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FAQ about Returning to the Office after COVID-19

Many employees have questions about returning to the office after a long time of remote work. It’s only justifiable to have doubts since returning to the office can be daunting especially at the beginning. So what are the most common answers to the common questions regarding returning to the office?


Why do governments push Return to Work?


Those who have returned to the office in America have had mixed reactions about it. Some were noted to say it had been "weird". Handshakes, small talks, and hugs are all back. Many have described a strange office environment with barely any resemblance to the pre-COVID workplace. Social interactions had been complicated what with employees having anxieties about regulations on masks, vaccinations, and inflexible work policies. In the United States, the total number of office workers back in large office buildings is about 34.8%. However, as of the 26th of July different cities may have a higher or lower rate than the country total: San Francisco – 21.2%; New York – 24.5%; Austin (metro) – 53.4%; and Dallas (metro) – 50.1%.


A country cannot have economic growth and contain the virus at the same time. By asking the populace to stay at home and practice social distancing (and isolation), many businesses are not able to function fully. There will be no customers and no employees. Even most delivery services, those not delivered by robots at least, will not be able to function without a physical workforce. Governments around the globe wish to help enterprises that have been struggling since the lockdowns began. Offices that rely on on-site staff will be able to function better once these restrictions are lifted. Although it will be impossible to recreate a pre-COVID-19 working environment soon, companies and governments are pushing forward to adjust to the “new and next normal”.


What is the office culture like these days?

According to some employees, some of the developing office culture upon returning to the office include:

  1. Some offices encourage but do not require the wearing of masks and being vaccinated

  2. Unsettling passive-aggressive attitude over wearing a mask among colleagues

  3. Increased spacing between desks or having dividers that do not promote socializing

  4. Colleagues are isolating themselves in the office, instead of merely distancing

  5. Home workspace routines such as wearing headphones and using instant messaging to communicate with co-workers in the same office

  6. Little to none “water cooler chat”

What are the basic safety precautions to practice in the office?


Safety Precautions when Commuting


Governments may require different safety precautions. Some may require the wearing of only face masks, others may require an additional face shield, while some would go as far as requiring passengers to be fully vaccinated. Generally, however, setting up yourself to practice social distancing is the most practical advice out there. Here are some precautions you can apply while commuting to the office:

  1. Avoid peak travel hours to avoid congested enclosed areas (i.e., crowded trains, elbow-to-elbow bus rides, etc.)

  2. Choose walking or bicycling if possible.

  3. Wear a face mask that covers the mouth and nose.

  4. Avoid touching your face.

  5. Practice physical distancing whenever possible.

  6. Bring tissues, disinfecting wipes, and alcohol or alcohol-based sanitizer (at least 60 percent alcohol content)

  7. Increase ventilation whenever permissible.

  8. If the vehicle has a plastic divider, ask the driver to keep it closed.

Safety Precautions when in the Office


In the office, one must also be careful with the surroundings. The office must provide adequate handwashing facilities, allow employees more flexibility to come up with staggered start/end times, minimize unnecessary visitors, require employees to be fully vaccinated, and sanction frequent cleaning. Employees on the other hand must also practice safety precautions in their workspaces. As an employee, they should:

  1. Get fully vaccinated;

  2. Set personal boundaries;

  3. Use back-to-back or side-to-side workspace arrangements instead of face-to-face;

  4. Wear face coverings;

  5. Observe social distancing protocols; and

  6. Work from home whenever possible.


How do you consider an office “safe”?


A safe office, in the context of COVID-19, is frequently disinfected and cleaned, not crowded, well ventilated, and where most of the occupants are vaccinated. A company that prioritizes the health and well-being of its employees should also ensure that the environment allows for rebuilding of social connections and curbing of loneliness which enveloped employees during the lockdown. Of course, minimization of distractions and maximizing the given floor area for social distancing should also be a priority because it is one of the greatest downsides of returning to the office instead of pure remote work.


Real estate portfolios including workplace locations and design are also changing. This is the perfect opportunity for companies to get more creative with the workspace, moving forward. As social distancing requires physical distance, office spaces may need to expand to allow for these changes. Furthermore, the emergence of the hybrid work model pushes companies to merge office spaces in top-tier locations and/or expand to more satellite ones to enjoy the benefits of remote work for some days of the week, minimize commute risks, and rotate in and out of office spaces.


However, a community (e.g., office, country) can only be truly safe from disease if it has achieved herd immunity. Without accomplishing this, the virus would continue to be a threat to the whole community.


What is herd immunity?

Herd immunity is achieved when the majority of the population is immune to the disease. This percentage may vary depending on the disease. The U.S. population is on its way to achieving herd immunity through vaccination and the natural immunity that comes after being infected by the virus. As of the last week of July 2021, more than 35 million have already been infected in the United States. However, the duration of a person’s immunity after being vaccinated or infected is yet to be discovered. The significance of achieving herd immunity is that it enables the population to protect itself from disease be it COVID-19, smallpox, rubella, polio, etc. It makes it possible for susceptible individuals such as infants and those unable (or refuse to) to acquire vaccinations to be protected from the disease without having to go through infection, illness, and complications.


What is Hybrid Work Model?


The best self-care would be to stay at home whenever possible and so employees may try to inquire (or convince their employers) to allow the continuation of work from home (WFH). However, employers are not required to agree to this. Remote collaboration operates around the concept of distance which can be detrimental to the operation of some offices (and economies) in the long run. A solution would be to have a hybrid work model where there is a mix of workplace and home working. Since not everyone in the team can be present in the office at the same time, returning to the office would be achieved in stages and while doing so, those who wish to stay remote may remain so. However, meetings and conferences can become tricky. In-room participants are best presented simultaneously on one screen while remote participants are on other individual screens. If in-room members simply open up their laptops while in the same room, they might as well be in their offices or homes. It is imperative to acquire capabilities and equipment that could cater to this need.


How can Employers redesign the workplace?


Although physical offices will remain a focal point in doing business, their role has been continuously changing recently. Employers can increase the number of hand-washing facilities, rearrange workspaces to avoid face-to-face work areas, and utilize technology designed for hybrid work. To optimize the transition towards the hybrid work model, companies are required to invest in technology that supports virtual collaboration and promotes social interaction at the same time. According to a PWC survey, more than 60 percent of executives are expecting company expenditure to rise to acquire assets for virtual collaboration, training, and other hybrid video conferences.


One of the assets to consider would be to return to the office with the right conference room camera.


Coolpo AI Huddle Pana is a panoramic, AI-utilizing, and all-in-one innovative hybrid video conference solution that allows a 360-degree horizontal view of your whole conference room. Industries from education, medicine, and many more have brought witness to its efficiency! Its cutting edge technology includes:


1. 360-degree fisheye lens

2. Panoramic 4K HD 3840 x 2160 @ 30 fps

3. 4 smart microphones that each have up to 15 feet pick-up range

4. Portable at 11cm*11cm*29cm, 2.5 kg

5. PC software that allows you to customize your PANA settings

It is the perfect all-in-one camera, microphone, and speaker video conferencing solution to allow hybrid collaboration among in-room and remote team members.


Conclusion


There are much more concerns that linger behind going back to the office. However, the best thing to do right now is to listen to what the authorities think is best for the community. If going back to work seems like an unnecessary risk, then you may raise your concerns to your company. Besides, we have all been affected by the pandemic in one way or another, and coping needs to be a unified effort. Unless the majority of the population becomes immune to the virus, then the whole populace would remain at risk.

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