How to adapt your workplace in the coronavirus pandemic

David Spence
March 17th, 2020

The worldwide outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is a serious public health threat. But what exactly should companies be doing aside from the widely prescribed social distancing measures?

Companies are stepping up to take appropriate precautions—especially when it comes to their workplace and staff

Social distancing is the first tool that public health officials recommend to slow the spread of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes social distancing as staying away from mass gatherings and keeping a distance of six feet (two meters) away from other people. Let’s take a look at ways to adapt your workplace in the coronavirus pandemic. 

Make working from home easy for employees

A great example of social distancing includes working from home instead of at the office. There are a number of ways to prepare your employees to work remotely, but perhaps the most important to start with, is communication. Employers should communicate clear guidelines as to what is expected from employees to ensure productivity remains high, for example, setting clear expectations for work hours and holding all remote employees accountable to meet their goals and deadlines.

Ensure employees have the equipment they need

It is essential that all employees have the right resources to work remotely, and that the policies surrounding the resources are clear. This means that employers must provide all of the resources that their staff might need, like computers, monitors, and peripherals. 

Companies may need to introduce new procedures in order to allow employees to take their equipment home, like recording serial numbers or taking pictures of equipment, but if it is essential for staff to do their job, then businesses need to step up to meet these new requirements in order for their employees to have everything they need to continue operations seamlessly.

Offer employees a work from home stipend

One company is really stepping up in this regard: Shopify is giving employees a $1,000 stipend to buy supplies while they work from home during coronavirus pandemic. While the company is asking employees to take their laptops, monitors, and keyboards home with them, this stipend will aid in helping workers with their home offices, like in the purchase of equipment such as lamps, office chairs, or a new desk.

Introduce the right remote-working software

Not only do employees need to have access to hardware, but they will also need the appropriate software to do their jobs. And some of that software might be new for those who have never dealt with working remotely. Software and cloud-based tools like Google Drive, Slack, Zoom, Asana, and Workplace by Facebook can encourage digital collaboration and socialization, while providing employees with the tools they need to do their jobs effectively.

work from home

Increase safety if it’s not possible for employees to work from home

While the focus should be on social distancing, some companies can’t offer remote work for all employees. For example, many offices have critical office staff that’s unable to work from home, like R&D teams and security companies where home wifi may not be suitable due to security reasons. 

In cases like these, what can companies do to curb the spread of COVID-19 among employees?

Introduce shift work and strategic seating

To help limit the number of people coming into the office and standing in elevators together, let people into the building in 15-20 minute intervals, one floor at a time. This can help isolate any exposure on a given floor. Elevators and doorknobs can be cleaned in between entries. Also, seat people that are on essential teams in separate areas, so that if someone does get sick, it won’t impact an entire department at once.

Increase communication

Ensure communication is top of mind, and that the executive team, the HR team, the facilities team, and the IT team are all working together and on the same page to provide one message. Many companies have already merged their IT, HR, and Facilities teams, which is helpful during times like these, when cross-functional coordination is essential. A clear message across the entire company needs to be unified, especially when communicating essential information to the rest of staff.

You need to communicate:

  • How you’re planning for the different ways your employees can work
  • Steps to take to increase personal safety and company safety
  • New guidelines for the workplace

Increase cleanliness

Make sure you provide a safe and clean environment for all staff. COVID-19 is a serious public health threat. It’s not just health care professionals that have an increased risk of exposure—it’s anyone who goes into a public space. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges everyone to take precautions and follow CDC guidance on how to reduce the spread of infection.

Increased attention to cleanliness needs to be addressed with the cleaning staff, and new guidelines must be set. In addition, employees need to take responsibility for their own spaces and behavior to ensure everyone is on the same page. Increased cleaning of areas like taps, door handles, railings, light switches, appliance doors, and all surfaces including desks, meeting room furniture, and lunchroom tables and chairs must occur more frequently than usual, and everything must be disinfected with the appropriate antibacterial supplies.

The CDC provides recommendations for community facilities with suspected cases of the coronavirus, and the World Health Organization provides an outline for getting your workplace ready for COVID-19.

Use workplace management software to streamline options

Companies need to know exactly who is going to be coming into the office and who is going to be working remotely—and then plan accordingly. So, how can facilities managers and companies leverage workplace management software to make the office safer for those coming into work?


Before you make any changes, you need an accurate picture of what’s happening. The first step is to update your floorplan software so that employees are marked as absent or in the office. Then, reseat staff so that everyone keeps the appropriate amount of space between them to adhere to social distancing recommendations: six feet (two meters). Temporarily suspend hot desking or hoteling, and opt for employees seated in their same workspaces on a daily basis. Avoid sharing any workstations and equipment.

washing hands

Use technology to stay connected

Whether staff is in the office or working remotely, it’s essential to stay connected—from a distance. Companies should be encouraging the use of cloud-based software that can increase digital collaboration and socialization, which also provide employees with the tools they need to do their jobs effectively.

Google Drive

Teams can use Google Drive to view and edit documents, presentations, spreadsheets, forms, and even maps. Google Drive offers some free storage with larger storage options available at a cost. Conveniently, documents created in Google Drive (as opposed to files that are uploaded) don’t count toward your total storage quota. This makes it an easy and economical solution for smaller teams.


Slack is a messaging platform that lets you message your colleagues in one place instead of using multiple programs. Message just one person, or start a group conversation and share videos, documents and images. The program also integrates with several other programs your team might be using, including Dropbox and Google Drive. Slack is accessible on computers as well as mobile devices, making it a versatile tool that’s a good fit for a mobile worker.

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is a group-based chat platform that comes bundled with Office 365 Business or Enterprise plans. Microsoft’s user interface takes a more formal approach to communication than Slack, restricting casual functions like stickers and custom memes to specific sections of the platform. The tool also integrates with apps in Microsoft’s productivity suite like Excel and Skype, which means it works best for users who are already embedded into the Office 365 ecosystem.

Workplace by Facebook

Workplace by Facebook is an app designed to keep your team connected. It combines features of Facebook, such as the News Feed, Search and Trending Posts, with messaging and chat functions that allow your team to communicate in unique groups based on projects, departments, and tasks.

Video conferencing

Video conferencing is a way to meet face-to-face with someone even when you’re in different locations. Options for video conferencing include Skype, GoToMeeting, Zoom or even FaceTime.

video conferencing

Maintain company culture and “socially distant” activities

With so many people working from home, it can be easy to lose connection to your workplace culture and coworkers. Here are a few ways to maintain your company’s vibe!

Online games

Online games, like Jackbox and others can be a great way to encourage team bonding and let everyone have a little fun. People can sign in and chat while playing.

Online lunches 

Use video conferencing software like Zoom to have lunch together! Companies could even order lunches for teams from the same place so it’s like eating together at a restaurant. 

Share and chat

Use a messaging platform like Slack to share personal things like cute pet videos, throwback pictures, or relevant social media. It’s important that people who are working from home stay engaged, so encouraging more interaction and conversation is a smart idea for companies who want their employees to remain productive (and sane) while staying home.

social distance


Photo Credits: Tumisu, Manny Pantoja, Burst, Pixaline, Harry Cunningham