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IBM’s plan for reopening offices after the coronavirus pandemic – Business Insider


  • IBM has devised a plan to open its office in waves once coronavirus cases begin to slow down. 
  • Dr. Lydia Campbell, the firm’s chief medical officer of corporate health and safety, and her team designed a plan according to government directives, guidelines from public health authorities, and the company’s own policies. 
  • The pandemic has forced IBM to reassess transportation, office cleanliness, buffet lunches, and meetings. 
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IBM has been working on its plan to address the novel coronavirus pandemic since the company first heard about the virus in January. Now, the tech company is plotting the return of its workforce to the office. 

Dr. Lydia Campbell, vice president and chief medical officer of corporate health and safety at the tech giant, is in charge of the reopening plans for 350,000 employees at the firm. IBM devised its new plan based on government directives, guidelines from public health authorities, and the company’s own policies. 

“Looking at what the science and evidence says guides how we create our plan,” she told Business Insider. 

Experts say that a post-pandemic workplace will look different than before. Because COVID-19 spreads so rapidly — viral particles can live on surfaces for three to seven hours — companies will need to take extra precautions to keep employees safe in the workplace. This includes adhering to the CDC guidelines of washing your hands and remaining at least six feet apart from colleagues. 

Even with these recommendations, it still can be difficult to know exactly how to move forward. Here are the nine exact steps IBM is taking to ensure workers can return to work safely.

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IBM will reopen the office in waves, starting with the most essential workers

The firm plans to bring employees who may not be able to do their jobs from home back to work once coronavirus cases begin to decelerate, Campbell told Business Insider. 

The company does not currently have a firm date, but anticipates this may begin in May or June. The date will likely vary depending on the conditions surrounding each IBM office, she said. If employees can do their jobs from home, they can continue to work remotely. 

Managers will receive training on how to handle coronavirus-related issues at work

First-line managers will receive training on how to maintain the health and safety of workers, as well as how to keep them happy, engaged, and productive. Training is important because for most managers, this is their first time experiencing a crisis of this magnitude, she said. 

“For all of them, this is a totally new experience, very much unprecedented, something they haven’t dealt with before,” she said. IBM upper level management will also receive training. 

A social distance of two meters will be required at all times

Once employees do return to the office, strict social distancing measures will be enforced. Employees must stay at least two meters apart (roughly 6.5 feet) at all times. This is in accordance with the standards set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Campbell said. 

“We’re looking at what the data and public evidence says so we’re able to maintain and respect social distancing in our workplaces,” she said. 

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They’re rethinking maximum capacity for conference rooms

Many of the conference rooms in IBM offices can fit between 15 or 20 people, Campbell said. The company is currently reassessing how they can keep these meeting rooms at about half capacity in order to respect social distancing guidelines. 

There will be increased importance placed on cleaning shared spaces in the office

Because coronavirus can live for hours on surfaces, the company is looking to adapt enhanced cleaning protocols for shared spaces in the office. This means communicating with the firm’s real estate partners, who may clean the offices, to ensure each space is properly sanitized. 

This also means making sure that employees know the importance of using hand sanitizer, washing their hands, and keeping a clean workspace. 

“You’re going to see a lot more vigilance and recommendations for wiping down surfaces and common touch points,” she said. 

Cafeterias may no longer have buffets

Like many tech employers, IBM offers buffets at some of its offices. But this popular perk may need to be reevaluated, Campbell said. This means fewer (or no) buffet options, and instead providing more prepackaged foods that have less risk of contamination. 

“There will be more self-serve, touchless entrees available,” she said. 

Transportation to the office will change, along with work travel

Some international IBM offices offer transportation to and from work, Campbell said. IBM will have to rethink this perk, she said, since it may be difficult to enforce social distancing on public transportation. 

Similarly, work travel by airplane will be reassessed, Campbell said. The company has not yet developed a firm plan for handling travel. 

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All office visitors will have their temperature checked

Before entering an IBM office, visitors will have to get their temperatures checked, Campbell said. This will ensure anyone entering the office has no outward symptoms of the virus. 

“It’s to ensure that we aren’t bringing people who have fevers and who could be potentially impacted by the virus into our workplace,” she said. Employees will be expected to check themselves for fevers. 

The workplace will become more remote friendly

The company plans to continue to find more ways to make the workplace more flexible. Overall, the pandemic has increased the firm’s reliance on common remote workplace communication tools like Slack and WebEx, Campbell said. They will also be thinking more critically about how employees can gather together in large groups — and whether meetings can be held remotely. 

“We’re now having to look at very carefully and think through very methodically how people gather, where they gather when it’s necessary, and in what number,” she said. “I think that’s going to change dramatically.” 



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