Whitt (left): “The most important thing for employers and the workforce is communication — we can’t emphasize that enough.”

WASHINGTON, DC—More states are relaxing coronavirus pandemic restrictions, which means office property and facility managers need to have a sound plan that incorporates new guidance. But it will fall apart if preparations are not in place to regularly update leadership, frontline managers and personnel. Communication is key, according to Karen Whitt, Colliers International’s president of real estate management services for the US, and Keith Perske, Colliers’ SVP of workplace advisory services.

“Simple, clear and ongoing communication with constituents and key stakeholders is crucial to enabling safer workplaces that comply with health and wellness standards set by the company and health regulators,” said Perske, who recently launched the Back-to-Work Navigator to simplify the mountain of health and prevention guidance into a detailed set of workspace recommendations. “Hearing directly from employers and landlords minimizes confusion among stakeholders about the still rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation and will create trust and confidence in the safety measures that are being put in place.”

Quality communication starts with the basics: social distancing is an effective risk management strategy. Decision-makers should plan to increase the space between desks and raise partitions. To create more hygienic workspaces, make cleaning supplies readily available for employees to disinfect workspaces and increase fresh airflow through facilities.

“Property/facility personnel should already be familiar with their highest priority: preparation,” said Whitt. “That starts with stocking several months of supplies to facilitate aggressive cleaning schedules, posting signage to help establish safe traffic patterns and revising back-of-house operations to increase fresh air circulation.”

After video consultation, the Back-to-Work Navigator provides written recommendations for reopening with a focus on five key areas (applicable to 15 different space types): design, technology, navigation and communication, behaviors, and hygiene and cleaning. While remote work will “absolutely” factor into companies’ overall office approach, the Colliers team affirmed, they can properly gauge the financial impact of on-site changes by way of an order-of-magnitude timeline and cost summary.

“The most important thing for employers and the workforce is communication — we can’t emphasize that enough — communication about when, who and how people will return and the new behaviors they will be expected to display,” Whitt said.

Company leaders can feel like field generals these days, trying to organize and direct large amounts of people and resources against a formidable threat in a high-stakes environment. With effective communication and the right tools, they can lead their organizations to net gains in their new normal.