Companies implement safety and design changes as employees return to office

Business

CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — After the coronavirus pandemic forced Americans to work remotely, many are now returning to the office for the first time in more than a year.

The return is happening faster in some areas than others. Office visits have reached about 26% of pre-pandemic levels, which averaged across 10 big cities. According to data from Kastle Systems, Dallas tops the list with the most employees working in the office, while New York and San Francisco lag behind, a company that tracks data from key cards and devices.

However, when workers return depends on the employer and the environment could look different.

Horizon Therapeutics, a biotechnology company, started remodeling their 70 acre U.S. headquarters, located in Deerfield, IL, in early 2020.

“We had the benefit of starting this and beginning the construction right when COVID started, so we’re able to adapt a lot of things,” said Horizon Therapeutics President & CEO Tim Walbert.

Even with the uncertainly of the pandemic, Walbert pressed forward with the massive project — transforming the company’s office space for a post-pandemic world.

“When we talk about it being personal to us, it definitely is personal to me,” Walbert said.

Horizon Therapeutics develops medicines for patients with rare diseases; Walbert is one of them. He designed the new workspace to make even the most concerned employees feel safe.

“The center space was really closed off; we literally opened up the whole floor plan,” Walbert explained. “It’s going to be people slowly adapting and people with different levels of comfort.”

Dozens of people will eventually fill these cubicles, but right now, they must sign up online to use an office instead.

“It’s so great when you run into someone you haven’t seen in a year,” said Aaron Frankel, a Horizon Therapeutics employee. “It’s like a family reunion you have each time.”

After a year of working remotely, Frankel is getting used to his new digs. But it’s not just a new setting he’s getting used to, but a whole new experience.

Frankel says a lot of things are now touchless, like now ordering coffee at work on his smartphone.

“You just put down a cup there, and it brews it without ever touching any surfaces,” he said. “Even the bathrooms have an arm thing where you can open the door, so you don’t have to have those common touchpoints.”

The company also created its own fitness center and day care called Little Horizons.

“Its great; I get some one on one time with my daughter in the car driving up here,” Frankel said.

“Knowing that we don’t have the flexibility to run out like we used to, you have to provide a much broader list of amenities to employees — to make it worthwhile, to come back into the office versus staying at home,” Walbert explained.

For Frankel, it’s the little things that make a big difference.

“I don’t feel like there’s any chance of exposure; I just feel super safe while I’m here,” Frankel said.

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