The epidemic is gradually dying out. The government loosens restrictions, the economy begins to recover and companies are getting ready to return to offices. However, it is not just about turning the key in the lock (or entering the code). The workplace must be prepared for the new sanitary regime. We suggest how to take care of employees' health and organize office work in times of pestilence.
The outbreak of COVID-19 is the largest remote-working experiment in history. For some people home-working proved to be a perfect solution, for others – a source of frustration. Well, it is not always easy to focus on work at home. Especially when children who have been dismissed from schools and kindergartens are playing in close proximity.
Employers' opinions are divided. Many of them have found that employees can also be effective if they are not constantly monitored. However, the situation is slowly normalizing and companies are preparing to reopen offices. But how to organize work in compliance with epidemiological safety rules and provide employees with a sense of comfort?
Here are 11 suggestions that we have developed based on the sanitary recommendations, our own experience in this area and a pinch of common sense.
If you care about safety and comfort, employees should not return to the office under pressure. Since the company has successfully operated online, there is no reason to make rapid changes. It is worth giving employees a choice: those who prefer to work in the office can return to the office and those who prefer to stay home can work remotely. A stressed employee is inefficient. And besides, see point 2.
Social distancing is one of the basic preventive measures in the fight against the epidemic. The Chief Sanitary Inspectorate recommends employees to keep a distance of 1-1.5 m while having direct contact with each other. In an office environment, this means either increasing the distance between workstations or leaving one free space between workstations. It is also worth avoiding working opposite each other at one desk. It is much easier when some employees still work remotely.
At KISS, soap consumption has increased significantly since the outbreak was announced – until we closed the office and since we reopened it. Not because we have not used it before, we just do it more frequently now. Washing your hands is especially recommended when you enter the office. An antibacterial gel is available for employees right at the entrance.
In addition to washing hands, we eagerly clean flat and high-touch surfaces such as handles, switches, holders, mice, keyboards, desks, tables, kitchen and toilet accessories as well as all other items that come into contact with many hands. There is no need to use strong chemical agents, as they can cause allergic reactions. A diluted detergent is enough. Regularity is crucial. A special regime applies in conference rooms: the equipment is cleaned immediately after the meeting.
Responsibility is also essential. It is not possible to maintain sanitary standards in the workplace if employees ignore it or, worse still, boycott it. Thus, it is worth talking to your staff asking them politely to commit themselves to following the new health and safety recommendations together, for common safety and comfort. You should also consider a cleaning duty, i.e. assigning basic sanitary duties to subsequent persons. Naturally, it is worth having your office cleaned and disinfected by an external specialist. At KISS we do this twice a week.
Should we work with masks on? If anyone has such a need, let them satisfy it. However, it would be inhumane to force workers to cover their faces constantly. Anyway, the company should provide such a form of protection and make sure that disposable masks are "in stock". It is worth putting them on during internal meetings, conferences, group discussions, when we speak eagerly and sit in close proximity to each other.
It is hard to remember all these innovations. But why burden your memory when you can put reminders like this in strategic office spaces: "Disinfect after use". The message should end with a polite "Thank you!" The atmosphere of mutual kindness is conducive to cooperation, both in terms of sanitation and business objectives.
The heating season is over, so we can open the windows. It is worth doing so because in closed rooms the concentration of microorganisms and allergens, which employees' immune systems have to deal with, increases. What can this conflict lead to? It is better not to think about it, just ventilate the office. However, influencing the air quality by means of air conditioning is not recommended. This is a real breeding ground for microbes! It is not worth the risk, all the more so because due to the pandemic, maintenance of air conditioning equipment could be stopped.
What guests? In times of epidemics, we meet online. Clients are still very reluctant to visit offices and are more willing to do things remotely. Not only for safety reasons, but also for convenience. Of course, companies are visited by couriers or food suppliers, but they keep an appropriate distance and leave the deliveries outside the office. This is how it works with us.
Actually, it is not about any system, but just vigilance. When a colleague is coughing, it is worth asking if he also has difficulty breathing (one of the symptoms of COVID-19). When your friend is blowing her nose, make sure she does not have a fever (another of the COVID-19 symptoms, but also the flu). There is no need to resort to installing thermal imaging cameras. Just observe the usual precautions (with a pinch of care). It is also worthwhile to make it clear to the employees that if they experience any symptoms of a cold, they should not come to the office.
Guidelines are one thing, and reality is another. It is not possible to comply strictly with all orders and prohibitions. Moreover, overzealousness may be harmful. Washing hands, for example, protects against infection, but excessive hygiene can weaken our immunity. This is confirmed by numerous studies. However, we are not going to delve into medical issues as we basically deal with IT. We simply recommend common sense. It also means mutual respect. The attitude towards the epidemic and the level of concern varies from person to person. You should develop a sense of responsibility in the team, however, you cannot threaten anyone with a super rigorous code of conduct.
A more formalized approach to the sanitary regime in companies can be found on the website of the Ministry of Development. „Recommendations for entrepreneurs in relation to the spread of coronavirus” (in Polish) were developed “in cooperation with the Chief Sanitary Inspector”