Humans coming face to face with the worst of calamities is a tale as old as time. Plagues, famines, tsunamis, wildfires, earthquakes, even economic depression – have all caused significant damage to mankind. But, despite the harm taken by humans, they have always risen above every adversity and not only survived but thrived too. Human resilience is undoubtedly unparalleled.
Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic was nothing short of a great natural catastrophe. This highly contagious disease was not only the cause of thousands of deaths every day; it also disrupted our social and public interactions. Workplaces were no longer deemed safe, and for the first time, “social distancing” became a phenomenon.
After the first few waves, mankind has better understood the diseases and even developed protocols to prevent the virus. However, there is still a mass hysteria surrounding the illness, leading many people to feel unsafe during public interactions. Despite the clarity offered by health experts, people are still skeptical about vaccines.
But, life tends to go on and with the pandemic under some control, the public is gradually ending the ‘work-from-home’ culture. Of course, the threat and anxiety persist amongst the workers going back to the office.
As we are all aware, keeping a safe physical distance is crucial to ensure the virus stays at bay. While reopening offices, social distancing is one of the most important protocols that the authorities stress to limit the further spread of the disease. Going back to the same office spaces is not wise. Employers should ensure that their office layouts are redesigned or altered according to the new normal.
Here are some ideas to ensure safe physical distancing in your office space post-COVID-19.
While redesigning the whole office space seems like an extensive task, you can begin by installing plexiglass barriers on each desk enclosure. The same shields can also be installed in conference rooms, cafeterias, and even hallways to ensure safe social interaction between employees.
In spaces where employee crossover is common, one-way traffic can be enforced with transparent barriers in between. This will help decrease unnecessary employee contact without hindering on-foot movement around the office.
Spaces like employee lounges, conference rooms, meeting rooms, or even cafeterias can be repurposed and turned into temporary workstations to spread employees throughout the building. With more space in use, desks can be placed six feet apart, ensuring necessary social distancing protocols are adhered to.
Open-office arrangements replaced the old cubicle designs long ago. But, it looks like the post-COVID era could really use the return of the old layouts. With glass or plastic cubicles, employers can provide a more permanent and safer space to their employees than temporary glass barriers.
This idea is especially great for enforcing safe distancing protocols in conference rooms or meeting areas where employees gather for table meetings. Reduce the number of chairs per table to have people sitting at a safe distance from each other.
Allowing visitors to sit in the lobby or reception area while waiting was considered a courteous way to host them. Offering a cup of coffee or tea was also commonplace. But in the post-pandemic world, administrators are reimagining reception spaces. Open waiting areas with closely-placed couches should be replaced with individual chairs placed far apart.
Moreover, entrance areas should be equipped with proper temperature checkers and sanitation stations.
As this virus can spread through coughing or even breathing, rethinking the office ventilation and air filtration systems is one way to mitigate its spread. Suppose one person is infected in the currently closed office environment. In that case, the lack of ventilation will spread the virus through the particles that remain suspended in the atmosphere.
Ventilating the office area can allow fresh air to flow through the office, eliminating viruses in the air. Installing air purifiers is another cost-effective way of keeping the atmosphere fresh and clean.
This virus is highly transmissible and spreads through touch, so redesigning the office interior to lessen the number of shared touchpoints is highly important.
Automatic doors: Door handles are one of the most common touchpoints that promote the virus’s spread. Installing automatic doors with motion sensors at the entry and exit points can ensure no need to touch door openings while allowing the traffic to move freely.
Motion sensing light switches: Offices can replace regular light switches with automatic ones to eliminate another common touchpoint. These switches can turn the lights on with a simple wave of the hand.
Auto kitchen and toilet faucets: Water taps and faucets are other touchpoints that can promote the growth of the virus. Getting automatic motion-sensing faucets can solve the problem.
Automatic elevators: Offices should install elevators that don’t require manual operation. Instead, they use sensory detectors to feel people’s approach and open automatically.
The new normal also calls for new furniture. Old couches, tables, and chairs are no longer meaningful in the post-covid-19 office space. Following are some revolutionary furniture items to make the office space feel safer:
Traffic Privacy Lounge Chairs: You can put privacy lounge chairs in the lounging space and the lobby. The tall sides restrain the germs from spreading and provide privacy and comfort.
Room Dividers: Portable room dividers are another option if you don’t have the budget to divide employee workstations into separate rooms or even cubicles.
Pods: Pods are safe spaces that are self-contained to house a small number of employees in a safe and germ-free environment. These pods are designed for conducting small meetings or video conferences in a sound-proof enclosure with glass doors. These pods come with ultra-quiet ventilation to keep the noise level at the lowest point compared to standard conference rooms. The air inside is fresh and free from any viruses.
Antimicrobial furniture: These chairs and tables are coated with additives that either kill microorganisms or contain their growth. Replacing old office furniture with new items featuring antimicrobial vinyl surfaces is a sure-shot way of inhibiting the virus.
Easy-to-clean upholstery: Changing the usual cushions and sofa covers and replacing them with new microfiber ones can make a huge difference in keeping the furniture virus-free. This stuff can easily be made clean by sweeping it with a mixture of alcohol and water.
Self-cleaning furniture: These innovative items are treated with a titanium dioxide polymer coating. When cleaned with water in the presence of sunlight, it reacts, cleans itself, and gets rid of all microorganisms and viruses.
All these preventive measures are useless if the employees are not trained about taking precautions themselves. Employers should design a comprehensive training program to educate their workforce about the virus. The training program should include complete information about the virus and how people can change their lifestyles to ensure the disease is not spread further.
Employees should also be aware of all the latest changes in the organization implemented to ensure their safety. Team leaders can reward those who stick to the safety guidelines and penalize those who show carelessness in this regard.
Coming back to the office after a long period of sheer stress and uncertainty can be quite challenging and fearsome at the same time. While working from home offered them the safety they needed from this highly contagious disease, rejoining might feel like a threat.
Understanding these fears, it is the administration’s job to ensure that their employees feel safe by implementing specific protocols and incorporating changes to the office’s interior. Following these guidelines, administrators can provide a corona-free office environment to their employees in the post-COVID-19 era.