Now that cities around the world are beginning to lift lockdown restrictions, it has become important for businesses to adopt new strategies and safety precautions before their employees go back to the office. As per global health authorities, evidence suggests that COVID-19 may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces, which suggests the need for organizations to administer sanitary regulations and contemplate on the possibility of hands-free technology as part of their workplace reopening strategies.
Workplace safety extends not only to disinfecting and sanitizing the office, but to good communication and healthy office culture as well. It does not stop after disinfection and sanitation; it also extends to good communication and healthy office culture.
These guidelines will help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and reduce its impact on your employees as you navigate through this crisis and enter the new normal.
Clean and Disinfect Work Areas Regularly
Know the difference between cleaning and disinfecting, as explained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects. Cleaning works by using soap (or detergent) and water to physically remove germs from surfaces. This process does not necessarily kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.
Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects. Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.
Keeping surfaces clean is essential in mitigating the risk of COVID-19 transmission. These include laptops, keyboards, desks, keyboards, doorknobs, handles, light switches, faucets, and smartphones. In addition to regular cleaning using soap, water, and cloth, you can also use bleach and hydrogen peroxide but remember to follow all necessary dilution and protection practices according to the label.
Increase Safety and Security Measures
Research shows that the virus does not spread as easily in the outdoors or areas with good ventilation. Installing high-efficiency air filters and better HVACs (heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems) will help you lessen the viral load in your office interior.
Employee screening is also highly recommended to better track potential carriers of the virus and it should be done by an official COVID-19 testing personnel. If Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is not available, no testing should take place.
See guidelines below for COVID-19 testing personnel:
- Screening shall be conducted at the office entrance using thermal scanners requiring no skin contact.
- Stand behind a plastic or glass partition to avoid respiratory droplets that may be produced when employees talk, cough, or sneeze.
- Wear a face shield, a pair of disposable gloves, and a gown if you expect to have extensive contact with the employee.
- Check for signs of illness, which could include flushed cheeks or fatigue.
- See if there is coughing or shortness of breath.
- Check the temperature by reaching through an opening in the partition. Always keep your face behind the barrier.
- Reusable thermometers must be cleaned between every check.
- After screening the last employee, remove and discard PPE and gloves, and then clean your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or with hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
- If the employee’s temperature is equal to or in excess of 37.4 degrees Celsius, he or she should not be allowed to enter the premises to commence work.
Always remind your employees to wear a face mask when inside the office premises, except only when drinking or eating. Doing so will help them protect themselves especially when it is difficult to maintain a 6-foot distance.
Observe Physical Distancing
Keep the transmission of COVID-19 under control by maintaining a safe distance of at least six (6) feet or two (2) meters from one another when possible. Workstations may have to be adjusted and rewiring may have to be done to widen the gap between employees.
Consider the following distancing strategies:
- Increase physical space between employees’ workstations to ensure six (6) feet of distance.
- Enable one-way traffic flow through hallways and aisles.
- Offer flexible work arrangements. This method will lead to fewer people in the office as well as less face-to-face meetings. But before you plunge into a remote work set-up, you must make sure that your team’s IT infrastructure and laptops are well equipped and configured with the best technology for remote collaboration.
- Arrange work schedules to decrease the number of people in an area at a time. Have some of your team members work remotely for a week, then have them come into the office the next week. Ensure that meticulous sanitation procedures are done between shifts.
Practice Proper Waste Management
Employers should conduct a thorough assessment of the hazards to which their employees may be exposed, then implement good waste disposal measures to avoid the risk of exposure.
- Provide trash bins lined with a plastic bag for easier and contactless waste segregation.
- Avoid touching used tissues and other waste when emptying trash bins.
- Provide your employees with all necessary PPE once risk of infection is identified. Have the COVID-19 testing personnel train them on how to correctly use PPE and make sure that they follow the guidance available.
- Dispose of items used to clean surfaces immediately.
- Wash your hands with soap and water afterwards.
Develop an Effective Communication Strategy
Developing an integrated communication strategy is critical as you and your team navigate through these uncertain times. Now more than ever, it is important to reassure and support your employees who may be going through some challenges brought about by the pandemic.
Below are some of the best practices to consider when communicating with your team members amid the crisis, whether in-house or remote:
- Give regular and concise updates that are relevant to your industry, business, and workplace.
- Create an internal communication channel intended for posting company updates.
- Put together a Communications team that is dedicated to answering questions and disseminating information across all departments.
- Provide another communication channel where your employees can reach out for any concerns or issues that may arise.
- Display signage throughout the entire office premises that will keep everyone mindful of safety: physical distancing, proper hygiene, wearing of face mask, cleaning recommendations, room etiquette, and symptom checks.
- Encourage virtual meetings through video conferencing towards the end of a workday such as team snacks or happy hours, especially for those who are working remotely.
It is essential for leaders to keep your communication lines open and check in regularly with your team as it is easy for collaboration to dwindle without face-to-face interaction, particularly in the case of remote teams. Moreover, tell them how much you appreciate them and reassure them of the continuity of your operations as well as your core mission and values.
While timelines for reopening offices and resuming business activity remain fluid, businesses are expected to bring employees back to work amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. As an employer and leader, it is your responsibility to prioritize the health and safety of your employees. Adopting a shift in workplace policies during this crisis may seem daunting, but approaching these efforts with an abundance of caution can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus and ensure both your employees and facilities are prepared for the new normal after this pandemic.