WTMJ Cares is powered by Watry Industries and Premier Aluminum.
Sponsored by Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin, Town Bank, and Griffin Automotive Group (Chevrolet, Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge and Ford)
As many companies across Southeastern Wisconsin reopen, they are trying to figure out what will be necessary to keep employees safe.
Companies have to think about everything from new required practices, to how the office will look different and even whether every worker returns to the office or works from home, according to Froedtert and Medical College of Wisconsin infectious disease expert Dr. Mary Beth Graham.
“The most important thing is hand hygiene, followed by social distancing,” said Dr. Graham to WTMJ’s John Mercure. She especially advocates policies and best practices that focus on those behaviors, as well as effective cleaning of workplace spaces on a more regular basis.
“Environmental cleaning is especially important, having businesses put money, resources into having horizontal surfaces (cleaned), having that environment ready and safe for those employees.”
But it’s managing behavior that is the biggest key, according to Dr. Graham. Such behavior includes wearing masks – but she understands why employees may not wear them every second.
“Do people need to wear a mask the entire time they’re in those spaces? In my world, I wear a mask all the time. The only time I do not wear a mask at my work is if I’m not in my own office. If I’m outside my office, the mask is on,” she said.
“I don’t think that would be well received in non-medical spaces, so again, respecting that distance.”
Many hallways don’t allow for such distancing of at least six feet, according to architect Matt Rinka. He is designing workplaces that would give more walking space.
“Most hallways are five or six feet wide. You might see those a little bit wider,” Rinka told Mercure.
That is just one part of what he says may be a reset for many businesses in how their offices are designed.
“We are looking at how the workplace has changed over the past several months,” he said. “There is certainly going to be a trend toward lower density, (but) I don’t think the open work space is going to go away.”
Instead, he says companies are asking for spaces that can let them adapt to pandemics and other changes necessary for safety and health.
“Flexibility is the key. Creating flexible work environments where work stations and areas where people can work can expand or contract,” Rinka explained. “Companies will look for flexibility on how offices can be re-arranged.”
Part of that rearrangement also may come from employers realizing that some of their workers can maintain productivity at home, as many people have proven during the current pandemic.
“I do think that businesses will recognize they can save a lot of money if they have certain employees who work from home. You don’t need to pay for that office space, that coffee machine,” said Dr. Graham.
“Some companies could look at this and say this was a forced experiment, but I could still have a very productive employee and save the money from actually having them on site.”
“The actual function of the workplace might differ,” Rinka adds.
“It’s important to understand what the function of the workplace might be in the future. Primarily, it’s going to be a place where people come together to collaborate, innovate through formal and informal meetings.”