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Life after the COVID-19 pandemic will bring about several changes to facility operations, especially as it pertains to cleanliness and safety. The front desk is one area in particular that will be greatly affected by new operating procedures and look drastically different in the coming months.

It makes sense to prioritize new protocols in the front lobby, since it’s where everyone is filtered into and out of the building. While there might not be a high concentration of people in the area at once, there are plenty of possibilities for common surfaces to be touched and the same air to be breathed.

In May, three industry experts were asked during a COVID-19 virtual roundtable about the importance of the right setup and cleaning practices for the front desk area in a post-pandemic world. The following are some tips for good front desk operating procedures that can help members and staff stay safe and abide by social distancing standards:

Implement Touch-Free Transactions

The traditional front desk setting is a high risk environment for spreading the COVID-19 virus, with members leaning on desks and staff handling credit cards or badges. Making every transaction at the front desk touch-free will mitigate much of this risk. 

“We’ve removed all ability to register in person for classes or memberships, and we’ve put that all online,” explained Chris Tointon, the president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Omaha.

After opening its doors in late May, the Omaha Y is letting members and staff get used to the touch-free interactions. “There will be at least a month’s time period where we’re going to do very limited interactions at the front desk,” he said. “Right now, members are checking in and asking questions, and our desk staff is supportive in helping people through their needs, but we’re not grabbing credit cards or cash — we’re not physically interacting.”

Checking temperatures or doing health screenings at the door is an additional safety measure that many facilities are also adopting. According to Paul Lurie, the chief operating officer at the JCC of Greater Baltimore, it’s worth exploring different technology solutions for facilitating a touch-free screening process.

“There are lots of ways technology can lower that burden,” said Lurie. “There are iPad temperature scanners that scan people coming in — instead of using a manual thermometer — or cameras that measure body temperature. There are even UV lights you can put in HVAC systems to kill germs and bacteria throughout the building.”

Make Social Distancing Easy

Social distancing will be a hot topic of discussion for several months, as well as a difficult measure to enforce in a front desk area where people are accustomed to standing in line to have their questions answered.

“We are installing plastic shields that go around the front desk so we have that barrier between members and staff,” said Jennifer Harrington, the assistant executive director at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center in Portland, Oregon. “Putting those barriers up so there is something between people is important right now.”

Every facility’s front desk area looks different, so finding ways to enforce social distancing guidelines might require some outside-the-box thinking.

“One simple thing you can do is take one of your tables and put it on the outside of the desk, so you push the people back a little bit further,” suggested Tointon.

Directing traffic in the facility will also help with social distancing. “Put markers on the floor that show where people can or can’t stand, and how far apart they need to be, as well as arrows directing which way people are coming in and which way they’re coming out,” said Harrington.

According to Tointon, it’s also critical to ensure members aren’t clogging the doors. “Look at where you can do a one-way entry and one-way exit,” he said. “We’ve created a circle and eliminated any crossover paths we normally would have.”

Whatever measures you put in place, it’s critical to keep the safety of your members and staff top of mind. New cleanliness and safety guidelines will drastically adjust the way your front desk area — and your whole building — operates, but as long as everyone inside is staying healthy and safe, it’s worth the effort.

“We always try to go with the mindset of being customer-centric, putting the client and their needs first,” said Lurie. “Now, we’re going to have to shift into a mindset where the client is tied for first, with our staff and with keeping everybody safe. Sometimes, keeping our facility safe or protecting our staff might come before the customer, so there’s going to have to be a reeducation for people.”

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former editor of Community Rec Magazine.

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