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Getting Back to Work During a Global Pandemic

Published June 19, 2020

Written by: Mark Hawkinson
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Mark Hawkinson

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 U.S and Puerto Rico within the commercial & corporate real estate, acute healthcare, industrial and distribution markets by providing: Facilities engineering & maintenance, environmental services, custodial, landscaping, mobile maintenance and food and nutrition services. For more information, go to www.ABM.com.

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

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 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 will 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 an excellent corporate citizen.

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

Workplace owners/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 in fostering 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 apparent 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/managers.

What are some things that may change?

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 as 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 offer feedback about changes they’d like to see? What do you suggest here?

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 can employees do to protect themselves?

While I am not a medical professional, based on CDC 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?

Partnering with a qualified facility maintenance company to enact disinfection protocols and other occupant/building wellness measures is a significant 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.

 

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