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Our COVID-19 Recommendations for Healthier Branches and Workplaces

⋅ Categories: Workplace Insights, Resources

The prospect of returning to work after stay-at-home orders lift can be daunting, and the question we’re asked the most is “How can I make my workplace safe for employees?” To help you navigate this process, we’ve put together a checklist that covers what you can do in both the short and long term to protect your staff.

We would also like to walk you through the six main impact areas that these recommendations fall under: HVAC & Air Quality, Furniture, Material Applications, Technology, Cleaning Protocols, and Operation Protocols.

HVAC & Air Quality

This is where you have the biggest opportunity to improve employee wellness in the COVID-19 era. This is a respiratory disease, and the 6-foot rule breaks down in indoor environments with central air. You may move 6 feet away from your desk mate, but you could still be infected by a coworker on the other side of the building if poorly filtered air is recirculated in the building. But there is good news, there are things that you can do right now and in the long term to dramatically mitigate this risk.

Right now:

  • Raise humidity to 40-60% with HVAC system or portable humidifiers. Water vapor in the air inhibits the movement of COVID-19 sized particles and reduces the spreading distance and moisturizes the cilia in your airways to prevent the particles from becoming airborne in the first place.
  • Prop open doors and windows to increase the flow of fresh air to displace stale air.
  • Replace air filters in HVAC system with filters that can catch COVID-19. MERV 13 filters are the best.

Long term:

  • Replace windows that cannot be opened with those that can.
  • Upgrade older HVAC systems with newer designs that integrate fresh outdoor air.

Furniture

Furniture can also play a role in reducing the transmission of respiratory diseases. It guides how we move through and use spaces, and it is something that we interact with closely throughout the day. It can also help with how we approach social distancing in the workplace.  Here are our furniture recommendations.

Right now:

  • Remove half of the seats in conference rooms and communal areas, halving the density of people using those areas.
  • Increase the spacing between workstations to ensure a minimum of 6 feet between employees.
  • Install temporary movable screens or panels that employees can adjust to meet their preferences

Long term:

  • Add glass or acrylic panel toppers to open workstations to make them easier to clean.
  • Choose non-porous and non-woven materials for new furniture, ensuring that the surfaces can be easily cleaned.

Material Applications

The surfaces that we interact with throughout the day often play a major role in spreading infection, but there are a few ways to reduce this.

Right now:

  • Provide disposable paper placemats that employees can use to provide physical separation from their work surfaces.
  • Add signage and floor stickers to remind employees of social distancing policies and lay our one-way circulation paths.

Long term:

  • Choose cleanable surfaces for any new material selections.
  • Consider materials with copper or silver-ions to inhibit pathogen growth.

Technology

Technology plays an increasingly large role in our lives, and there are many tools available that can help us prevent the spread of disease. These tools can help us work remotely and avoid touching communal surfaces.

Right now:

  • Move meetings, even among staff in the office, to Zoom, Teams, or Go-To-Meeting.
  • Re-think what travel is essential and what can be moved to online meeting platforms, particularly business development travel and meetings with partners.
  • Provide workers in unassigned seats with their own wireless keyboard and mouse to eliminate sharing of these devices.

Long Term:

  • Use touchless technology throughout your office, such as automatic faucets, auto-flush toilets, and light and door sensors.
  • Consider adding gesture control and voice control technology to devices that currently use touchscreens,

Cleaning Protocols

Did you know that janitorial staff are usually instructed to leave personal workstations alone? This means that many areas of your office may not be cleaned on a regular basis. In the new post-pandemic world, it is going to be critical that everyone take an active role in both personal and workplace cleanliness.

Right now:

  • Encourage good handwashing with signage in the bathrooms recommending proper technique and trash receptacles next to the bathroom doors to allow employees to use a paper towel to open them.
  • Encourage employees to disinfect frequently and provide cleaning stations with supplies such as Clorox wipes, cleaning sprays, and paper towels.
  • Increase the frequency and level of cleaning performed by janitorial staff.
  • Add hand sanitizing stations near entrances and eating areas.

Operational Protocols

The final element is your organizational policies. There are a number of ideas that can have an impact on the spread on COVID-19, but unless they become official policy widespread adoption may not happen. Here are our recommendations:

Right now:

  • Implement a clean desk policy where staff must remove clutter from and disinfect their desks at the end of the day.
  • Minimize group sizes for in-person meetings and only invite those who really need to be there. Meeting minutes can inform those who are only attending for information updates.
  • Incorporate more robust Work-from-home policies and staggered shifts, which can enable you to accomplish the same amount of work with fewer people in the office.

Long term:

  • Transition to unassigned seating. These spaces are much easier to keep clean, and the lack of clutter and personal items makes them accessible for janitorial staff to clean and disinfect.
  • Ensure that employees have a comfortable remote work setting. Keep in mind that millennials and Gen Z are the hardest hit by the stay-at-home orders, as they are more likely to live in smaller apartments.

Don’t Go It Alone

As with many of our recommendations, we suggest involving your staff in discussion and implementation of workplace wellness policies. Not only will they bring good ideas to the table, but by giving them ownership and a voice you will be more likely to gain widespread buy-in and compliance.

And as always, don’t hesitate to reach out to us as a resource!



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