Returning to the office after COVID-19 : the ultimate guide

Deskeo gives you all the cards to prepare your return to office post-covid19.

Last update : 20/08/2020 at 11:30

This guide answers the most common questions from executives. It is the result of a collaborative reflection carried out by the Deskeo teams and largely inspired by the protocols set up for our clients, companies of all sizes that occupy all the offices that we operate in France (75,000+ m2).

It will be regularly updated based on government guidelines and the latest information shared. If certain subjects have not yet been discussed, do not hesitate to send us your questions. Our teams will try to provide the best answers as soon as possible.

Table of contents

Click on each section to navigate through our guide.

A. Your teams

1. Upstream preparation

2. Health

3. Day-to-day

B. Your office

1. Hygiene

2. Layout of workspaces


A. Your teams

Returning to the office will bring new challenges for each company. The health and well-being of your employees should be your number one priority in the weeks to come.

1. Upstream preparation

Who should come first?

In accordance with government recommendations, it is preferable to encourage WFO (work from home) as much as possible until the full termination of the lockdown. While not all of your employees will be able to return to the office at the same time, many companies are eagerly waiting to bring back some for whom full-time WFO is not a viable solution.

To respect the rules of social distancing and preserve the health of your teams, consider segmenting your business into several groups that will allow you to organize a return to the office in waves.

In order to do so, you could carry out an internal survey. Your employees will appreciate being involved in this process and understanding the logic chosen by the managing team.. This is a good way to capture the feeling among teams and detect potential colleagues which might be at risk; from both themselves and the others.

Practical: To transmit this questionnaire to your employees, many online tools exist such as Typeform or Google Forms. Most of them are free for basic use, the setup is a matter of a few minutes and the results simple to analyze.

Based on the results of this questionnaire, analyze each response with a scoring system to distribute your employees among 3 categories:

  • Category 1: Employees to be privileged to return immediately to the office
  • Category 2: Employees for whom WFO is recommended in the first return phase
  • Category 3: Employees for whom WFO is compulsory in the first return phase

How to organize the way back to the office?

Once the people most likely to return to work have been identified, it is required to create an organization that will allow social distancing to be maintained and limit the contamination risks among the teams.

During the first weeks, the challenge will be to form teams whose composition will not change. To do so, we advise to follow the following method:

1. Calculate the number of teams and the size of each of them

Depending on the size of your space and the number of workstations that can be used to maintain a social distance of 1.5 meters at any time, try to define the number of people that can be accommodated at the same time in the office. When calculating the area, remember to take into account common areas that can be reassigned (restrooms, kitchen, etc.)

Example: if your offices can reasonably accommodate 20 people at the same time and you are 60, you will need to form at least 3 groups.
2. Determine the composition of each team

The idea is to compose watertight segments to easily isolate a chain of potential contamination without paralyzing the operation of the business since each team can continue to run all of your operations.

For this, here are several possible approaches:

Approach 1, by representativeness: each department is proportionally represented and distributed among the different teams. So, if you want to form 3 groups, divide each department into 3 so that each team has a third of the employees in each department.

  • Advantages: minimizes the risk of transmission within the same department and therefore continuity of service in the event of contamination.
  • Disadvantages: does not take into account the levels of inter-departmental collaboration, the lack of interactions could have an impact on the business.

Approach 2, by the level of collaboration: build a collaboration matrix between departments and within the same department, to highlight the levels of interaction (Low, Medium or High).

  • Advantages: the teams are built in such a way as to favour the collaboration of the departments that interact the most, a good way of “making the most out of your time” in the office.
  • Disadvantages: Increased risk of knockout of an entire department in the event of contamination (chain reaction).

We can imagine other approaches depending on the needs of each organization, especially if their presence in the office is key for the core function to work. The two approaches above can be used as a basis for reflection to build the model that fits your organization.

Post covid poster

Download 15 posters to print for your offices

3. Organize team rotation

Depending on your internal organization and the groups formed above, here are three possible scenarios for organizing the rotation of your teams:

  • Scenario 1: Number of days for each team in the office with rotation over several weeks.

Back to work 1

  • Scenario 2: Fixed weekly schedule with an unequal number of days in the office.

Back to work 2

  • Scenario 3: One team per day at the office. Allows to limit travel for your teams, but which implies that all of your employees remain WFO 80% of the time.

Back to work 3

4. Establish the procedure in case of detection of a case in a team

Case study: Team B identifies a positive or risky case in their team. All team members are quarantined and confined for 14 days. The other two teams then alternate an additional day at the office without mixing with the other team.

Back to work 4

Only two-thirds of the teams will then be present in rotation at the office for a minimum of 15 days until the return of Team B. The members of Team B then switch to 100% WFO during the quarantine period.

5. Gradually increase the pace back to the office

As deconfinement progresses, it will be possible to gradually increase the rate of return to the office by following logic as such:

Post Covid Calendar

This diagram and the one below are proposals that should be adapted to your needs and government directives by targeting a general recovery date.

This organization involves bringing together several teams when conditions allow it. Two important rules are important to respect in this case:

1. The composition of the teams must not change along the way during phase 1

2. It is better to combine two teams (even if this creates a distortion in terms of team sizes), rather than dividing the teams or changing their initial composition. This makes it possible to keep at least one team isolated from another from the start of pre-lockdown and thus to ensure that there is always an operational team, even in the event of detection of contamination.

Action plan post covid

Important: We advise you to consider the summer holiday issue as soon as possible this year. After a forced rest in the third quarter, the economy will be able to recover a sustained level of activity starting in the summer, if the deconfinement measures are successful.

If not all classes will have returned by then, the start of the school holidays is set for Friday evening, July 3. This will allow you to optimise each other’s holidays from the beginning of July to the end of August to maintain sufficient attendance throughout the summer.

How will my colleagues come to the office?

Here are several ideas to reassure your colleagues who are probably afraid of taking public transport to come to the office:

  • Setting up staggered schedules to avoid rush hours in transport
  • Allowing employees to come to the office a part of the day to better organize their journeys
  • Take charge of the masks purchased by employees to come to the office, at least for the first journey if it is planned to distribute them once at the office
  • Organization of an internal car-sharing system, while respecting social distancing instructions
  • Refund for electric scooter journeys
  • Encourage employees to come by bike, and allow them to park in a safe place. For example in the building’s car park or the courtyard

2. Health

What should I do to ensure the safety and health of my employees?

An epidemic situation requires special vigilance in the interests of employees and companies. The presence of the required employees will largely depend on the company’s ability to respond to the employees’ concerns and the insurance that will be given to them to be properly protected against the specific risks related to the virus (especially employees in contact with the public).

The Labour Code provides that the employer must take necessary measures “to ensure the safety and protect the physical and moral health of workers” (article L. 4121-1). In this respect, the employer may take restrictive measures to ensure the protection of employees’ health after assessing the risk of contagion in the company.

The employer must ensure that these measures are constantly adapted to take into account changing circumstances. This new assessment must be transcribed in the single risk assessment document (DUER) which must be updated to take account of changes in circumstances. The preventive measures resulting from the updating of the single risk assessment document must be brought to the attention of employees proper ways in order to allow their full application.

Posters deskeo post covid

Download 15 posters to print for your offices

Can I control the temperature of my employees at the office entrance?

A temperature check at the entrance is not recommended, but the Ministry of Solidarity and Health recommends that each person measure their own temperature if they feel feverish and, more generally, to self-monitor for symptoms suggestive of COVID-19. In the current context, these measures can be the subject of the procedure for the preparation of memorandums.

What to do if an employee has symptoms?

In the presence of a symptomatic person (including fever and/or cough, difficulty breathing, speaking or swallowing, loss of taste and smell), management is based on :

– Isolation;

– protection;

– looking for signs of severity.

  • 1. Isolate the symptomatic person in a dedicated room by immediately applying barrier gestures, keep a reasonable distance with him/her (1 meter) wearing a “general public” or surgical mask if available or send him/her home.
  • 2. Mobilize the institution’s dedicated healthcare professional. Provide him/her with a mask before the intervention.
  • 3. If there are no signs of seriousness, contact the occupational health doctor or ask the person to contact his or her doctor for medical advice. If confirmation of no signs of seriousness, organise his or her return home avoiding public transport.
  • If there is a sign of severity ( such as respiratory distress), call the ambulance – dial 15 (close enough to the person to allow the doctor to talk to him or her if necessary):

    – Introduce yourself, present the situation in a few words (COVID-19, for whom, what symptoms), give your telephone number, specify the location and means of access; the regulation assistant will connect you to a doctor on the telephone and give you instructions (often asking to speak to the person or to hear him/her breathe).

    – If the 15 centre decides to send emergency assistance, organize the reception of the helpers, stay close (within 1 m) to the person to watch over him/her while the helpers arrive; in case of important new elements, call the 15 again; never get angry or act in haste.

  • 4. After taking charge of the person, contact the health service at work and follow its instructions, including for cleaning the workstation and monitoring employees.

What to do if an employee has no symptoms but has been in “close contact” with the virus?

The High Council for Public Health (HCSP) defines the case of close contact as follows:

« A close contact is a person who, from 24 hours before the onset of symptoms of a confirmed case, has shared the same place of life (for example family, same room) or has had direct contact with him, face to face, within 1 meter of the case or for more than 15 minutes, during a discussion; close friends; class or office neighbours; neighbours of the case in a prolonged means of transport; person providing care to a confirmed case or laboratory personnel handling biological samples from a confirmed case, in the absence of adequate means of protection».

People meeting this definition must contact their employer to discuss with them the modalities of WFO that could be put in place. In the absence of a telecommuting solution, they contact their attending physician, who can prescribe a work stoppage if they consider it necessary.

What to do if an employee is tested positive for COVID-19?

If an employee is tested positive, here is the procedure to follow:

1. Immediately send the contaminated employee home with a mask, if possible, and ask him to call his doctor

2. Inform other employees of a possible case of infection so that they are alert to the possible appearance of symptoms and that they stay at home if this is the case.

The identification and management of contacts will be organized by the level 1 and 2 contact-tracing actors (doctor in charge of the case and Health Insurance platforms): contacts evaluated as “at risk” according to the definition of Public Health France will be managed and placed in a fortnight (for 14 days after the date of the last contact with the confirmed case). The contact-tracing actors will be able to rely on the matrices of the contacts in the company carried out upstream as well as, where appropriate, on occupational medicine to facilitate the identification of contacts and their qualification (“at risk” or “negligible risk”).

Should the business close if there have been confirmed cases?

In the event of a confirmed case, we recommend you to:

  • inform employees who may have been in contact with contaminated staff
  • take all appropriate organizational measures and immediately proceed to appropriate cleaning of the surfaces affected by the risk of contamination. (see protocol)

What are the return-to-work instructions for a recovered Covid-19 employee?

It is possible to return to go back to work at least 8 days after the beginning of symptoms AND 48 hours after all clinical signs have disappeared. A medical opinion is not necessary for a return to employment if the criteria for clinical recovery have been met. However, it seems wise to leave it to the clinician’s discretion to give this opinion, especially if he judges that the patient will be uncomfortable or if the latter requests it.

3. Day-to-day

When and how to communicate with my employees?

Take the lead and communicate your action plan as soon as possible to all of your teams. Notify them as soon as changes are made to the office, principles that you apply, new rules of life to respect their own good until the situation is under control.

If you can, organize a video conference with all of your teams to present the main principles before communicating the details by email. This will reassure your teams who are certainly worried about returning to the office, do not miss this opportunity to show them that you care about their well-being!

Should I ask my employees to wear a mask when they are at the office?

The labour minister announced on 18 August that the wearing of masks would be obligatory in companies at the start of the new school year in “all enclosed and shared spaces”. This includes meeting rooms, corridors and open spaces, even if plexiglas windows have been installed. However, this new measure will not concern individual offices. The cost of the mask is now carried by the employer.

Our teams have selected several providers to help you protect your teams. The following equipment is available at a preferential rate negotiated for you:

  • masks,
  • gloves,
  • hydroalcoholic gel dispenser,
  • forehead thermometers

How to manage the stress and anxiety of the teams with regard to COVID 19?

It is normal to be anxious during this particular period. It is therefore important to:

  • Communicate calmly and regularly the new information available
  • Welcoming employees’ questions and concerns
  • Systematic feedback on the responses to the concerns raised
  • Create support cells if possible, or at least maintain regular contact with those most at risk
  • Plan moments of discussion to anticipate the future
  • Involve the most anxious people to solve current and future challenges with reassuring colleagues

On the contrary, several reactions are to be avoided to maintain a climate of trust within your company:

  • Ignore employee reactions
  • Being in denial, minimizing the gravity of the current situation by trivializing the pandemic
  • Being overexposed to negative information only

Poster post covid

Download 15 posters to print for your offices

What about the lunch break?

As long as the restaurants are closed, all your employees will be forced to have lunch in the office. Here are several tips for managing the lunch break:

  • Set lunchtime slots by teams to avoid large crowds in the kitchen between 1 p.m and 2 p.m.
  • All your employees will bring their meals and will have to store it /heat it. Adding a refrigerator and one (or more) additional microwaves is a good way to reduce crowds.
  • Keep only the number of chairs necessary to keep a gap of one meter between each person around the tables used in common areas.
  • Invite your teams to use the meeting rooms with an air renewal system for their meals to avoid overly concentrated gatherings.
  • Distribute the equipment (coffee machine, microwave, etc.) in several places in the kitchen/living room to avoid grouping. If your coffee machine is connected to the water supply, a system must allow you to tilt it on a tank to be able to move it easily.

How to manage the reception of letters and parcels?

Letters and parcels must be handled by one and the only person who receives them outside of the offices to avoid deliverers from crossing the threshold of the door. This drop-off person alerts each recipient of an email received by email so that they can pick it up themselves.

What policy for outside visitors?

It is recommended to limit outside visits as much as possible (customers, partners, providers, etc.) and favour videoconferences. For your meetings, be sure to use a meeting room as close as possible to the entrance to prevent your guests from crossing the offices and thus limit the risk of contagion.

B. Your office

When you arrive at the office, your employees will instantly feel that there has been a change. Your efforts must be obvious right from the front door, a good way to reassure your colleagues who expect you to seriously prepare for their return to the office. Their expectations will be as high as their concerns, do not miss this opportunity to show them that you care about their well-being.

1. Hygiene

In which cases is disinfection of the premises necessary before returning to the office?

The most important parameter to consider when considering to disinfect your office is the occupancy during containment. According to the WHO and the Ministry of Health, the survival time of Covid-19 is very variable:

  • a few minutes on the skin,
  • up to 12 noon on masks and clothing,
  • up to 4 days on wood,
  • up to 5 days on metal and glass,
  • up to 9 days on plastic

Case 1. Your premises were occupied for the 10 days preceding the end of confinement. Total disinfection of your offices is therefore recommended.

Cas 2. Your premises have not been occupied for the 10 days preceding the end of confinement, disinfection is not necessary, a global cleaning with virucidal products will be done the week before your return to ensure your employees return in a healthy and clean workplace.

What measures should be applied in the common areas of the building?

We recommend that you speak with the owner or manager of your building in order to put in place preventive measures for the health of your employees:

  • Always favour stairs over elevators and keep a distance of at least two meters between two people in the stairs
  • Set up didactic signage displaying protocols for the healthy use of elevators (divide by 2 the maximum number of passengers recommended, use your elbow to press the buttons, etc.)
  • Contact the building owner to make sure that high contact surfaces like elevator buttons will be cleaned regularly (several times a day)

How should the evacuation of masks, gloves and wipes be managed? At what frequency?

It is advisable to set up dedicated bins for prevention and decontamination equipment (preferably with a foot opening system or detector).

According to the recommendations of the Ministry of Health, once full, the trash bag is put in a second trash bag and stored in a dedicated place in the trash room of the building before its disposal with household waste.

What additional housekeeping measures should I reasonably implement?

Beyond daily cleaning, it is recommended to disinfect at least 2 times a day the items that require special attention due to the high attendance:

  • door handles
  • common area worktops
  • microwave
  • refrigerator doors
  • coffee machines
  • printers
  • water fountains…

What hygiene measures should be taken after the detection of a case?

Since the coronavirus can probably survive for a few hours to a few days on dry surfaces, in the event of contamination, the following measures should be taken:

1. Equipment for persons in charge of cleaning floors and surfaces with the wearing of a single-use protection suit and household gloves (the wearing of a respiratory protection mask is not necessary due to the absence of aerosolization by soils and surfaces);

2. Floor maintenance, favour a wet washing-disinfection strategy so that:

  • floors and surfaces are cleaned with a disposable washing strip impregnated with a detergent;
  • the floors and surfaces are then rinsed with potable water with another disposable washing strip;
  • sufficient drying time for these soils and surfaces is left;
  • floors and surfaces must be disinfected with bleach diluted with a disposable washing strip different from the previous two;
  • the waste produced by the contaminated person follows the conventional disposal route.

What hygiene levers to offer to my employees?

At the entrance of each floor, you can display a map showing the location of all cleaning and sanitation products.

Consider installing hydroalcoholic gel dispensers and disinfectant wipes near printers, in kitchens and meeting rooms. A smart display can help your employees adopt good habits, for example by inviting them to wash their hands before using the coffee machine.

Display arrows everywhere to indicate the nearest disinfectant or sink:

Posters deskeo 2

Download 15 posters to print for your offices

2. Layout of workspaces

How to arrange my workspaces ?

Here are several adjustments to make before the return of your collaborators to simplify compliance with physical distance:

  • Space workstations at least one meter.
  • Organize the workstations in staggered rows.
  • Equip workstations with separators to limit the transmission of the virus.
  • Distance tables and seats by at least one meter in convivial spaces. Remove the remaining chairs.
  • Remove the coat racks, everyone will put their jacket on the back of their chair.
  • Provide individual storage.
  • Install motion detectors to turn on the lights and deactivate the manual switches. Otherwise, display a dissuasive message near the switches to leave them on all day to limit their use.
  • Install devices to open the doors without hands (foot/arm)

Aménagement bureaux avant CoronavirusAménagement après Coronavirus

Arrangement of workspaces before / after containment. Move the vertical line to compare.

How to reduce the risk of interactions in my offices?

  • Create a unique traffic direction in your offices symbolized by a floor marking (in a circle or a rectangle, depending on the shape of your offices)
  • Post signs in narrow corridors by determining a priority traffic direction.
  • Create waiting areas with a safety distance of two meters symbolized by a marking on the ground (outside the toilets, in the kitchen, near the worktop, around the printers …)
  • Space the coffee machine and the water fountain one meter to optimize their use.
  • Install an additional refrigerator to avoid pooling in the kitchen
  • Distribute the microwaves in several places of the kitchen/living room to avoid regrouping
  • Put the coffee machine on a tank to be able to move it (if on evacuation)

How about meeting rooms?

Finally, here are simple actions to take to secure your meeting rooms during deconfinement:

  • Limit meetings to the strict minimum. Prefer video conferencing solutions to physical meetings. The others must be organized in accordance with the rules of distancing.
  • Reduce the capacity of your meeting rooms and space the chairs at least one meter. Remove the remaining chairs.
  • Equip workstations with acoustic separators to promote virtual meetings.
  • Create removable meeting rooms in open-plan spaces using removable partitions.
  • Create additional workstations in meeting rooms or social spaces.
  • Transform convivial spaces into meeting spaces.
  • Use small meeting rooms and individual offices as spaces for phone calls.
  • Condemn phone booths in which the limited space promotes the concentration of microbes and insufficient air circulation.
  • Avoid consecutive meetings, leave at least 30 minutes between two meetings while leaving the windows open to freshen up the air.
  • Remove shared conference phones (octopuses) and encourage the use of personal mobile phones.

Salle de réunion avant confinementSalle de réunion après confinement

Meeting rooms before / after containment. Move the vertical line to compare.
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