Here we are in the ‘messy middle’ – you have survived the shock of the coronavirus and have accepted that we do not know when or how it will go away. Now you need to decide what to do about short-term and mid-term issues. A vaccine will not be a quick fix since it is estimated to take two full years to vaccinate the US once approved and we do not know how many will get vaccinated or how effective any vaccine will be yet.

Whether you closed your office completely or not at all, you need to pay attention to your office and employee needs in this difficult time for everyone.

If you closed your office in full or in part, you may be struggling with planning the return. I am seeing lots of organizations planning for a return Jan 4, 2021 – often after planning for earlier dates. They and others also have multiple employees who want to come in some days each week now. What will you allow, how will you manage it?

A late June Gensler survey showed 44% of employees want to return full time and another 26% want to be there the majority of the week. A separate study in late August puts that total at 83%. At the same time, you will have employees fearful of coming into the office whenever you return. You must think now about what you will plan for and allow.

Human Fatigue

Many people are dealing with anxiety and fatigue from the changes to their lives during the pandemic. This includes founders, leaders, and managers in small businesses.

Here are some ways to help your staff and yourself cope:

  • Talk to people about how they are, instead of discussing work tasks, and just listen to them.
  • Show appreciation.
  • Ensure you model and push people to not work extra hours and keep yourself and any managers from calling or emailing outside normal hours, except for true emergencies.  
  • Establish a common practice of blocking periods of time for deeper work that people can set up as needed and then post on shared calendars.
  • Define core hours and days for meetings and keep meetings short and effective.
  • Encourage use of PTO or vacation time.
  • Consider offering flex-time, if you do not now.
  • Evaluate a four day week option or alternatives, like Friday afternoons off every other week.
  • Offer resources – if you offer health insurance, ask your broker or provider. Here are some good articles and info from the American Psychological Assn. – Help Center

Productivity went up in the first months of work from home (WFH) but later it declined. Employers need to look at what they can do to assist employees with care-giving needs. Parents whose children are going back to school remotely and other care-givers may benefit from changes in the structure of how you work, such as an 80% or other part-time work week. Windowed-work – where there are specific times agreed on that they are immediately available with breaks in between and adjusted daily schedules may be another option. Just be careful here not to dump extra work on singles which creates an entirely new set of problems all around. Been there!

Technology Issues

Next, you need to look at your ‘tech’, especially if you went to WFH rapidly in March expecting it to be a short-term issue. What is working well? What isn’t? What do you need to change?

Did you provide every employee with the right equipment? Have you educated your WFH staff on basic ergonomics? Yes, you do have OSHA and other rules to comply with even when people work at home.

How about cybersecurity? Been doing training?  Sure all your systems are working well in a WFH world?

Have you talked to your IT provider about issues they should assess now?


The importance of fresh, clean air has been demonstrated and in some cases, mandated. Does your air system have the correct filters to reduce viruses? Does it bring in adequate levels of outside air? Is it exchanging the air frequently enough? Bonus points if you have windows that open.

Physical separation and masks are a part of office life for the foreseeable future. Along with ensuring such distancing and providing barriers where you cannot distance, here are some other things you can do to enhance your offices:

  • Add pictures of nature to enhance both calm and creativity.
  • Fabric panels between spaces reduce noise, enhance separation, and add color to enhance creativity.
  • If you need to separate desks in an open area, consider frosted panels – these let the light through while providing a semblance of distance and privacy.

This ‘messy middle’ is likely to be a long stage. Summer is over. Fall and the holiday season are likely to still have many restrictions which continue to change people’s lives. What do you need to address to succeed now?