Series authors: Mark Hoffman and Milena Maneva

This is the third article in a five-part series on returning to the office. Previous article: Return-to-Office: Protecting Your People


It is time to think about office space


There is an interesting debate taking place currently on my LinkedIn feed between people that I respect immensely.  Some are saying “enough already, let’s get back to the office”, others have taken a more cautious position and believe any return now is far too early.  Wherever you stand on this debate, two things remain true:

  1. At some point, we will need to start bringing people back to the office.
  2. It is the employer’s responsibility to provide a safe and healthy work environment.

Milena and I want to continue our Return-to-Office series by discussing the key considerations for a safe return to the workplace for your employees, your visitors and clients.

It is possible that not all of the items below will pertain to your workplace or business model.  Also, you may have more things to consider.  We would love to hear about them in the comments section!

We have categorized the effort into five categories:

  1. Physical Distancing
  2. PPE
  3. Health & Hygiene
  4. General Practices
  5. Dealing with Sickness


Physical Distancing – consider the following items:

  • Determine the new seating capacity of the office / building, based on the need to maintain physical distancing of 2 meters / 6 feet. Work with department heads to schedule people based on that number.  Place signage at entrances to remind people of that capacity.
  • Identify confined spaces and limit the number of people who may access the space. Put up appropriate signage.
  • Enable safe working environment for key staff who may have access to different floors and may need to assist other employees, such as IT teams, facilities, and other essential services.
  • Consider limiting movement between floors, usage of elevators for more than 2-4 persons at time, usage of staircases, and other areas.
  • Determine capacity of conference rooms and put up appropriate signage.
  • Close small meeting rooms.
  • Instruct employees to continue to meet online or by phone. Not only does this ensure physical distancing; it prevents alienating those joining the meeting while working remotely.  If meetings cannot be done virtually, they should be conducted in large meeting rooms with participants maintaining appropriate distancing.
  • Determine which doors can be automatically opened or propped open to avoid touching.
  • Identify areas where plexiglass barriers would be required to protect your people.
  • Develop or purchase signage for the floors and walls reminding everyone to maintain at least 2 meters / 6 feet distance.
  • Put marks on floors where customers or employees typically line up in order to encourage physical distancing.
  • Move workstations, desks, and tables further apart to comply with physical distancing requirements. Where necessary, block off alternating work areas to ensure spacing is achieved.
  • If possible, delay opening various employee services in the workplace such as cafeterias, fitness centers and child-care services. If there is a significant need (as could be the case with child-care), follow industry best practices when implementing physical distancing measures.


Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements must be considered:

  • Will you require employees to wear face masks when in common areas? How about when working at their desk?
  • How will you monitor that everyone in your building / office adheres to wearing PPE?
  • Determine how / where employees will dispose of used PPE and where they can get a replacement if required, including point of contact.
  • Train your employees on the proper use and etiquette of PPE.
  • It is recommended that employees who interact closely with one another or with customers wear PPE (face coverings, shields, face masks, gloves) and adhere to the 2 meter / 6 feet rule.
  • Make sure your supply chain is adequate regarding PPE.
  • Will you require customers to wear PPE?


Regarding Health & Hygiene, consider the following:

  • Establish appropriate signage to remind people how to wash their hands properly.
  • Establish touch-free hand sanitizer stations in entrances and common areas. Make sure that supplies have been restocked.
  • Instruct employees on ways to limit the spread of germs, including not touching their face, and sneezing or coughing into their elbow.
  • Eliminate shaking hands, high-fives, and hugs.
  • Establish a strict “stay at home if you are sick’ policy and establish procedures to support employees.
  • Make sure that bathrooms are well stocked with hand-wash and paper towels.
  • Bring in crews to conduct deep cleaning of the office and work surfaces.
  • Instruct employees to use a disinfectant wipe to clean computer equipment, mobile phones and other personal items when returning it to the office, and establish what equipment remains at the workplace and what remains at home.
  • Employees should wipe down their work areas with a detergent or disinfectant wipe routinely and at the end of each shift.
  • Employees should wipe down conference tables, light switches, and doorknobs with a detergent or disinfectant wipe before and after each meeting to ensure cleanliness of the area and equipment they would use.
  • Instruct workers to wear gloves when cleaning work areas and to wash their hands after removing their gloves.
  • Frequently touched items and surfaces should be wiped down several times throughout the day with a detergent or disinfectant wipe. Good visibility to all employees of this practice is advisable as this will increase the safety factor for everyone.


Give thought to the following General Practices also:

  • Establish a clearly defined way for employees to raise concerns about the environment. It is possible that, despite your best intentions, there are areas of the environment that need to be cleaner, spaced better or adjusted in some way.  May sure your employees know how to raise these concerns without repercussion.
  • Determine how you will handle visitors. Customers/clients must follow the same rules as employees: No one should come if they are sick or experience COVID-19 symptoms; they should not have traveled or come in contact with anyone who is sick.  If possible, communicate your guidelines to visitors prior to entering the workplace.
  • Consider banning personal visitors.
  • Request contactless delivery from regular service providers.
  • Determine the best way to rotate teams in and out of the office. Consider one to two-week schedules where part of the team works in the office and the remainder of the team works from home.  Then rotate the teams for the next shift.
  • Consider splitting shifts, reducing the length of the workday and / or staggering start times to avoid congestion in common areas such as lobbies and elevators.
  • Give thought to the viability of working four-day work weeks. This could extend the workday, which isn’t ideal, but it could be an option in some settings.  Working from home should still be adopted.
  • If you are working in a building with other organizations, check with the property management team to ensure your approach is aligned with their overall objectives and is consistent with their messaging.

Finally, it is important for you to understand how you will deal with those who are sick in the workplace.  Many experts believe that as more people return to the office, the risk of a second wave will increase.


If that is the case, you will need to consider the following items regarding Dealing with Sickness.

  • Create and communicate your COVID-19 Return-to-Office Policy and protocols.
  • Put up signage outlining the symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Remind employees to STAY HOME if they are unwell or experience COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Instruct employees to notify their manager and HR if they are displaying symptoms of COVID-19. Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms should be required to self-isolate (at home) for 14 days.  They should also contact their local health unit and get tested.
  • Determine if any workers who have been in proximity with a symptomatic employee, friend or family member should self-monitor or self-isolate for 14 days.
  • Employees should be cleared by HR before returning to the office after being in 14-day isolation.
  • Remember to treat information gathered about employees in compliance with local / national privacy laws.
  • When word spreads that someone in the office is sick, it is likely that other employees will express concern. Determine your willingness to allow them to work from home during this time.
  • Consider how you will arrange for cleaning of the areas where a symptomatic person has worked. Will you close the area until it is cleaned?  How will you protect other employees?

Like many things in the business continuity world, this is a “when, not if” scenario.  It is inevitable that we will need to re-introduce employees back to the workplace.  Employers must realize their responsibility to provide a safe and healthy environment and work to ease anxiety that their teams will experience as they settle back into their routine.

Consider creating a “Welcome Back Kit” to show your employees what you are doing to keep them safe and to establish the new workplace rules.  Conduct (physically distanced) orientation sessions to help define the new normal and let employees know what to expect.

Your workplace is about to change.  Do it right and do not be afraid to continually assess the situation and adjust as you go.  Listen to your teams and keep your people safe.

Join Mark and Milena in the upcoming FREE Webinar on June 18, 2020:  COVID-19 Recovery Planning – Ask the Experts about Return-to-Office Q&A


About Mark Hoffman – Author | Speaker | MBCI, CBCP

Mark is an independent senior crisis management and business continuity consultant.  He is the founder and president of a boutique consulting firm that has been serving customers in North America, Europe, and the Caribbean for twenty years. Mark has successfully designed, deployed, and managed BCM and Crisis Management Programs for organizations in the financial, transportation, utility, insurance, risk management and real estate industries. Mark specializes in Program Development / Governance and Crisis / Cyber Management Planning. He is quick to build relationships and achieve results working collaboratively with business leaders and executives. Mark is a frequent contributor to blogs, podcasts, and webinars on the topic of crisis management, cyber response, and business continuity.  Feel free to contact Mark to see how he can help your organization be well prepared: [email protected], on Twitter @mhoffman_cbcp or search for Mark on LinkedIn.

About Milena Maneva, MSc | AMBCI

Milena holds a master’s degree in Risk Management with over ten years of risk management experience and is a certified as an Associate Member of the Business Continuity Institute (BCI) – she is currently working towards her MBCI application. Milena is active member and supporter of the Women in Resilience group in the UK. Raised in close proximity to a nuclear power plant, Milena became aware of the value of monthly drills as a child.  Those early experiences shaped her into the industry leader she is today.  She is a Business Continuity Management Lead for EMEA in a global financial services firm, looking after the business continuity and incident management for +40 offices, +6000 staff. She plays an influential role in the continuous improvement of her company’s global business resilience strategy and operations. You can contact Milena via