Why are we talking about this? Cleaning may not be our focus, but it is an important part of the story for returning to the workplace after the COVID 19 pandemic. We've collected some of the most useful research to help you navigate the right way to manage some of the common safety concerns as you go from remote work to reopening the workplace.
Once everyone returns to work, we'll find ourselves thinking differently about the equipment and surfaces around us, reaching for disinfectant wipes where we'd never give a second thought before.
While it's understandable to experience a little apprehension as we venture back to the office, it's achievable and valuable to keep our common spaces healthy. Whether engaging in maintenance cleaning, or CDC-advised disinfection for exposed spaces, office cleaning practices come down to the same basic tenets: The right equipment, a solid plan, and a team.
This COVID office checklist will help you collect the right materials for your everyday routine, establish a thoughtful plan, and put it in place in your office with help from your team.
For a quick recap, share our office safety one-pager with your team.
Use the right office cleaning process
While our reaction to the virus has been (understandably) to default to "disinfect everything," in everyday situations the CDC guidance recommends cleaning rather than disinfection. What's the difference? In short:
• Cleaning is for routine health and wellness. Washing down surfaces using a green cleaner or a simple soap-and-water solution can make them safe by removing dust and dirt. This also physically removes germs by picking them up (either in a paper towel or cloth) to safely remove them.
• Disinfection, on the other hand, kills germs by means of a chemical process. The CDC recommends disinfection only when when a risk is present someone has been working in or visiting the office while carrying a contagious illness; it doesn't have to occur for routine cleaning.
Note: If you need to disinfect, follow the CDC guidelines.
Also, in any cleaning or disinfection routine, it is important to read and carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Never mix cleaning agents. Doing so can be harmful or even fatal.
Gather the right cleaning tools
Depending on the reason for cleaning (simple cleaning, deep cleaning, or disinfection) you'll have a few items on your checklist:
☐ Nitrile gloves (latex can cause allergic reactions in some individuals)
☐ Paper towels, or microfiber cloths (if you can wash and sanitize them after use)
☐ Green cleaning spray
☐ Disinfecting wipes, spray, or a correctly-diluted bleach solution
☐ Trash bags
☐ For disinfection: A properly-rated respirator mask and protective gown
Create an office safety and health plan
To create a cleaning routine, it helps to think about the typical hotspots that transmit bacteria and viruses.
1. Make a note of the traffic through certain areas of the workplace, and the ways in which space is used-or not. In the course of this mental inventory, you may even uncover ways to improve or maximize your space usage as a side-benefit to your cleaning plan development. For instance, you may find areas you don't need to attend to for cleaning purposes. They may turn out to be underutilized real estate.
2. Look through your office one area at a time, and note the high-touch areas in each. Some of the typical transmission vectors in spaces include:
• Tables and desks
• Light switches
• Cabinet pulls and handles
Some of the other high touch areas in your office spaces to consider:
Front desk and reception areas
• Phones, computer mice, and keyboards
• Desk accessories such as staplers, tape dispensers, and pen-cups
• Digital touch screens
• Elevator buttons
• Coat-racks and hangers
Kitchen and break rooms
• Appliance handles and controls (fridge, toaster, oven, dishwasher)
• Chair-backs at seating areas
• Coffee station and coffee/tea service items
• Bathroom fixtures (toilet handles, faucets, soap and towel dispensers)
• Door and stall handles
• Changing stations and convenience item dispensers
Conference and meeting rooms
• Technology controls such as speakerphone buttons, remotes
• Televisions, touch screens, and projectors
• Whiteboard accessories such as pens and erasers
Mail and resource rooms
• Postage meters, scales, and dedicated shipping computers
• Packaging and mail tools such as tape guns, letter openers, box cutters
• Rolling package bins, trolleys, and carts
Develop an office cleanliness plan
Following a regular cleaning and disinfection schedule for the workplace is the best way to maintain the hygiene of your spaces and the health of your colleagues.
While no cleaning schedule is one-size-fits-all, a daily practice of cleaning high-touch areas, along with an intermittent practice of deep cleaning (including things like upholstery, window treatments, and carpets) and sanitizing surfaces can create a healthy environment year-round.
When to increase office cleaning frequency
Sometimes you may increase or augment your normal cleaning and disinfection practices:
• During local outbreaks of transmissible diseases or illnesses
• During “peak” season for influenza, or at the beginning of the school year (a time when the common cold finds a foothold in households)
• During large-scale events in the office: holiday gatherings, stockholder or board meetings, all-hands events, etc.
• When someone goes home sick from the office with something transmissible
Don’t skip the dusting
It's tempting to focus solely on areas where hands or respiratory droplets may travel, but dust can be a vector for illnesses like COVID-19, cold, and flu. An "airborne" disease achieves its fast spread by hitching a ride on dust particles and aerosolized moisture. Besides reducing the spread of illness, improving your indoor air quality can make breathing easier for those with dust allergies, asthma, and other respiratory sensitivities.
Promoting good workplace hygiene
In the wake of social distancing, getting every employee on board with office hygiene likely won't meet with much resistance. Even so, there are several ways you can encourage each employee to keep up these healthy habits once things start to settle into the new normal. Provide a checklist for guidance including:
☐ Encourage good hand-washing and respiratory hygiene practices within your workplace.
☐ Discourage presenteeism in the office - consciously create an office culture where it is “okay” to work from home or take the day off when you’re feeling ill.
☐ Keep supplies stocked and readily available. Make sure supply cabinets are well marked.
☐ Place disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, paper towels, waste bins (for easy disposal), and face coverings at strategic spots in high-traffic areas.
☐ Make space-hygiene practices a regular part of corporate communication.
☐ Get your staff into the habit of pitching in - proactively wiping down surfaces they use (even when they’re healthy), making recommendations on cleaning practices, supply levels, or areas in need of attention, etc.
☐ Provide a channel for the above improvements and service requests, either through a formal ticketing system or simply an email with a dedicated gatekeeper.
☐ Consider automatic or “touchless” office upgrades that reduce contact, such as:
• Motion-detecting light switches
• Entry and in-office doors
• Towel dispensers and hand-dryers
• Soap/sanitizer/lotion dispensers
By sharing your COVID 19 checklist with your staff, they'll understand how important keeping people safe is to their employer, making it more likely they'll follow protocols.
Implement social distancing practices
How should physical distancing actually work in the office? More space between desks? Fewer people in the office?
We recommend planning now, so you understand the impact of physical distancing on your workplace.
Creating robust social distancing guidelines must also consider what happens over time. Where in the early days of our return to work, it may feel more natural to keep distance. Using solid communication plans, offices can ensure that as things relax over time, staff will ease into the new normal of office life while still keeping mindful of the important health concerns involved.
Robin's desk management software is a good example of incorporating tech to maintain social distancing requirements in the workplace. Robin's seat assignments support one-to-one desk and employee ratios and help admins safely space out desks.
A few examples:
- Plotting out what seats can be used and identifying average office capacity.
- Staggering the number of seat assignments per day to maintain proper social distancing protocol.
- Using exports, teams can keep track of which desks have been used more often than others and by who in order to maintain a safe and clean environment.
- Using adjustable booking policies, managers can restrict access to book certain desks, clearly displaying what is and isn't available on a map to their team.
The final touch? For companies looking to give their people the freedom to choose where they want to work, people can book their own desks when they decide to work in the office.
It's not just on the employer, though. Here's what your staff can do to help maintain social distancing:
- Provide self assessments: Being aware and honest about your physical health is one of the first and best ways to reduce the spread of coronavirus. CDC guidelines list what respiratory symptoms to look out for.
- Wear a mask or face covering. Masking should take place any time physical distancing of 6 feet is not possible, or any time you will spend more than 15 minutes in close proximity to others (for instance, when you must gather in a conference room for more than a quick check-in).
- Bring your own resources: Another way to minimize the spread is to consider bringing personal computer peripherals to and from the office. A keyboard, mouse, laptop, etc. can be easily transported in a backpack, and make it much easier to wipe down your work-station at the end of the day.
Have a plan in place for contact tracing
Knowing who has been in the office, and with whom they’ve interacted can help mitigate the risks of infection in the event of a COVID 19 outbreak. Having a well-communicated contact tracing program can make the office space experience feel safer by offering transparency about important health information.
Though employers are lawfully allowed to ask employees about symptoms, they must be careful (as with any health condition) to protect the privacy of both COVID-positive employees and those potentially exposed.
In the event of COVID 19 symptoms, employers need to be able to answer a few questions:
- When was the ill person last in the office?
- Who did they meet with while on-site?
- Where were they sitting in the building? Where did they spend time?
From there, individuals who may have had prolonged exposure to the infected individual can be contacted to begin the CDC-recommended quarantine procedure to limit the chance of spreading infection while their own Coronavirus status is determined.
As with employees who are sent home after a health screening, providing options for paid leave or flexible work is important.
Many organizations are using technology to jumpstart their contact tracing process. For example, with Robin’s analytics tools, office admins can easily identify when an individual was in the office, where they sat, and who else booked desks around them to expedite contact tracing.
With Robin’s people export, it’s easy to see when someone was in office and who sat around them to jumpstart the contact tracing process.
Office safety and health: Keep a good thing going
Coming up with a plan and covering all the necessary areas is a great first step in promoting a healthier, cleaner office environment . Once done, the objective is to maintain that level of enthusiasm within the office. Make healthy environments part of your overall wellness culture within the office, and promote the ideas in this guide when the opportunity arises.