After months of working from home, many companies around the country are exploring reopening their offices. Though the ability to do so is based on your location and industry, for those workers who know they’ll be returning to the commuting life soon, it’s reasonable to be anxious.
Particularly with so many unknowns around Covid-19 and how long the pandemic will continue, professionals must figure out their own level of caution and safety. After all, while it’s relatively easy to control your degree of exposure in your living room, being back in an open office space with your colleagues isn’t as straightforward. Before you buy anything, make sure to have an open, candid conversation with your employer about what leadership is doing to create a healthy and clean working environment, and also check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s own guidelines on the process.
Though your employer may provide many items on our back-to-office packing list, if they don’t, you should still consider investing in them yourself. We spoke with employees who are either already back to work or planning their workplace’s return about all the measures that can make you more comfortable and, more importantly, as protected as you can be.
You likely don’t need us to tell you to pack a mask with you, especially since many offices will require them. In addition to this 2020 accessory, Deb LaMere, the vice president of human resources at Datasite, recommends creating a personal protection equipment kit (PPE). This should include a face mask (or maybe even a face shield), gloves and hand sanitizer at the bare minimum.
Try these: Jointown Face Masks, 50-Pack ($29.99; amazon.com)
Variety 5-Pack of Triple-Layer Cloth Face Masks for Adults ($12.50; oldnavy.com)
Touchland Power Mist Hand Sanitizer in Watermelon ($12; touchland.com)
Megababe Squeaky Clean 8-Ounce Hand Sanitizer ($9.99; target.com)
Squish Disposable Gloves ($20.99; amazon.com)
In addition to the usual suspects (psst: the gloves and mask), entrepreneur and event planner Joe Moller suggests buying a portable UV light sanitizer. These are inexpensive and can instantly clean and sanitizer your phone, notebook, pen, computer and so on, all without a plug. However, it’s important to note that devices like these haven’t yet been proven to be effective against Covid.
“I find myself feeling more comfortable and generating less waste when I clean my phone, sunglasses and keys after I return from a meeting or appointment,” Moller says. “The cleaning devices can be brought home or left in your car or office overnight. They are also great for guests to use on their own items before sitting down for a meeting or conversation.”
Try this: Chi Life Handheld UV Light Device ($99.98; chi.com)
Before you leave the office, consider storing all of your items in a portable storage container to keep under or inside your desk. How come? Kelly Williams, founder and managing partner at Slate Law Group, says this helps prevent anyone from coming into contact with your personal materials. This includes your laptop, mouse, keyboard, notepads and other general office supplies.
“By doing this, you limit anyone from touching your work items and limiting your exposure to others,” she adds.
Try this: Iris USA Letter & Legal Size File Box, 4-Pack ($30.99; amazon.com)
If your office requires you to wear a mask the whole time you’re on the premises, it’ll take a bit of getting used to. Especially if you’ve spent the last 100-plus days working in sweats and fuzzy socks, you may struggle to adjust to being less than comfortable. That’s why Joel Johnson, the executive vice president and director of human resources at Sunrise Banks, suggests packing layers.
“While working from home, employees had the luxury of controlling the temperature, but that’s not the case at the office,” he says. “Pack layers just in case. You might have forgotten how chilly your cubicle can get.”
Try this: Amazon Essentials Women’s Lightweight Longer Length Cardigan ($26.54; amazon.com)
Remaining hydrated is a smart choice for your immune system and your ability to think creatively. But removing your mask to take a sip of water puts you at a higher risk — and, well, it can be annoying. That’s why it’s better to bring your own water bottle to the office and make sure it’s one with a straw for easy access under your mask. Williams says you can even consider having a few so you can cut down on the trips you take to the kitchenette or watercooler.
Try this: Takeya Actives 24-Ounce Straw Lid Bottle ($23.09, originally $32.99; amazon.com)
While some employers are conducting daily temperature readings, not all are being as hands-on. For peace of mind and to take control of your health, Sarah Morgan, entrepreneur and founder of human resources consulting boutique BuzzARooney, says it’s smart to carry your own digital thermometer to take your temperature in case you’re not feeling stellar.
Try this: iHealth No-Touch Forehead Thermometer ($49.99, originally $59.99; amazon.com)
There hasn’t been a proven case of someone contracting Covid-19 directly from an object, but some reports say the pathogens from the virus can live on a surface for 24 to 72 hours. To stay on the safe side, Joy Altimare, the chief engagement and brand officer for EHE Health, says it’s best to minimize the frequency of things we touch.
One way to do that is through a solid brass or copper loop, like a CleanKey, that can open doors, tap touchscreens and otherwise be used to interact with high-traffic surfaces. “Think of it as a stylus for the human finger,” she adds.
Try this: CleanKey ($19.99, originally $24; stacksocial.com)
Even if you love your commuting bag and backpack, if it’s not machine washable, you should likely leave it at home for now. To bring your laptop, wallet, notebooks and other necessities to and from the workplace, buy a few of these canvas tote bags you can throw into the wash as soon as you walk through the door.
Try this: Organic Cotton Mart Best Canvas Shopping Bags, 3-Pack ($29.47; amazon.com)
Everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to social interaction during the pandemic. While some have created small pods of friends to mingle with, others have remained hypervigilant from day one. If you err on the side of caution, Williams says to pack some masking tape to map out six feet of distance around your working station. It won’t damage carpet, wood or tiles, and will remind forgetful colleagues to give you space.
Try this: Scotch Painter’s Tape ($6.47, originally $13.10; amazon.com)
Many restaurants remain closed, while others are operating with a skeleton staff and a limited menu. This means it’s probably best to pack your own lunch, just to be on the safe side. Look for leakproof containers and choose meals that don’t need to be heated up so you can avoid heading into a shared kitchen.
Rather than choosing single-use utensils, Williams suggests buying stainless steel straws, forks, spoons and containers you can take home and wash. This material puts up a more vigorous fight against contamination too.
Try these: CoaGu Stainless Steel Containers Bento Box Canisters ($26.99; amazon.com)
Vehhe Stainless Steel Straws ($2.99; amazon.com)
The office coffee machine may just be the most popular office item, but it means different people are continually using it. As an alternative, Colleen McCreary, the chief people officer at Credit Karma, says to consider making your coffee at home or bringing your own coffee or tea bags from home so you don’t use the communal pot.
“If you bring your own mug or drinkware, you won’t have to wonder who else used it recently, and how well it was washed,” she says. And if you really, really need your java fix throughout the day, some super cheap personal ones fit nicely on your desk.
Try these: Thermos Stainless King 40-Ounce Beverage Bottle (starting at $21.88; amazon.com)
Cuisinart 4-Cup Coffeemaker With Stainless Steel Carafe ($39.95; amazon.com)
Sure, your office has a closet full of pens, notebooks, chargers and other supplies. But, if you want to be extra careful about exposure to Covid-19, you probably don’t want to get your goods from the communal stash. Instead, Williams suggests packing your own and keeping them with you at all times. Not only will you protect yourself but your fellow colleagues too.
Try this: Blu Monaco 5-Piece Cute Office Supplies Aqua Desk Organizer Set ($29.97; amazon.com)
Co-founder and CEO of Jitjatjo Tim Chatfield says it best: “Regardless of what you bring back to the office, the most important thing to have with you — besides a mask — is patience.”
“Reacclimating to an on-site work environment will present an enormous challenge for everyone,” he continues. So while there may be a period of frustration, confusion and annoyance, do what you can to remain calm and supportive. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that everything is better when we work together. When you need a moment of Zen, try to disconnect and have a cup of tea.
Try this: Yogi Tea — Breathe Deep ($23.04; amazon.com)
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed prices at the time of publication.