By Nai Kanell
Director of Marketing
SpaceIQ

Many workplaces are idle and empty right now, save for some essential businesses. It’s one thing to remain in operation during a pandemic; it’s another to keep a safe work environment. Workplaces that remain open amidst the coronavirus pandemic must focus on employee health and wellness. Reducing workplace exposure to COVID-19 should be a top priority.

Protecting employees against workplace transmission of the virus is simpler than you might think. There’s nothing revolutionary about workplace hygiene and a heightened sense of personal space. Employers should institute policies that place a higher emphasis on controlling the spread of germs. Here’s how to keep employees safe in four simple steps.

1. Prioritize workplace distancing

From all available information about COVID-19, the best thing we can do to keep transmission rates low is stay at least six feet away from one another. Coronavirus spreads via respiratory droplets, which means every cough, sneeze, or fleck of spittle has the potential to transmit it from person to person. It’s been shown that six feet between employees is enough to reduce transmission.

Create distance by instituting temporary floor plans or social distance working policies. These will depend on the type of workplace layout you operate. Here are a few workplace-specific tips:

  • Use tape to delineate six-foot intervals between hot desks, assigned seating, etc.
  • Limit/restrict access to smaller spaces
  • Install temporary cubicle-style walls to separate desk neighborhoods

Alongside these temporary desking precautions, advise employees to not congregate around the elevator or in the break room. Give passersby a wide berth when walking, and avoid meeting in groups unless absolutely necessary.

2. Increase sanitization efforts

Coronavirus has a longer-than-average survival rate on surfaces—up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. Even good social distancing is moot if there aren’t proper sanitization practices to support it. These practices come from both the employer side and from employees themselves. Here’s what both groups should do to keep their workplace safe and sanitary:

Employers

  • Set up hand sanitizer stations
  • Hire out frequent janitorial services
  • Stock health supplies

Employees

  • Practice good hand washing
  • Practice good sneeze/cough etiquette
  • Maintain a clean work area

If every employee commits to regularly washing their hands throughout the day and employers bring in janitorial services multiple times each week, the surface survival rate for coronavirus drops significantly. It’s an essential step alongside mitigating direct person-to-person contact.

3. Embrace remote working solutions

The best way to reduce potential workplace exposure to COVID-19 is to minimize the number of people present in the workplace, as well as the time they’re present. The ideal solution is remote work.

Set up the framework for remote work first. Create remote access credentials, assign hardware, test remote logins to essential programs, and establish new processes for communication and collaboration. Once you establish the how of remote work, do a dry run with a small group to work out barriers or snags. From there, transition teams in the order that most makes sense for your workplace until you’re left with those who can’t work remotely.

Remote work doesn’t need to be a full-time solution, either. Adopt remote days or shifts to cut down on workplace congregation. Group A works remotely Monday and Tuesday; Group B works remote Wednesday and Thursday; the groups alternate every other Friday. It’s a midpoint between all in-house or all remote work.

4. Emphasize employee health and wellness

Don’t turn illness into a taboo at your workplace. Employees need to feel comfortable when they report symptoms and ask to self-quarantine. If they hide symptoms or illness, they only risk exposing more people. Create a transparent policy for discussing illness so employees know you value their health, wellness, and privacy.

  • Establish a self-screening process before employees come to work. If they register a fever above 100 degrees, have a cough, or generally feel poor, ask them to stay home.
  • Urge employees to report illness as soon as possible. Transition this person to remote work or sick leave and trace their interactions to report any potential exposure.
  • Follow up with COVID-19 testing information or referrals for employees. Provide resources to confirm or dispel a diagnosis so you can act accordingly.

Throughout this process, emphasize concern for employee health and wellbeing. Let employees know their safety is of the utmost importance, and do what you can to unburden them of work and responsibilities while they recover.

Be mindful of how coronavirus spreads

Most of these changes offer little departure from normal operations. Rather, they show a heightened sense of forethought to how COVID-19 spreads in close proximity. While you might need to move some desks and transition to a floor plan with more space between employees, the change doesn’t need to be disruptive. Likewise, neither does a transition to remote work or flex scheduling.

At the end of the day, the intent is to protect your people. Temporary disruptions are worth it to keep your workforce healthy and at-ease, and will result in long-term benefits after the pandemic passes.

Keep reading: COVID-19 Workplace Resources