Over the last few months, the emergence of the coronavirus disease, COVID-19, has changed life as we know it and had a huge impact on the way we work. However, with lockdown now easing and some workers feeling more comfortable returning to work, many offices are looking ahead to how they can begin operating again. While many businesses are moving to remote work, lots of companies do require employees to be on-premise to complete their job to the highest standard – and this means creating a safe office space.
It’s completely normal to feel a little apprehension as we return back to the office; it’s highly likely you’ll find yourself thinking differently about the surfaces, equipment and furniture around you. However, with the right cleaning and maintenance routine, sufficient air quality and ventilation systems, social distancing and signage, a safe workspace can be created.
Creating a safe office space: Cleaning and disinfection
Regular cleaning and disinfection plays a vital role in limiting the transmission of COVID-19. Developing and following a regular cleaning schedule for the office is the best way to maintain hygiene in your office and keep employees safe.
All areas and sections of the office need to be cleaned, including:
Tables and desks
Computer mice, keyboards and phones
Desk accessories (such as staplers, pen cups, etc)
The kitchen areas and bathrooms also need to be cleaned and disinfected:
Appliance handles and controls (fridge, toaster, etc)
Chair-backs at seating areas
It’s also a good idea to practice regular deep cleaning of carpets, window treatments (such as curtains and blinds) and upholstery.
Disinfection kills germs by means of a chemical process. Before you disinfect any surfaces, always clean them first; a detergent or soap and water solution can be used to remove particles that carry risk of COVID-19, helping to reduce the viral load before disinfection begins. Always use disposable gloves and masks for disinfection and throw them away after use.
Reducing clutter in the office and removing difficult to clean items entirely can make keeping on top of cleanliness and hygiene easier. The frequency of cleaning in the office will need to be significantly increased compared with previous or ‘ordinary’ cleaning schedules. Crockery and eating utensils should not be shared; instead, employees should bring their own lunches in along with their own cutlery and utensils.
Promote regular and thorough hand-washing by employees by setting up sanitising stations in prominent places around the workplace. Display posters promoting hand-washing and send out regular emails encouraging employees to wash their hands regularly and maintain social distancing.
To keep your office clean and hygienic, we recommend hiring a commercial cleaning company. There is further information regarding general principles of cleaning during the COVID-19 pandemic on the NHS website.
Maintaining social distancing and keeping employees safe
Social distancing is absolutely crucial in the office. There are plenty of different ways you can enforce and practice social distancing, from one way systems to alternating employee rotas. Below are a few ways you can adapt your office to meet the social distancing guidelines set out by the government.
Limit who comes into the office
In order to maintain social distancing, it’s important to limit who comes into the office. You won’t be able to have all employees in at once; instead, it’s a good idea to create a rota with flexible hours and staggered shifts for your employees. Without crowd control planning, most office environments make it impossible to stay two metres apart at all times, so it’s important to make those changes and adjustments to create a safe office space.
Rearrange the office
You may need to rearrange your office if social distancing cannot be maintained in the current layout. Make the necessary adjustments and changes before everyone returns to work; if you need some help or assistance, try out a space planning software.
Mark narrow hallways with one-way lanes to prevent people from getting too close to each other. Roping off sections of kitchens and communal areas can also help stop people from crowding or gathering in one small space. Installing partitions between desks and social spaces can also help keep your employees safe.
Consider automatic or “touchless” office upgrades
Upgrading to automatic or “touchless” features in the office can help to limit contact between employees and limit the spread of coronavirus. Consider investing in automatic office doors, motion-detecting light switches, motion-detecting taps and flushes, towel dispensers, hand-dryers and soap, sanitiser and lotion dispensers.
Keep visitors to a minimum
If possible, prohibit visitors. If you’re not able to prohibit visitors, customers or clients in the workplace, keep them to a minimum. It’s also important to prohibit personal packages delivered to the office and limit locker use; employees should only use a locker if they absolutely have to.
Provide employees with disinfectant wipes and sanitiser
Increase the availability of disinfectant wipes and anti-bacterial hand sanitiser for employees. It’s also worth running through how to use them correctly; this can be done in an email.
Offices are home to many sources of air contamination, such as organic compounds (from cleaning agents), bacteria and viruses. Poor air ventilation only worsens this. As you phase employees back into the office, make sure you take the necessary steps to improve your office’s air ventilation and filtration system. Conduct an air quality assessment of your existing HVAC system to make sure your system is in top condition and ventilating your workspace correctly.
There’s a high chance your employees will be experiencing a range of emotions as they are asked to return to work and therefore it’s important to reassure and support them. Clear communication and signage is absolutely vital; providing clear and concise updates that are relevant to your industry and location will keep them in the loop.
Provide signage around the office to remind all employees of their health and safety while working in the office, including cleaning recommendations, symptom checks and what to do if they feel worried or concerned.
Create a space for your staff to reach out to you with any concerns, questions or worries they may have. This can be done remotely, through zoom calls or, if necessary, a socially distanced meeting.