March 16, 2020
Flawed office planning may increase viral infections. Here is what you should do.
It is real, folks. COVID-19 is officially a pandemic. The virus has infected nearly 200,000 people worldwide, killed several thousands, wreaked havoc across stock markets, cancelled thousands of events, and pushed some businesses to the brink of bankruptcy.
The emergency status may not last forever, but its effects will. Hundreds of thousands of companies have learned the hard way they are not well equipped to survive a plague. (To be fair, who is?). There is no available rule book in play yet, but it doesn't mean that you should stand still. There is a lot you can do to reduce the risk of infection in your workplace.
According to the World Health Organization, it is transmitted usually by exposure to droplets of infected fluid, through being in the vicinity of a cough from an infected individual, or touching a contaminated surface or an object. That said, here is your checklist to keep your workplace as Corona-free as possible
Contrary to Whatsapp myths, the virus can infect children. They may have a better chance of survival, but do not gamble it. Keep mothers of toddlers, older employees, people with any chronic conditions or low immunity at home. In fact, it is better to send everyone home unless it is absolutely necessary for them to work from office
The modern trend of sealing office windows 24/7 is very unhealthy. Open the windows and let some fresh air in as much as possible. It will dilute airborne contaminants, and make it less likely to get infected from a far away source.
Ventilation tracts that run through ceilings and walls can carry contagions from far away offices right into your face. Here is a pro-tip: there is a grading system for air ventilation filters called MERV, the higher the grade, the less contaminants it lets through. Most offices are equipped with filters ranked MERV 8 to MERV 11, which keeps out things like dust, carpet fibers and some kinds of bacteria. Consider investing in filters graded MERV 13 and above. These are the ones used in hospitals, and reduce the likelihood of infection significantly.
A Stockholm University study found out that offices without assigned desks lead to more extended sick leaves. Rotating offices means more opportunities for multiple people to touch the same surface, which translates to higher infection possibilities. For the time being, assign everyone to a specific desk.
Sometimes, change comes from above. The management should adopt a hard policy of abstaining from hugs, kisses, fist bumps, and handshakes. This can reduce the social awkwardness during the shift to the new norm. Elbow bumps are good. An Indian Namaste or a Japanese bow is perfect.
Increase your purchase of hand sanitizers, antibacterial sprays, and wipes. Ask everyone to clean their surfaces regularly. Increase bathroom cleaning shifts and make sure those door handles and faucet knobs get an extra rinse.
Make sure your office’s fridge and microwave are well maintained and squeaky clean. For the time being, be very skeptical of your fast food kitchen’s hygiene. Encourage everyone to bring their home cooked meal, and even better, bring their own utensils.
Do not make any assumptions that everyone will just know how to protect themselves.
Send an email to everyone at the office, detailing the company’s policy and procedures dealing with the outbreak. Send Slack and Whatsapp messages detailing precautions. Put up a poster in the middle of the office. Do whatever it takes to get the message across.
Is everyone on Slack and Zoom? Are all the important files available on the cloud? Brace for a possible total lockdown and a remote work protocol. Have at least a one hour drill of trying out different scenarios, to discover bottlenecks and hurdles, and experiment with different solutions.
Some of COVID-19 victims are UK’s Health Minister and the top US Army General in Europe. It is pretty obvious there is no virus proof protocol that can guarantee a 100% security. Still, such precautions are the best hope we currently have. Look at the situation as an opportunity for investing in the company’s resilience and readiness to face whatever future risks. Help out in any effort to counter the pandemic whenever possible. May the odds be in your favor.