness of your employees and visitors. Your offices will need updated protocols and policies designed to increase safety, security, and wellness. You’ll also need to train your staff on the expectation to follow these new office behaviors. Many of these expectations will include everything from creating physical distancing and the use of protective equipment to cleaning and individual screening protocols. You will want to discuss these actions with an HR professional or your labor attorney.
- Ensure that your buildings are safe and ready. Employees could be emotionally sensitive to disinfection and protective protocols in their workplaces, including the accessibility to PPE such as masks and gloves. You should consider developing plans and procedures early to confirm that your facilities are safe for the return to work. The results of these plans must be communicated to employees, so they are prepared for the changes and feel comfortable with re-opening.
- Increased janitorial services will be essential to ensure that meeting rooms, lunch areas and shared amenities are disinfected after every use, and that bathrooms are continually cleaned. In many buildings, you’ll need to monitor and manage air quality to reduce airborne risk. My rule of thumb here is that folks should notice the proper level of cleaning and disinfection to keep them safe. Make it obvious.
More resources for re-opening your district can be found on the SDAO COVID-19 reopening page.
Addressing the Long-Term Workplace
After the crisis subsides, your district must consider how your work can continue with less and how you can scale resources in response to new health crises, disruptions or natural disasters that lead to unforeseen changes in your district’s needs. The first step is to examine your lessons learned and the new practices that your district adopted during the pandemic and in the early stages of returning to the workplace. Evaluate what worked and what did not. Discuss whether you should continue with these practices and do not drop them simply for your convenience or tradition. One area is teleworking. Our review of business practices shows that telework is here to stay for a variety of reasons.
To succeed long-term after this return-to-work phase, consider these are key area:
- Create a flexible service delivery model that heavily incorporates technology. With severely constrained budgets and unrelenting public service needs, your district needs to creatively evaluate how best to leverage the core resources that are necessary to support your organization’s mission. One option is the public-private partnership model, in which district employees focus on complex core services, while more flexible private-sector labor provides services such as facility management, IT support, and other non-core functions. The private sector has applied a similar model using a variable workforce that can shrink or grow in response to demand and helps meet patron need.
- Adopt future-facing workplace strategies. Given the continuing need for physical distancing, teleworking will be the most feasible option for generating space without increasing your facility’s footprint. However, teleworking works best when supported by adequate IT infrastructure and security, employee training, and consistently enforced workplace policies.
- Technology tools will be essential to managing things like shared conference rooms and limited workplace occupancy. We are all becoming more familiar with intelligent apps that can simplify everyday tasks, such as food delivery and cleaning service requests, as well as room bookings that automatically build in social distancing requirements and time for cleaning.
- Facilities managers will need to consider workplace management and maintenance. Consider a private-sector facility management company that could provide you with a variable labor force and access to emerging tools and technologies that will bring cost savings and efficiency to your building operations.
Create a Digital Workplace
During and long after your COVID-19 return-to-work phase, technology will help you tackle the pressures of reducing costs, providing safe and productive workplaces, and efficiently delivering services to your patrons. Digital tools will support you as you attempt to address these competing demands and will enable your district to succeed despite the challenging environment, we find ourselves in.
- By adopting smart building technologies and wireless equipment sensors, you can continuously monitor and manage items such as indoor air quality. Smart building systems automatically adjust conditions without the help from on-site staff. This improves your building efficiency and reduces cost.
- You can also use occupancy planning tools to effectively manage your staff placement across multiple sites. Using data from Wi-Fi logins and RFID badge access points, as well as the data from heat and motion sensors, you can evaluate the building space utilization activity to understand facility use. With all this data you can effortlessly monitor building activity to ensure that your workplaces don’t exceed capacity limits.
- Maintaining a safe and healthy workplace will require actively engaged on-site supervision coupled with careful analysis of employee feedback. An agile approach can quickly adjust and adopt practices that are informed by real district usage of your facilities.
As we make progress, SDAO members will be required to adopt more innovative strategies for the workplace. Adapting to the next crisis will require your district to take a holistic view of your organization, to evaluate the links between your staff and volunteers, their work spaces, and the technology and tools they use to provide the needed service the voters want. By reviewing and acting on these key steps today, you can start the process of how to best serve your communities and to fulfill the mission of your district.
Remember that there are many resources on the SDAO website related to all of these areas including COVID-19 re-opening, cybersecurity, and facility management.