10 Ways to keep your office COVID-19 free as the lockdown eases
After shutting down all activities in Pakistan for over two months due to the coronavirus outbreak, a light can finally be seen at the end of the tunnel. Based on research and analysis, countries around the globe are resuming businesses since they are the engine that keep every economy running.
Here’s why this is happening – it’s because governments have realised the virus might be here to stay – and the only means of tackling it is to incorporate certain measures to our work lifestyle.
Yes, ‘work from home’ is not the only solution. In fact, offices can do wonders at maintaining a bacteria free environment. Just remember: safety measures and precautions are an integral part of your life now.
Here’s how you can make your workplace a safe space that is COVID-19 free.
1) The essentials needed before opening up
Now that you can get back to business, here are certain investments you need to make to create a safe and healthy workplace for all employees. Remember, if the number of infected cases rises, we might enter another phase of the lockdown. Hence, investing in equipment to keep your office coronavirus free is a step you must take now.
- Install hand sanitizers around the office: Hand sanitizers must be installed at different points around the space including the entrance and exits in order to motivate staff to keep disinfecting.
- Hazmat Suits: Arrange Hazmat Suits for thermal scanning staff.
- Keep masks for guests and visitors: Store masks for employees as well as outsiders and make it mandatory for them to follow this protocol.
- Staff training: Since everyone is new to tackling the virus, make sure each member of the staff is aware of the precautionary measures needed to be followed in the office. Hold daily staff briefings regarding COVID-19 and assign lunch shifts in order to avoid a crowd.
2) Signage around the office
Paste flyers and signage around the office space regarding physical distancing, washing hands, and how one can wear the mask correctly. This includes sanitizing before wearing a mask, making sure it covers the nose and mouth completely, and the disposal of damp masks.
It will take employees time to adjust to the new way of life so keep reminding them of the measures they need to follow.
3) ‘Germ proof’ the employees at the entrance
Let’s face it, sometimes we are sick and we don’t even realise it. Therefore, it’s of great importance to have equipment that can spot an ill employee before they even enter the premises. It’s better to be safe than sorry, isn’t it? Here’s what you will need as an employer:
Scan everyone at the entrance – be it the boss, a visitor, or an employee. Ask anyone with a temperature above 37.5 celsius or 99.5 Fahrenheit to head back home and seek medical attention.
Santize before entering:
Who knows where those hands have been and what they have touched? Life will be much easier if a sanitizer is provided at the entrance to cleanse everyone. Sanitize, disinfect, and enter, is the motto of the year!
No mask, no entry:
Sure, wearing a mask can be annoying, but it is essential nowadays! The fact is, even if someone doesn’t have fever, they could be carriers of the virus.
How is the coronavirus spread? Mostly through coughing and sneezing. According to WHO, people wearing masks can greatly reduce the risk of infection, hence make it mandatory for all employees.
Keep a track of staff and visitors entering the office. This includes the time and date of the entry/visit. The data will prove to be of great help if an individual who had recently visited the premises contracts the virus.
4) Disinfect to keep bacteria at bay
Since disinfection is one of the most crucial steps in controlling the virus, make sure you introduce important sterilization methods into your workplace. This includes deep disinfection at least once a day.
Also hightlight areas frequently touched by employeees, for instance, lunch room, smoking zone, toilets, meeting rooms etc. Once these areas have been detected, use red tags to label them as ‘high risk’ red regions. This means, the employees touching these areas have to sanitize or wash their hands. To follow full protocol, decontaminate the red zones after every 30 minutes.
Last but not least, discourage staffers to order food from outside. In fact, keep it a rule to disinfect each parcel or food delivery entering the premises. Who knows how many people have touched the packaging?
5) Make special rules for each area of the office
Since each area of an office serves a distinct purpose, it’s crucial to plan out a different protocol for each region. Following are some useful suggestions:
Since meetings get crowded, our recommendation is to turn to the option of online meetings. However, if a meeting is necessary to be conducted in person, create a distance of a few feet within the employees by tagging seats as ‘red’ and ‘green’. Only green chairs can be occupied.
Don’t fill up the office
Assign employees different days to visit office in order to avoid 100% occupancy. Divide the workers into two shifts and call them every alternate week. The 10-day break provided to each shift will also help identify infected individuals if a case of COVID-19 arises.
Most importantly, asymptomatic people will have only four days of interaction with the rest of the staff – greatly reducing the chance of infection spreading.
The idea may not excite you but it’s time to change the way your office looks. Yes, you can no longer have employees sit together without separators on their work desks. If a mask can control the spread of the virus, imagine the good a desk separator can do.
Make sure each employee is seated a few feet apart. This way even if an infected individual coughs or sneezes, the likeliness of the virus spreading is next to zero.
Designate praying areas that can be sterilized a few times a day. Also make sure staffers bring their own praying mats.
Break down the lunch timings into four hours in the afternoon and assign groups that will have lunch together while maintaining social distancing protocol.
Also mark the common room seats as ‘red’ and ‘green’ to avoid chances of people sitting too close together.
Appoint someone to disinfect washbasins, taps, doorknobs and other touch points after every 30 minutes.
6) Control the tea and coffee breaks
Let’s face it, working all day can tire the brain out to a point where a caffeine is needed. However, a lot of people touching the crockery and the pantry is just a disaster waiting to happen. Instead, we suggest you appoint the duty to a designated staff. Also forbid the employees from forming a queu while they await their caffeine hit.
Worried about those who will step out for tea? Simply set a fixed time where employees can leave the office. This is important as upon their return, they must go through the sanitization protocol all over again.
7) Areas to sanitize every 30-minutes
We agree, disinfecting a space after every half an hour can be a tedious task, however, it’s a necessary one. Following are a few areas that are generally the most touched and need to be cleansed often:
- All doorknobs and handles
- Switch boards
- Staircase railing
- AC and TV remote
- Printer and telephone receiver
- Meeting room accessories such as board markers, erasers, chair arm rest etc
- All washroom accessories
- Kitchen accessories such as coffee machine/kettle/microwave buttons, storage handles, etc
- Water dispenser
8) Habits employees need to adopt
- Always wear a mask.
- Bring personal water bottles and mugs.
- Do not show up to work if unwell.
- Use the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Avoid office if you just returned from abroad.
- Do not spread panic regarding COVID-19.
9) Tips for managers and team leads
Believe it or not, a manager or boss can have an impact on how seriously the protocol and safety measures are followed by the rest. But before that comes into play, managers must realise they can’t be as strict as they once were. For instance, be understanding if an employee does not have transport as using public transport can have numerous detrimental effects at this point in time.
Also, do not push employees with a high risk profile to come to work. This includes people with fever , pregnant women, people with a medical history, employees with asthma and respiratory conditions etc.
10) How to deal with an employee with COVID-19
If you want the staff to be honest, create an open and safe evironment. This means, you must set a policy that restricts revealing the identity of an infected staffer. This is necessary as fear may force the other team members to stigmatise those who are ill.
Furthermore, individuals who interacted with the infected employee should be given some time off to observe quarantine.