Are you thinking about going back to work because it looks like the worst of the coronavirus pandemic appears to be over? One example of this is the reopening of thousands of companies and commercial establishments in recent weeks. But, as experts and health authorities insist, all precautions are little when it comes to avoiding new transmissions.
This means that companies will have to adapt their spaces and elements to avoid any risk. The question is how to do it. As stated in the guide eight keys to open calmer, prepared by the Ministry of Science and Innovation, it must be based on three premises. First, that each business must know and comply with the specific regulations of its sector, resorting if necessary to the experts in Occupational Risk Prevention, employers and specific associations in its sector.
Second, that it is still not possible to speak, as some businesses have done by way of advertising claim, of virus-free spaces, since the risk of transmission continues to exist. And third, that every day something new is learned about COVID-19, so it is essential to be aware of all the news about the virus and apply them, if necessary, to offices, companies and life in general.
Adapting the office, key to protecting the workforce
Although reactivating companies and the economy is important, it is even more important to guarantee the safety of the employees who will make this new start possible. The workforce, now more than ever, is an essential part of the company, and that is how they must perceive it throughout the adaptation process. Both personally – offering them more responsibility and making them feel an active part of the new security measures; as well as material, having the necessary equipment and materials to protect them.
At the center of all the recommendations to avoid transmission – in addition to guaranteeing masks, hydroalcoholic solution and other PPE – is the safety distance of at least two meters between people. If space limitations in the office prevent it, you can use partitions and physical dividers between workstations. It is, in fact, one of the most visible elements of post-COVID offices and commercial establishments. At first they can be intimidating, but progress is being made in the manufacture of increasingly friendly models.
It is not just about keeping your office free from hazards anymore but also ensuring that it is safe in other ways. However these other hazards still pose a threat. Suppose someone has slipped on your neglected floors. You will need to know what to do after a slip and fall accident. So all areas of the office should still be clean and tidy before proceeding.
Partitions and physical partitions between workstations are one of the most visible elements of post-COVID offices and commercial establishments. If in recent years office design has sought to “promote efficiency and well-being through workspaces where people can share their ideas” through fluid and close communication, the current challenge is to adapt this philosophy to the new demand for social distancing.
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The objective is to guarantee security, but offering tools so that this interaction can be maintained. Partitions that allow interaction, redistribution of furniture to generate new flows and the use of meeting rooms or socialization spaces respecting distance measurements, reducing density and using multipurpose equipment solutions, among other aspects.
The key, in addition, is to bet on flexibility, since the situation can change and it is necessary that the workspaces are “adaptable with the minimum possible effort and investment. To make this transformation easier and help companies that, like them, have had to adapt in a very short time, but there are many published online guides. How to adapt a workspace to COVID-19, based on the rules dictated by the competent authorities and their experience in office equipment.
Move forwards slowly
In this whole process, a previous work of analysis of behaviors and habits of employees and customers is essential : how and where they move and what elements of the environment they use, to imagine what the hypothetical trace of the virus would be. Basic information to develop much-needed signage that marks entry and exit points, safety distances, waiting points, capacity of meeting rooms and other spaces, and even the correct circulation through the company’s facilities.
Although the ideal would be to continue betting on teleworking and digitization while the virus is still present, in cases where this is not possible, no effort should be spared in verifying strict compliance with security measures. Many workers are especially worried and concerned about their return. Will the office have been cleaned thoroughly? Are there more frequent cleaning sessions?
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A first step is to make sure that the staff is able to detect possible symptoms of COVID-19 and, if they present them themselves, not to go to the office. However, to reinforce this verification, technologies capable of rapidly and massively detecting possible infections are being developed and implemented. As is the case with tools to measure the temperature of employees and customers.
Keep contact to a minimum – use technologies
Transmission of the virus can be by direct contact – one person touching another – or indirect – the person touches a surface or object that has previously touched another. With this in mind, companies must also reduce contact with surfaces, furniture and items such as doorknobs, fingerprint identification or elevators, among many others. In addition to simpler solutions such as single-use protections in these elements or the limitation of the use of high-contact spaces such as elevators and bathrooms.
It is very useful to bet on home automation or, what is the same, techniques to automate simple processes without the need for contact. Technologies ranging from the control of other devices through mobile phones or tools such as Amazon’s Alexa -which allows voice control- passing through sensors and presence detectors that control light, air conditioning and even humidity; to more futuristic technologies such as eye tracking, which allows interaction with the environment through eye tracking.
Its technology consists of cameras capable of tracking the gaze of users and the circular movement of the eye to detect where the eyes are fixed and what they want to do. Thus, the possibility of opening and closing doors, activating switches and controlling electronic devices and other elements of the office with a glance is increasingly close. Solutions that, although they are still far away, are already being implemented, both to prevent the spread of the pandemic and to facilitate the inclusion of people with reduced mobility.
To the reduction of contact between people and objects is added an extra effort in hygiene and disinfection. In addition to the essential measures -cleaning with bleach and other recommended products, as well as the correct ventilation of spaces and waste management-, solutions have appeared, to say the least, curious.
In short, imagination, technology and collective responsibility to guarantee the safety of our own and others. Hand sanitizers on all desks and around the office should be mandatory to ensure that workers feel safe and that there are no issues with cleanliness.
I don’t feel confident to return to work
Going back to work in a pandemic and after months of quarantine, it is not easy . This is a step that still involves many questions. The danger of contagion in public transport. If it is possible to implement physical distance in the workplace.
If adequate ventilation can be maintained , among other aspects, they must be combined for a safe return. How do people cope with this stage? In those who have already returned to work, the main sensation is concern (54%), followed by anguish (35%) and fear (33%) according to an American survey. For those who are on the verge of returning, the perception is not very different: 50% acknowledge feeling concern, 50% fear and 36% anguish.
When analyzing by gender, it is seen that in men and women the concern is similar (53% and 52% respectively). However, more negative emotions are seen in them. For example, in the case of anguish, it is recognized by 26% of men and 43% of women, and fear by 34% of men and 47% of women. Are the fears justified? Once vaccines have been rolled out, working atmospheres should feel much easier to all. There is less worry of passing on germs to vulnerable relatives.
Post pandemic work
Undoubtedly the pandemic and particularly the confinement has affected the emotional state of the population, numerous studies show this. The survey shows a significant degree of concern about the possibility of returning to face-to-face work, this is mainly associated with the possibility of being exposed to contagion.
On the positive side of going back to work, the majority coincide in the tranquility of having a stable job, both in those who returned to work and in those who are about to return. Along with this, it is valued to have a routine again. That working in person encourages teamwork and seeing co-workers again. The return to the workplace, should be safe and secure and anyone with issues should speak up to their human resources team if it is something that is considerably difficult.