As parts of the country continue to emerge from the coronavirus shutdown, business owners are rethinking their workspaces to help their employees feel safe and productive.
Many companies are opting to carry on with the work-from-home policies they started during this past March and April. Twitter and Square, for example, have both announced that their employees can continue to work remotely.
My firm and media company, HJMT, is based in New York, an area of the country among those hit hardest by the coronavirus this past spring. We are creating a hybrid office, where we come in on some days and work from home on some days.
Other business owners have told me they ask their staffs to work remotely until the fall, or whenever the virus is eliminated. But not everyone has those options. To help PR practitioners get back to work, here are some ways to make employees feel at ease:
• Reconfigure open work spaces.
For many years, offices with open floor plans helped generate creativity for PR professionals. But with COVID-19 still a threat, open office spaces should be reconfigured to help stop the disease from spreading. Options include seating everyone 6–10 feet apart, building walls to separate employees and erecting Plexiglas partitions between workstations.
• Wear cloth face covers.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that people wear cloth covers over their noses and mouths, which it says are not intended to protect the wearer but could prevent coronavirus from spreading from infected wearers to other people. It might be difficult for employees, but indoor businesses should have their staff wear cloth face covers. Companies should also purchase extra face masks for visitors, as needed.
• Establish cleaning and handwashing protocols.
To kill germs, offices should keep ample bottles of hand sanitizer stationed by copy machines, printers and other shared office equipment. Businesses are advised to hire cleaning crews and make sure that work spaces and office restrooms are disinfected every night.
• Scrub digital files, too.
With so many PR practitioners working from home, employees might have downloaded software or games, or let other personal information leak onto their office laptops. To avoid security issues, companies should make sure employees clean up files and apps on their work computers.
• Don’t fret if someone is ill.
When I worked at PR firms, and even in my current position as CEO, calling in sick can be stressful. Today, however, if someone is feeling sick, they should know to stay home and not feel stressed about it.
• Consider alternate workdays.
If your office has tight work spaces, then consider dividing the week into two halves of 2.5 days each. Then, split your staff into two teams and have each team work in the office for half the week, and from home for the other half. Doing so will reduce the number of people who are physically present in your place of business. You might also stagger employee arrivals and departures to reduce the number of people working in the office at the same time.
• Create one-way office corridors.
In offices with narrow hallways, businesses might create one-way corridors so that people do not cross paths. Consider temporarily closing shared kitchen spaces and encourage employees to take their breaks outside of the office.
• Hold virtual meetings.
Until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19, the less in-person contact that people have, the better. But we can be just as creative during virtual meetings as we are when together in the same room. Virtual meetings also help people working from home feel more engaged.
• Network and pursue new business virtually.
PR practitioners can meet potential new contacts and clients via web–based video-conference platforms such as Skype and Zoom. At my firm, we have gained three new clients through a virtual-networking “breakfast club” that we created.
• Open up communication further.
Employees might have suggestions for how to protect their work spaces from coronavirus, so PR leaders should keep those lines of communication open. If an employee with a suggestion works in the same office, then consider holding FaceTime meetings to avoid in-person contact.
• Encourage community service.
Many worthy nonprofit organizations need assistance during the COVID-19 crisis. Encouraging your employees to help — while also respecting appropriate safety measures — will raise their morale and foster goodwill.
• Show empathy.
Employees might have experienced personal hardships from being isolated in their homes, having a family member with COVID-19 or losing a loved one to the virus. Show them that you care. Empathy goes a long way and helps maintain productivity. These are unprecedented times with much uncertainty.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 is still around and, without a vaccine, it will be with us for a while. Instead of shutting the doors, take some of these measures that I outlined above and consider them for your organization. The CDC also has guidelines that you can follow.
Remember that we’re all in this together.
Hilary JM Topper is CEO of HJMT Public Relations. She is also the chief curator of HJMT Media Company, LLC, where she writes two blogs: NYLifestyleBlog.com and ATriathletesDiary.com. She is an adjunct professor at Hofstra University and recently published her second book, “Branding in a Digital World.”
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