A sign to say a business had reopened

Contributed by ABM

The following is a question and answer article on what can be expected as offices and workplaces reopen. The questions are answered by Mark Hawkinson, senior vice president of operations at ABM.

How do you think the pandemic has and will change business in America for employees going forward, especially within the office and workplace?

Hawkinson: There’s a major mindset shift for employees that’s actually an amazing opportunity for employers. COVID-19 is absolutely a watershed moment for how businesses approach their facility maintenance specifically in light of employee wellness concerns. Facilities no longer have to simply look clean, the real sticking point for employees (and anyone else who steps into a public workplace) will be: Are the people in charge of this space maintaining it with occupant health and safety in mind? In short: Does my employer care enough about me to spend the extra money and time to help assure my health? People will gravitate to places that seem sanitary and be repelled from places that don’t. It absolutely will affect your ability to attract and retain talent, as well as reflect on your reputation as a good corporate citizen.

What should employees expect once their workplace reopens and they return? How different will the workplace culture, rules, office layout and expectations possibly be?

Hawkinson: Workplace owner and managers will need to invest more heavily in curbing the spread of pathogens. Employees can expect to be subject to a new social contract of sorts, one that requires everyone to participate to foster group wellbeing. This will include social distancing, in-person meetings to be reduced or eliminated, frequent handwashing, and potentially a ban on entry for people showing any clear symptoms of illness. Ideally, workstations should be configured to allow social distancing, and employees should feel comfortable speaking up if they are not. Routine disinfection of the office environment will be a reasonable expectation for employees to have of workplace owners and managers.

What are some things that may change? 

Hawkinson: New ways of working will reinforce the importance of being agile; with respect to space, tools and even what productivity looks like. The one constant will be that safety will be at the forefront, with the one constant being safety being the priority.  

What about offices that don’t make these kinds of changes? Are they making a mistake? Should employees be concerned in this situation and speak up and offer feedback about changes they’d like to see? What do you suggest here?

Hawkinson: How businesses act now may reflect on their reputation and, in turn, their ability to attract and retain top talent for years to come. The economy may be challenged today, but there are always roles open for top performers. Companies must do their best to retain top talent and make them feel safe. Employees should always feel they are in a workplace that respects their safety and values, and can speak up if they have concerns.

Even if their employer and/or the government doesn’t institute new rules in the workplace to reduce germ transmission after offices reopen, what should employees do to protect themselves?

Hawkinson: While I am not a medical professional, based on CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and other relevant agency guidance, individuals may consider wearing a mask with proper handling and care, washing their hands frequently, and sanitizing shared surfaces they come into contact with before and after use.

Any other thoughts, tips, or suggestions on this topic?

Hawkinson: Partnering with a qualified facilities maintenance company to enact disinfection protocols and other occupant and building wellness measures is a great first step to your business getting through this. If you can provide a workplace where your employees feel safe now, you’ve set the stage for future success.

Mark Hawkinson is senior vice president of operations for ABM where he leads 25,000 professionals supporting 3,000+ facility owners and managers across the United States and Puerto Rico. For more information, go to www.ABM.com.