Seven Steps to a Safer Office – Keeping COVID-19 at bay in the workplace

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Whether it’s schools, shopping centres, or skate parks, reopening has been a light at the end of the tunnel for so many different sectors.

Companies, corporations, and conglomerates of all shapes and sizes are eager to return to some kind of workplace normalcy, letting them get business done and the economy re-energised. But eagerness needs to be tempered with caution. The last thing any of us want is a second wave of COVID-19 infections. Everything could be set back by months, if not years, and the accompanying recession could be deeper and much more damaging.

So how can we best prepare? How can we make our businesses ready for a return to work in the post lockdown world? Here are seven steps to help keep your office safer and more secure against future COVID-19 infections.

1. One Way Operations

By giving your office corridors a convenient circulatory system, you cut out unnecessary contact. Bumping into people unexpectedly will become increasingly rare, and the disease will have far less chance to spread. Choose one entrance and one exit, and make your employees stick to it.

2. Entry and Exit Hand-Washing Stations

Many businesses will want to sprinkle every stairwell with a hand sanitiser dispensary, but for smaller firms that may not be practical. However, the most important places where hand-washing should be encouraged is where you come in, and where you go out. This will help keep the office interior free of external contamination.

3. Staggered Shift Systems

The end of lockdown will not arrive all at once, so why should your employees. If at all possible, arrange your employee’s timetables to avoid having everyone in the office at the same time. Stagger shifts, and separate out different teams that don’t need to share a building to work together. If different shifts during the day are not possible, consider alternating between working from home and office working every other week.

4. Minimise Meetings

Meetings are a constant topic of discussion in office planning, but love them or hate them, none can deny what they represent. A disease vector danger. To combat this, arrange as few of them as possible. Group emails, zoom calls, or the old fashioned but still perfectly functional telephone. To really make sure that a meeting you’re planning absolutely must take place create specific criteria. For ideas on what to include, see our post on criteria for necessary meetings coming next week.

5. Designated Individual Items

Sharing a stapler or some scissors might seem simple and safe, but this kind of surface swapping can present potential dangers. On hard materials like plastic or ceramics, COVID-19 can live for up to 72 hours. On softer surfaces, like fabrics and paper, that drops to a maximum of 24 hours (learn more about surface safety from our sister company who examined this in a warehouse context). Where at all possible, make sure everyone has a personal stack of office supplies. Pens, pencils, paper, coffee mugs. Anything handled and used regularly. If there is only one of something, such as a kettle or coffee pot, put up a note to encourage hand-washing after use. This doesn’t just save lives, it also saves time. To quote a CIA memo from 1963 – “Small office tools are inexpensive, and each desk should have their own. Borrowing is a real time-waster”.

6. Cubicle Comeback

Much maligned by comics like Dilbert, and sitcoms like the Office, the truth is that the office cubicle could be essential to the post lockdown workplace. It helps keep people in defined and delineated spaces, minimising exposure to infected airflow or contaminated surfaces. It needn’t be doom and gloom, as many modern cubicle designs are transparent plastic, allowing light and levity to still spread throughout the office, while still keeping everyone safe.

7. Open the Windows

Where possible, open windows can be a big help in the fight against COVID-19. The fresh air helps diffuse and disperse any airborne pathogens inside, allowing everyone to breathe easier as they work. You may want to take this one step further, and host some meetings outdoors, assuming the weather is apt.

Though we all want to return to normality, keeping everyone healthy is in the forefront of our minds. Putting the ongoing official medical advice into practice in our workplaces can help make the eventual return to work safer for everyone.

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