COVID-19: How to mitigate workplace liability and financial loss
As the COO at BeyondHQ, and the leader of real estate and workplace operations at Segment, DocuSign, and UserTesting, Jeffrey Goldman is a pro at helping high-growth companies enhance where and how their people work.
We asked Jeffrey to share how companies can safeguard themselves from unforeseen workplace liability, unnecessary expenditure, and increased waste, when there’s no road map to turn to for guidance.
Will employers need to be mindful of any new workplace liabilities once their people return to the office?
Goldman: Yes. Workplaces are going to be facing a lot of liability issues down the road. And I don't think a lot of people want to talk about that.
Depending on where an employee is in the building, property managers may be responsible for their safety. How are they going to deal with everything once people start returning to the office? How are you going to manage the lobby? How are you going to manage elevators? I haven't seen many elevators that would allow two people in and keep a six feet distance.
Bathrooms are another area for potential exposure. Will different teams be given access to the bathroom at certain times?
And what happens when someone starts coughing and you want to say something, but you don’t want that person to feel ostracized?
There are so many little real-world scenarios that we’re going to have to talk about and manage.
Big broad return to work plans are a great place to start. But you need to make sure that your plan covers all of the little details, too. Because when we all come back to the office and you’re in the washroom and someone in the stall next to you isn’t maintaining six feet of distancing, it's gonna be an issue.
“The truth is that no one really knows exactly what should or will happen. All we can really do is agree on a framework for change, outline tactics for each step within, and ensure any revisions follow the one key question to be used before making any decision: what does the data tell us?"
— Jeffrey Goldman, COO, BeyondHQ, Work(place) redefined - what comes next?
How can a company safeguard themselves legally when nobody truly knows what all of the potential COVID-19 workplace liabilities will be?
Goldman: The best approach is to be conservative. For example, keeping PPE and sanitizing products on hand—order more than you need. If you run out, it's not good.
When you’re coming up with your workplace distancing guidelines, if a conference room can only hold three people to maintain safe distancing, make sure you reinforce that. There can't be any exceptions.
Also, make sure leadership is involved. Have your guidelines come from the top. And make sure that leadership is supporting the facilities team.
My concern is that we’ll see a similar response to the one after 9/11. Right after 9/11 happened, everyone was aligned and okay with heightened security in buildings and at airports. But as time went on, some people felt that it was more of an annoyance.
I think this most likely occur with returning to the workplace with COVID-19. As time goes on, people may get complacent and tired with workplace distancing. Especially if that restriction is preventing them from getting their job done and being their most efficient selves.
How can facilities teams come up with COVID-19 workplace guidelines for every single scenario when there’s no roadmap to turn to for guidance?
Goldman: Well, the solutions that work for Company A won’t necessarily work for Company B. And, at work, people always want to be part of the conversation.
So I think being very transparent, not only with leadership but with the employee base, could help facilities teams come up with some really great, hyper-specific strategies that suit your culture, resources, and facility setup.
It may even help to diffuse a lot of stress and uncertainty that employees are currently experiencing.
"Companies are going to throw a tremendous amount of product into the world to accommodate COVID-19 guidelines. Once equipment is no longer needed, the amount of waste is going to be enormous."
— Jeffrey Goldman, COO, BeyondHQ
You recently raised some concerns about the amount of waste we’ll see in workplaces thanks to COVID-19. What can companies do to create a sustainable return to work plan?
Goldman: To answer that properly, let’s start with the context. There’s going to be a tremendous amount of product that is thrown into the world to accommodate COVID-19 guidelines and keep people distanced in the workplace.
Some companies are talking about building cubicles that are made of plexiglass and glass, and that’s just one of the many strategies that companies are floating right now.
But as we get closer to a vaccine and other cures, companies will start to recognize their over-corrections in the amount of waste for the necessary equipment is going to be enormous. Not just in terms of actual physical waste, but financial waste too.
To reduce wastage, companies will need to actively make sustainability a part of their return to work plans.
For example, say that a third of a facility’s workstations are going to be removed. Don’t scrap everything. Put that stuff in storage, because you're going to need it again. Take inventory, what you have and see how you can repurpose certain things instead of just buying new stuff.
How are you seeing the Facility Manager’s role evolve thanks to COVID-19?
Goldman: Facility Managers might not get offered a seat at the executive table, but they're definitely going to be in the room now. No question about it.
Executives and C-Suite teams will actually listen to facilities managers now and hear what they have to say. They’re going to want to talk to their Facility Manager before making decisions that impact the workplace.
I also think that a lot of facilities teams and tasks are going to be really in your face once everyone returns to the office.
For instance, before COVID-19, we didn’t want to see the janitor working in the workplace. Now, you’re going to want to see janitorial and cleaning teams front and centre.
Facility Managers might not get offered a seat at the executive table, but they're definitely going to be in the room now. No question about it.
— Jeffrey Goldman, COO, BeyondHQ
How can FMs prepare themselves for C-Suite discussions that revolve around the workplace and COVID-19?
Goldman: Always approach executive leadership with a solution. Nobody’s got time to discus just problem. So have a couple of solutions and recommendations on hand, and be prepared for leadership to make the final decision.
Do you think the pandemic has disrupted any legacy workplace practices in a good way?
Goldman: I think there's a tremendous amount of inefficiency in meetings. I mean, there are meetings to schedule meetings. So I'm hoping that a better use of time will come out of this.
People have also shown that they can be really efficient and productive while they’re working from home. So I hope that some of the old, negative associations with remote-work will be eliminated or reduced, and we see an uptick in WFH for people who want it.
Jeffrey Goldman's latest series, Work(place) Redefined - What Comes Next?, outlines the framework Jeffrey is using to help companies create a safe return to the workplace and manage effective, distributed teams in a post-coronavirus world.
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Photos: Jeffrey Goldman, iStock, Andrea Piacquadio, energepic, Pixabay