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“I guess we resist changing, because we are afraid of change.”― Spencer Johnson, Who Moved My Cheese?

Over the past few decades traditional office settings have changed. Offices gave way to cubicles and cubicles further evolved to more non-traditional flex spaces where desks and work areas aren’t designated. These flexible work places ushered in by progressive company’s like Google and Zappos may today not meet the health and safety requirements in a post COVID 19 world.

Social distancing, intensive sanitation needs and health monitoring will surely alter many work places as employers welcome their staffs back from their remote working locations. As employers ramp up operations and more employees return from their kitchen tables and make-shift home offices, the workplace spaces have to present a safe space to ensure everyone feels comfortable.

Changing work spaces will also alter how employees will behave. Dr. Spencer Johnson wrote a ground-breaking book Who Moved My Cheese? used a parable to illustrate the effects change have on productivity and efficiencies.

“Life moves on and so should we”― Spencer Johnson, Who Moved My Cheese?


The costs of being closed or having your business limited due to lock down mandates were unexpected and, in some cases, devastating. Now business owners are faced with even more costs of reopening to ensure they keep their employees and customers safe. Updating work environments will come with some costs for sure, adding sanitizer dispenser, increase cleaning service intervals and adding temporary barriers may have already been accounted for, but there are a lot of other changes that could add to the cost of doing business even more.


The Physical Space

Whether you run an office- based business or a retail shop, physical changes are going to have to happen to ensure your spaces are better equipped to fight off future virus threats. Take a look at the entire works space and choose changes you can live with for the long-term. Office and business spaces need to consider how hospitals are designed and laid out and take a tips and hints from healthcare to retrofit their spaces wherever possible.

Your individual spaces may not need to make all the changes, or add safeguards that are listed below. Managing short-term costs with long-term benefits is clearly going to have to be weighed office by office and business by business. Here are a few physical space change or alternations to consider;

  • Spacing cubes further apart, add partitions to extend social distancing
  • Mark floors identifying optimal social distancing between desks and waiting in line for check out, copiers, bathrooms, etc.
  • Removing fabric paneled dividers and replacing them with plastic or glass
  • Adding Plexiglas or acrylic dividers or shields between work spaces, check out stations or tables
  • Consider trading furniture out with those that have anti-bacterial upholstery
  • Eliminate job-share desks
  • Change fixtures from stainless steel to brass or copper
  • Install Ultra-violet germ-killing lights in vents and ducts
  • Install high performance air filters
  • Limit access to walk-in traffic by adding bells, buzzer or call buttons to gain entry.
  • Eliminate soft-stone and unfinished wood surfaces
  • Update carpets or eliminate them for easily maintained flooring
  • Create wider isles or paths and eliminate bottlenecks around office equipment
  • Removal of self-serve candy bowls etc.
  • Touch-less controls for alarms, lights and climate control
  • Limit congregation areas such as lunchrooms or bathrooms
  • Replace tank water with bottle water
  • Institute cleaning rituals for your staff and hire a professional cleaning service to regularly disinfect the space

The Staff

Your physical space isn’t the only thing that will change. Employees must be trained and informed about new safe and healthy policies. It is not enough to publish an email with a list of policies, add signage, have video conferences and regular check-ins with the staff so they are reminded consistently of the new normal work environment you are trying to create. Involve your staff in the policy or physical changes if you can. The more involved and engaged they are the more likely it is they will help you maintain and support the changes. Here are some staff specific considerations;

  • Require the use of mask at all times or when in public spaces
  • Rotate, stagger or alter shifts to bring in staff to the office at different intervals
  • Require hand washing as they enter and provide hand sanitizers at every desk.
  • Institute a clean desk policy and offer employees lockers or locked cabinets where they can stow their personal belongings at the end of the day.
  • Require that employees not share equipment or supplies
  • Staff may have to comply with temperature checks at start of day
  • Provide staff with headsets and desk top web cams to help facilitate more video conferencing without having to congregate in one room

The Mind

Employees were forced to isolate and have been in a lock down for weeks. Now they are being asked to return to work and may have increased anxiety and stress. They were fearful of the unknown when they had to work remotely or were furloughed. Now they are fearful that their work space and co-workers don’t pose a threat to them or their families. It is important that employers provide support for employees and demonstrate flexibility to reduce this stress.

 ““What you are afraid of is never as bad as what you imagine. The fear you let build up in your mind is worse than the situation that actually exists.” ― Spencer Johnson, Who Moved My Cheese?

Reinforcing Employee Assistance Programs offered by many health care providers and even scheduling video conference webinars where employees can share their concerns with a professional facilitator can reduce any pent-up angst. Ultimately, you want to create an environment that instills confidence in your staff so they then serve your customers. Reducing chaos and working through the physical changes prior to full ramp up is critical.

Keep communications open, candid and direct. Ensure that your providing feedback and that you are regularly asking for feedback in return. Above all communicate with compassion and with empathy. The more support your employees feel the more their positive attitudes will improve productivity and customers service.

Ultimately getting back to business is paramount. Getting small businesses, retailers, and service providers back to “normal” is critical for the economy. Small business is the lifeblood of any community and more jobs are created traditionally by small businesses than by any corporation annually. We have witnessed the resiliency of business owners and their willingness to serve customers however they could during the height of the pandemic. As doors reopen and employees come back to their jobs, employers will be faced with challenges. Changes to physical space, their staff and the mindset of their employees will mean the difference between failure and success.

“The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you find new cheese.”― Spencer JohnsonWho Moved My Cheese?


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