Woman at work wearing PPE

Returning to the Office

Employee experience essentials: Health and safety guidelines for the post-pandemic office

Though we’re living through unprecedented times, the spirit of workplace experience remains unchanged: to create a physical workspace that makes everyone feel productive, healthy, and at ease. In the COVID era, this means addressing your peoples’ perception of their workplace so they feel confident stepping into the office and comfortable getting their best work done.

Diving deeper into employee perception, considering the findings from Gensler’s U.S. Work From Home Survey 2020, it’s clear employees’ biggest hang-ups on returning to the office anchor on health and safety issues. Of the eleven top concerns listed below, at least half of them are directly related to anxiety around increasing safety measures.  

Findings from Gensler’s 2020 survey show employees are most concerned with health and safety in returning to the office

We’ve talked through office cleanliness and sanitation at length but some other key areas to consider to instill confidence in your employees when reintroducing them to your workplace are:

  1. Temperature checks + health questionnaires 
  2. Contact tracing
  3. Air quality
  4. Social-distanced floor plans (desk, meeting rooms, and common areas)

Taking a thoughtful approach to implementation, covering health and safety priorities upfront, and creating good response policies for incidents of illness in the workplace creates a workplace experience where everyone enters the space feeling confident, ready to focus on the day ahead and recapture the good vibes of a productive day in the office. 


Maintain a safe office and welcome people back with confidence using Robin Return. See it in action today.

1. Temp checks and wellness questionnaires

Stepping into a public space or a retail store these days has become a bit like checking in for a flight. You arrive at the front desk, answer some important questions, and confirm your details before heading in. As offices open, many companies are taking a similar approach to the workplace. 

Should you consider implementing this precautionary screening for your employees, there are some aspects of the process you’ll want to consider while creating a process. (If you’re currently planning a screening protocol, the CDC has full recommendations for screening programs in its General Business FAQ documentation.

  • Consider who will be conducting screenings (if your employees will not self-screen manually or via an app). Be sure to provide your screeners with sufficient PPE to safely conduct a screening
    • How customers are incorporating Robin into the employee health questionnaire process:  
      • Employees looking to return to the office will submit a request via a form (which includes the health check questionnaire prescribed by their company)
      • Approved employees will receive an email (automated from approval) that includes the universal link to immediately launch them into the Robin mobile app to book a desk. 
  • Consider using a non-contact thermometer to reduce the need for cleaning and PPE between screens. For offices that may have many employees arriving on-site, this will reduce wait times and the need for waiting employees to gather. 
  • Decide in advance what screening answers are considered disqualifiers. For instance, a headache in isolation may not be disqualifying, where a dry cough or sore throat (two prevalent COVID-19 symptoms) may be of greater concern.
  • Understand that screening is not a guarantee of keeping COVID-19 out of the workplace, as the CDC estimates that nearly 40% of cases may be asymptomatic.
  • Have a plan in place for workers that do not pass the screening: working from home, taking non-punitive emergency sick leave, or using PTO or other paid leave accommodations are all important options for creating transparent, effective screening.

An employee booking their desk for the day through the Robin mobile app

2. Contact tracing

Knowledge is power when it comes to keeping the office healthy; knowing who has been in the office, and with whom they’ve interacted can help mitigate the risks of infection in the event someone in your office contracts COVID-19. Having a well-communicated contact tracing program in your office can make the office experience feel safer by offering transparency about important health information

The first concern in contract tracing is the need to maintain the confidentiality of the employees involved while ensuring that all contacts can be traced and notified in the event of an incident. Though employers are lawfully allowed to ask employees about symptoms, they must be careful (as with any health condition) to protect the privacy of both COVID-positive employees and those potentially exposed.

Contract tracing in the workplace needn’t be difficult or intrusive. It depends on employers being able to answer a few questions in the event of an infection:

  • When was the ill employee last in the office?
  • Who did they meet with while on-site?
  • Where were they sitting in the building? Where did they spend time?

From there, individuals who may have had prolonged exposure to the infected individual can be contacted to begin the CDC-recommended quarantine procedure to limit the chance of spreading infection while their own COVID status is determined. As with employees who are sent home after a health screening, providing options for paid leave or flexible work is important. 

Many organizations are using technology to jumpstart their contact tracing process. For example, with Robin’s analytics tools, office admins can easily identify when an individual was in the office, where they sat, and who else booked desks around them to expedite contact tracing. 

With Robin’s people export, it’s easy to see when someone was in office and who sat around them to jumpstart the contact tracing process

For more info about contact tracing via check-ins, check out the Robin Return collection here. 

3. Air quality and circulation 

One of the most important safety initiatives for COVID office safety also happens to be the least visible. Implementing upgrades to air filtration systems has been shown in studies to have a significant impact on the safety of indoor spaces. This is an instance where good communication about the changes being implemented can (in this case literally) help everyone breathe a little easier while in the workplace.

There are a number of ways offices can improve the air quality of the office as a means to limit transmission. Among those recommended by the CDC include:

  • Increasing the amount of outdoor air flowing into the building as high as 100% (no recirculation).
  • Increasing “natural ventilation” by opening windows as practicable. 
  • Increasing the filtration levels of existing central air systems to higher-rated MERV filters (13-16). 
  • Using portable HEPA fan and filtration systems to reduce localized viral load.

While upgrades to air handling is a much larger investment than process adjustments such as screenings and contact tracing, it has the potential to reduce the risks you can’t see (such as cases of asymptomatic transmission) by reducing the potential pathogens in the air.

4. Social-distanced floor plans

Keeping safely distant has been a pervasive guideline from the CDC since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, since most workplaces got their employees out of the office and set up to work from home, keeping distant in an empty office was no problem.

Now, as teams start reintroducing people into their offices in accordance with CDC and local guidelines, maintaining six feet of separation is a bit trickier. Not to mention, keeping distance in the workplace means an office will have to operate at reduced capacity that will slowly ramp up over time.

We’ve seen a number of creative solutions to safely space out employees in an office spanning low-tech and high-tech processes. Here’s a breakdown of some ideas for different areas in the office:

Meeting rooms

Low-tech:

  • Remove chairs so only the intended capacity of people can sit in a given room based on its size.
  • Use signs or decals to indicate where to be in the room to maintain distance.

High-tech:

  • Update the meeting room name in Robin to show intended capacity so it’s clear how many people are meant to be in the room. 
    • Ex: Greenwich -> Greenwich MAX 3
  • Encourage only one or two employees to physically attend a meeting while all other attendees call in from home or a desk for a hybrid meeting experience.

Desks

Low-tech:

  • Physically remove chairs and desks from the floorplan to only account for intended reduced capacity. 
  • Block off desks or chairs that aren’t mean to be sat in with signs or tape.

High-tech:

  • Use Robin’s distance planning tool to easily map out seat assignments that follow social distancing guidelines.
  • Have employees book their desk in Robin based on the socially distanced floorplan so it’s clear to employees where it’s safe to sit while also informing admins of office capacity.

Common areas

Low-tech: 

  • Physically remove furniture or shared resources (ex: printer) that shouldn’t be shared. 
  • Use signs or floor placards to indicate social distancing and people flow.

High-tech: 

  • Take resources that aren’t meant to be shared offline in Robin so it’s clear to employees what’s okay to use and what’s meant to be avoided for now.
  • Display a map of your office in common areas so employees can easily see where they’re meant to sit and meet to expedite wayfinding and minimize wandering around the office. This is especially important now to decrease unnecessary interaction.
A floor plan in Robin showing socially distanced desks and reduced office capacity.

Ready for the future

Apprehension over returning to the office is one of the biggest challenges for employers creating return-to-work plans; however, it can also provide an opportunity to promote good employee experience as a whole. While these new practices are about improving physical health in the office, they convey that the office and its inhabitants are important and valuable— an idea that gets right to the core of great employee experience.


Looking to bring your team safely back into the office? Check out the full Robin Return collection here.