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(re)open: Frequently asked questions

As you plan for your COVID-19 return to work in the coming months, there are a number of questions your organization will need to consider to be ready and prepared to reopen.

As state and local governments plan for their COVID-19 return to work major short- and long-term questions remain.  How do you prepare for the gradual return of employees to your office spaces?  To re-open your offices in the era of COVID-19, you’ll need new procedures and policies encompassing social distancing, use of protective gear, and protocols on cleaning and visitor screening.

We’ve compiled the answers to over 75 questions that you may have while preparing the re-opening of your government offices.  These FAQs will help you take a holistic approach to re-opening your workspace and cover topics such as space guidelines and adjustments, engineering and building operations, cleaning and janitorial, employee communications, visitor screening, and health and wellness.

Engineering and Building Operations

Building technical readiness evaluation

  • Good operating procedures in accordance with ASHRAE standards and other global standards should be followed to provide acceptable IAQ. Maintenance of OA dampers and filter changes should be performed on a regular basis to ensure adequate fresh air. If operating procedures do not meet minimum standards, they should be improved to meet ASHRAE 62.1.

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Safety, Compliance & Risk Assessments

  • According to a Harvard study, Dr. Joseph Allen, an assistant professor and researcher proved that the air employees in the office breathe has a deep and profound impact on their ability to work well. The study was conducted by the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment, and it made headlines when researchers found that higher levels of CO2 and VOCs* in the air led to lower cognitive scores. Start by circulating more fresh air and measuring CO2 levels to see how stale the air is to promote a healthy and happy workplace.
  • For IAQ regulations refer to ASHRAE 62.1 and 62.2 Ventilation, World Health Org IAQ or U.S. EPA IAQ standards. For EU countries, some legislation has introduced rules relating to indoor air quality.

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Adjusting Ongoing  Operations

  • Supplying clean air to susceptible occupants
  • Containing contaminated air and/ or exhaust it to the outdoors
  • Diluting the air in the space with clean and filtered outdoor air
  • Cleaning the air within a room

We recommend the Consideration of improving the automation system controls using the building ventilation system. This may include some or all the following activities:

  • Increasing ventilation rates
  • Increasing the percentage of outdoor air that circulates into the system
  • Following appropriate filter change protocols

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Facilities Management and Human Experience

Cleaning & Janitorial

  • Yes, you should establish enhanced cleaning protocols for your space with increased scope and frequency. Focus on high-traffic areas and high-touch common areas.
  • This is a good time to review your cleaning standards and implement practices that meet your goals and budgets.

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  • It’s a best practice as recognized by the CDC to eliminate shared items that touch hands and faces.  If you use laptops only, that eliminates the need for keyboards. Headsets and cell phones can be assigned personally, with shared phones removed.

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Communications

  • Signage should be displayed showcasing cleaning measures being taken as well as instructing healthy behaviors. Ambassadors can be used to promote the right behaviors and routines by employees and vendors.
  • These measures can also be communicated regularly to employees through email or on team calls.
  • Welcome back emails should indicate that there’s been a pre-occupancy cleaning, let employees know ahead of time what additional cleaning will be taking place.

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  • Post signage in bathrooms, elevators, hallways, commons spaces etc.

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Visitor Screening

  • We recommend taking extra safety precautions when welcoming employees and visitors to your sites. There are numerous processes, tools and technologies that can be leveraged to screen visitors and employees, which can be evaluated and selected based on the best fit for your organization, budget, space etc.

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  • It is likely that temperature screening will be a reality for the foreseeable future. Until there is a vaccine widely available, we must rely on other methods for ensuring health and safety are a priority.
  • While temperature screening is a hot topic, it’s only a snapshot in time as to who might be exhibiting symptoms that moment. Health screening should also be considered as this is a more comprehensive view of whether or not the person has exhibited any of the adverse health conditions within the prior 14 days or currently. Note that asymptomatic people can pass both the health and temperature screens.

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HR / Health & Wellness

  • You can help people feel safer by implementing policies and processes to minimize the spread of the virus, in conjunction with effectively communicating what those actions are that are being implemented. Posters, workstation signs, emails, etc. all help drive the communication. Also, ensure the planned actions are actually being completed. Ensure the cleaning teams are performing the scope of work that both parties understand to be required or requested.

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  • Protocols around enhanced cleaning and personal responsibilities should be emphasized. Personal responsibilities may include: clean desk policy, stay home if ill, leave immediately if feeling unwell, conducting personal health screens prior to leaving home for the office, frequent handwashing, maintaining 6-ft distance from others, covering nose and mouth with cloth face covering, personal workstation disinfection with wipes upon leaving.

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Space Guidelines and Adjustments

Planning for re-open – protocols and procedures

  • You need to consider health, safety and the risk of exposure from the time the employee leaves their home to the time the employee sits at their desk. In addition, you need to consider movement within the workplace throughout the day.
    • Employee commute: Do they drive? Do they take public transportation? Do they walk? Do they rideshare (Uber, Lyft, etc.)? Those who take public transportation or rideshare are likely more at risk to being exposed.
    • Point of arrival: Do employees arrive at the workplace via a parking deck/lot? Do they arrive via an elevator from a common lobby? The point of arrival should consider social distancing guidelines, i.e. one person in the elevator at a time.
    • In the office/workplace: Where are the bottlenecks or areas of congestion where people gather as they move throughout the workplace? Examples include stairwells, parking decks, elevator lobbies, restrooms, support spaces, photocopy areas, coffee bars/areas, etc. Social distancing protocols should be applied to these areas. As for static activities, desks should be appropriately distanced (i.e. marked “un-occupiable”).

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  • You should use lessons learned from the current situation and develop policies and guidelines to enhance and improve business continuity plans for a potential second wave. Continue to heed government guidelines.

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Social distancing

  • In most cases, JLL clients are letting employees decide if they want to go to the office. If employees choose to do so, they are advised to select the mode of transportation in which they feel safest.

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  • The method to ensure that employees are complying with social distancing in the office varies by organization and by country given different privacy laws. Some clients are putting the onus to comply with guidelines on each individual; others are using technology to measure and monitor utilization to ensure compliance with social distancing guidelines.

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Remote working

  • The “workplace of the future” will undoubtedly be reshaped as a result of the mass experiment we have been part of which has proven that those organizations with progressive workstyles can continue to function without the presence of a physical office space.

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  • Absolutely – it can be maintained, and clients with progressive workstyles have proven this prior to the pandemic.

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Workplace design

  • The appearance of the re-entry workspace will reflect an effort around reducing human interaction and diminishing the potential for the spread of germs. To reduce human interactions, there will be fewer people in the workplace. Those who are present will remain separate by working in enclosed rooms or at a distance from each other in open office space. There are furniture solutions to reduce human interactions; from the addition of panels to existing workspaces, to the use of white boards or even planters to encourage people to keep their distance. Adding panels that serve as a “threshold” to a workstation results in natural distancing behaviors. To facilitate a smooth entry, employers must be prepared to meet people “where they are”. Many employees will have anxiety upon the return to the workplace, whereas others will be enthusiastic about it. Creating a welcoming environment that feels/ is safe may prompt employers to make changes to seating arrangements, reduce headcount in conference rooms, engage daytime cleaning of high-touch items like door knobs, chair arms and tabletops, and provide cleaning supplies for employees who feel empowered when they are able to clean surfaces themselves.

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  • The furniture size/type and configuration is a significant consideration with open plan office space, as are circulation paths. It is key to view open plans with an eye toward whether employees are physically 6 feet apart, but also facing away from each other. Excluding workstations from use or installing supplemental panels help with this focus. For the very best and thorough cleaning of work surfaces, personal effects should be removed as much as possible. Unassigned workspace should not be shared between employees unless there is a cleaning process between users. Each conference room in the workplace should have a new, posted maximum occupancy that is not higher than one occupant per two chairs. Employees should be encouraged to develop behaviors of wiping down chair arms and tabletops before use of a conference room begins, and after it ends. One intriguing idea is to remove chairs altogether from conference rooms. This makes people less likely to transmit germs, allows for slightly greater occupancy and keeps meetings brief!

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