Staging Your Office for Success:
Safeguard against COVID-19 Return-to-Work Anxiety through Proper Planning
As your organization begins to return to the office environment, laying the groundwork to minimize the spread of COVID-19 means implementing a thorough protection protocol. Continued teleworking, flex schedules and a staggered staffing approach are first-line defenses. Along with now-common practices such as required face coverings, 6-foot distance rule, and frequent handwashing, consider adopting the following OSHA recommendations.
Develop an infectious disease preparedness and response that can help guide protective actions against COVID-19. Stay abreast of guidance from federal, state, local, tribal, and/or territorial health agencies, and consider how to incorporate those recommendations and resources into workplace-specific plans.
Plans should consider and address the level(s) of risk associated with various worksites and job tasks workers perform at those sites. Such considerations may include:
Where, how, and to what sources of SARS-CoV-2 might workers be exposed, including:
The general public, customers, and coworkers
Sick individuals or those at particularly high risk of infection (e.g., international travelers who have visited locations with widespread sustained (ongoing) COVID-19 transmission, healthcare workers who have had unprotected exposures to people known to have, or suspected of having, COVID-19)
Non-occupational risk factors at home and in community settings
Workers’ individual risk factors (e.g., older age; presence of chronic medical conditions, including immunocompromising conditions; pregnancy)
Controls necessary to address those risks
Preparing Your Office Space to Support the New Protocol
Putting your office in order involves reexamining the general layout and functionality of your space in order to determine best practices for promoting a healthy environment. Some factors to consider in the reception area are:
How access is gained, whether to eliminate or reduce seats to facilitate physical distancing and whether to make other modifications, such as a plastic shield, to protect the receptionist
Determine what signage is needed and establish a system, such as a log, for learning when people access and leave the office
Deciding if guests are allowed and consider requiring them to arrive at a specific time, and call before arriving
Providing PPE, such as face masks, and having hand sanitizer available
Determining how frequently to clean and maintain the areas during the workday
Other areas of consideration include:
Building entrance, elevators, and stairs. Learn the building management’s protocol on tenants wearing face coverings in elevators, the number of people allowed on the elevator at a time, etc.
HVAC, temperature, and humidity. Seek professional advice as to whether your office space has adequate airflow, ventilation, temperature, and humidity control to help combat COVID-19.
Helping Your Office Staff Practice COVID-19-Conscious Behavior Each Day
Adopting new daily habits is one of the most effective ways of battling COVID-19. Support this strategy by:
Providing tissues and trash receptacles
Maintaining regular housekeeping practices, including routine cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, equipment, and other elements of the work environment. Utilize Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved disinfectants with claims against emerging viral pathogens
Educating your staff on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, and dedicate additional HR resources to answering their questions about what to do if they become ill, or are exposed to someone who is sick
Discouraging workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment, when possible
Suspending or limiting business travel, and following all CDC travel guidelines, including proper self-isolation and quarantine procedures for any employee who does travel
Displaying posters encouraging hygiene practices
Determining how many people can safely occupy a meeting room with appropriate physical distancing
Considering moving toward an app-based system if communal time clocks are utilized.
Reevaluating in-office catering and meal service. Avoid communal food trays and salad bars, and consider switching to individual sealed containers for each employee (or suspending company-sponsored catering and meals entirely). Establish a protocol for touchless food delivery
Installing touchless faucets in kitchens and breakrooms
Implementing a one-way, clockwise walking pattern throughout the office will also help with the social distancing and face-to-face risk of spreading the virus
Eliminating porous surfaces and fabrics throughout your facility. Chairs, carpets, and wall tapestries can harbor coronavirus particles for up to a week without sanitization
Installing antimicrobial hardware throughout your facility. Door handles, push/pull locks, emergency exit devices and more are now available with a silver ion coating that can help slow the spread of bacteria and viruses
Well thought-out precautions can provide the tools to help keep your office environment healthy and help workers feel confident they are returning to a safe environment.
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