After almost a full year of working remotely, many companies are ready for the return to work in offices.

The problem? 

As we head back to the office, even as vaccine rates rise, safety is still a considerable concern. Offices large and small are struggling to maintain social distancing and reduce COVID transmission rates without sacrificing work efficiency. 

The solution? Common-sense adjustments and technology. 

Today, a variety of technological solutions make heading back to the office far safer–and even improve efficiency. Here are six ways businesses can keep people safe while getting back to work.

Offer Flexible Working Schedules

As we move back to the office, it’s clear things won’t be the same any time soon. OSHA recommends maintaining six feet of distance when possible — which is a challenge in cramped offices, narrow entryways, and conference rooms. 

Offering flexible working schedules can solve many of these challenges. Consider staggering employees’ schedules so not everyone shows up at 8:00 a.m. on the dot. Instead, offer flexible start times, allowing workers to come in slightly earlier or slightly later. This can reduce congestion in entries, stairs, and elevators and limit the number of people each employee comes into contact with. 

A hybrid work schedule, where workers work from home half the week, can also reduce overall exposure and make it easier to maintain social distancing. Allowing at-risk workers to remain at home indefinitely can boost morale and allow desks to be situated further apart. 

Worried about collaboration? Don’t be. Remote collaboration tools have come a long way in recent years. Here are a few solutions to consider: 

  • Slack: Keep conversations organized and searchable with this online chat tool designed specifically for remote teams. Create channels for teams, projects, or even use it as a virtual water cooler. 
  • Berrycast: This screen recording app makes it easier to show, rather than tell. Record quick videos to show co-workers how to complete a task or share issues when you can’t just walk over to their desk. 
  • Calendly: Easily schedule remote meetings in any time zone by sending contacts a link that shows your availability. Automation features can send reminders, ask pre-meeting questions, and send a link to the meeting space.

Create Flexible Work Stations

It’s time to say goodbye to cubicles and open office floor plans. With some staff working remotely and others working a hybrid schedule, you may no longer need a dedicated desk for each employee. Hot desks, 1:1 video conference booths, and screens on wheels can help reduce exposure and make better use of your current office space. 

Hot desks, or shared work stations that can be reserved at any time, allow workers to snag a desk when they need a place to work, much like at co-working spaces. 1:1 video conference booths are small, private areas where people can make private calls. Another option are “screens on wheels,” which use all-in-one technologies like the Neat Board to accommodate virtual meetings in unexpected places–like the kitchen for a virtual coffee chat with a remote colleague. 

Like flexible schedules, flexible work stations help keep staff safe; they can also improve productivity by allowing workers to choose how they work best.

Reimagine Conference Rooms

The office building we are used to may soon be a distant memory. Miles of cubicles and dozens of conference rooms is no longer the most efficient — or safest— way for employees to work. 

In the times before COVID, conference room design was pretty straightforward. They usually featured a large table crowded with chairs, a shared computer or projector, maybe a whiteboard, and –if you were lucky– a coffee cart. 

Today, CDC guidelines for offices include sitting workers six feet apart, wearing masks, and minimizing surface touching–which is difficult in the traditional conference room. Instead of closing off the conference rooms, look for ways to make them safer by: 

  • Opening windows or add air filtration if possible 
  • Removing several chairs to allow for social distancing 
  • Adding a hand sanitation station 
  • Reducing the size of meetings (and consider using virtual options for larger meetings) 

Worried about effectively collaborating with clients and remote employees when larger meetings aren’t safe? Consider newer technology like the Zoom Room, which integrates Zoom software with custom hardware to provide a better remote conference experience.   

Collaborating remotely no longer has to mean garbled voices, dropped calls, and frozen videos. Zoom Rooms turn conference rooms into a virtual meeting room with crystal-clear audio and clear pictures so you can collaborate with workers across the office — or across the world.

Switch To Remote Receptionists

Reception desks may soon be a thing of the past, but companies still need someone to answer phone calls, check-in visitors, and verify employee identity. 

Remote receptionists provide the same services, but work remotely using software and video technology to check-in guests, direct calls, and even manage security software. The Kiosk Mode from Zoom uses a touch screen monitor to speak with a receptionist and even allows the receptionist to unlock doors remotely. This can reduce exposure by allowing receptionists to work from anywhere — including from home. 

Visitor management software can also allow businesses to welcome guests without risking the spread of COVID with remote sign-ins and printing visitor badges. Some solutions offer additional features that mitigate the spread with occupancy alerts and contact tracing.

Add More Small Huddle Rooms

Not sure what to do with smaller conference rooms when cramming ten people around a table is no longer an option? Consider switching them to smaller huddle rooms for collaboration and small team work. 

Huddle rooms are private meeting areas that typically sit five or six people. (Today, that might be more like two or three.) But what makes Huddle Rooms different is the installation of teleconferencing and collaboration tools to elevate remote collaboration capabilities. 

With tools like the Neat Bar, small groups can work remotely with other workers from all over the world without having to juggle several cameras, microphones, and speakers. Rather, those items can be combined into one easy-to-use tool that is both more affordable and more efficient for the end-user. The single interface reduces frustration and the need for training on multiple devices.

Reduce Physical Device Sharing With BYOD and Voice Command

Using shared devices used to be common — but it can increase the spread of all sorts of fun germs, including those that cause flu, colds, and, of course, COVID. There are two ways to solve this issue — Bring Your Own Devices and voice command tools that reduce physical touching of devices like laptops and smart boards. 

Bring Your Own Device refers to employees using their own devices to access networks and other work-related systems. Once the bane of network security’s existence, the practice has grown in recent years. BYOD allows staff to connect to technology in any room they want, rather than using a shared in-room screen or laptop.  

Another option is voice control, like Zoom Rooms voice command features, which allow users to start meetings by saying “Zoom, start the meeting.” Logitech Solutions for Zoom Rooms connects Alexa for Business, enables users to start and end meetings, check for availability, and even book a meeting room — all with voice commands. 

These solutions limit surface touching, and make it easier for less tech-savvy by reducing the need to train employees on multiple systems.

Monitor Air Quality to Reduce Transmission

Filtering and monitoring indoor air quality is one of the best ways to reduce transmission in indoor environments like office buildings. 

The good news is, you don’t need to revamp your entire HVAC system to keep your office safe. The EPA recommends placing furniture and partitions with airflow in mind, controlling humidity, and increasing the flow of outside air. Opening windows and adding portable air filtration devices can also improve air quality. 

You should also consider the features of the tools you already have. For example, the Neat Bar Pro does more than making remote meetings more efficient; it can also monitor humidity and air quality to ensure your office stays safe.

Get Back to the Office Safely

The way we work is changing. We could even see holograms soon! Some level of remote work may be here to stay, even long after the pandemic is over. The good news is businesses can take several steps to make it safer for staff to return to the office without impacting worker efficiency. 

Improving airflow and reducing the number of people in your office are simple steps that can keep your staff safer. AV solutions like Zoom Rooms and Neat Bars can improve collaboration while reducing the risk of COVID transmission. 

Ready to head back to the office? Contact our sales team, and we’ll build a custom AV solution that fits your office and your business.