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How the Post-COVID Work Revolution is Changing Office Safety

How the Post-COVID Work Revolution is Changing Office Safety

COVID-19 has transformed not just how Americans work, but where they work. A recent study of 160 major employees by The Partnership from New York City found that nearly 80% of respondents anticipated maintaining a long-term hybrid work model.

This summer, only 38% of Manhattan office workers are at the office on any given weekday. While this number will rise to almost 50% once the summer ends, having an office that’s at 100% occupancy will be the exception, not the norm, for most companies.

Hybrid work discussions generally explore how this new model affects productivity, collaboration, and culture. Soyini Chan-Shue, the founder and CEO of City Safe Partners, an advanced elite security firm in Harlem, is focused on an often-overlooked aspect of hybrid work: how it affects a company’s safety and security planning.

From changes in the flow of people in and out of offices to training teams, Chan-Shue recommends that companies take these steps as they adjust to hybrid work.

Re-evaluate physical space.

Many of us move through our everyday spaces on autopilot, which is why one of the first things Chan-Shue does with new City Safe clients is a focused walk-through of their physical space. Not only does this give her team of experts an in-depth understanding of how to customize security efforts, but it also gets her clients in the habit of thinking about their space more vigilantly.

Some of the questions the City Safe team asks include: What is the traffic flow in and out of your building and/or office entrances? What spaces are most and least used in the office? What physical data or critical information such as checks are you storing, and where are these assets located? Have you made any changes to your workspace, conference rooms, or communal spaces in response to COVID?

The answers to these questions are most likely different for companies now than they were even a year ago. As everyone adjusts to the hybrid work reality, companies must also adjust the way they look at their physical space and the steps they take to protect it.

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Identify new vulnerabilities.

With new work arrangements come new vulnerabilities. As mentioned above, many companies reconfigured their seating charts or even reduced the number of workstations available to minimize the spread of COVID.

Now that more people are rotating in and out of the office, are they sharing workspaces? If so, what safety measures are companies taking to protect personal property? In addition, a hybrid workforce means more employees are working on portable devices; does the company’s inventory process reflect this reality? Do companies need new digital tools to ensure that their equipment is being adequately tracked and protected?

A unique characteristic of hybrid work is that many employees have “their days” when they go into the office. Chan-Shue acknowledges that routines are helpful, but they can also become security vulnerabilities. If someone is keeping a close eye on the flow of traffic into and out of an office, they may notice that the entire finance department is fully remote every Wednesday. How can a company’s safety and security plan mitigate this vulnerability and what are the implications for how teams manage their schedules?

Rebalance tactics.

Chan-Shue reports that City Safe clients use a mix of tactics to execute their safety and security plans: on-site personnel, cameras, and digital tools, to name a few. But the mix that worked in 2019 and even 2020 will likely not work now.

On-site security teams may not only need a list of who works at the company but when they are expected to be in the office, as well as days when there may not be anyone at the office. Camera systems may need to be reconfigured in response to a new office layout. At the same time, companies may need additional cybersecurity tools to ensure that hybrid employees are set up to keep the company’s digital infrastructure safe.

Chan-Shue recommends that companies take what they learned about their physical space as well as the new vulnerabilities identified, and think about the mix of human, physical, and digital resources needed to best protect their new reality.

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Revisit safety and security training.

Once a company has adjusted their security plans, they now need to consider how they will keep their employees informed and empowered to do their part in keeping the organization safe.

What resources are needed to provide this training? If a company’s entire team isn’t on-site, they will need to create and make available training videos, virtual seminars, and online resources. Make sure employees know where to find a comprehensive plan and can easily access safety and security protocol.

Put the company on a schedule.

When it comes to workplace safety and security planning, Chan-Shue cautions that companies can’t just “set it and forget it.” The plan put in place this year must be evaluated regularly, ideally more than once a year. It’s essential that the senior management team not just embrace but evangelize this process so that the entire company is ready to actively participate in minimizing threats and protecting the organization.

Hybrid work is clearly here to stay, and while it brings tremendous opportunities, it also presents unique challenges for keeping your organization safe. Chan-Shue believes that focusing on these five areas, and partnering with the right people, will help companies ensure that their transition to a hybrid model is not just smooth but safe.

[Related: How to Safely Reopen Offices: Physical and Behavioral Changes are Key]


Jennefer Witter is the CEO/Founder of The Boreland Group, a NYC-based boutique public relations agency. Witter has been featured in many top-tier media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, Bloomberg Radio and WJLA. She also speaks on business topics and has presented at The Brookings Institution, the Durst Corporation, Columbia University and The Riveter, among others. She is the author of "The Little Book of Big PR: 100+ Quick Tips to Get Your Small Business Noticed" (Amacom/HarperCollins).

Follow Jennefer on LinkedIn.

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