In 2020, the global pandemic brought a large shift to remote work. This year, with a new COVID-19 vaccine, employers plan to return to the office. Yet, experts predict life will not be back to normal until the fall of 2021. In the meantime, everyone should continue to wear masks and practice social distancing.
While most workers are open to a blend of in-person and remote work, 68 percent do not feel safe in the workplace, according to a Honeywell survey. To address those concerns, businesses adopted new cleaning standards.
Cleaning for Confidence
To help employees and customers feel comfortable, companies employ Centers for Disease Control guidelines for cleaning and sanitation. A survey of large businesses found that 83 percent invest more to clean than before the pandemic. More than one-third of respondents use both a CDC-approved cleaning company and a janitorial service. Enhanced cleaning processes are here for the foreseeable future. Forty-six percent of respondents intend to maintain deep cleaning procedures as long as COVID-19 is a threat.
Cleaning schedules also changed because of the pandemic. Sixty-three percent of respondents report cleaning several times a day. Additional safety measures include adding hand sanitizer stations, UV light sanitizing and taking employees’ temperatures.
Ease Anxiety with Communication
While reminders to wear masks are obvious safety measures, some sanitation processes go unseen. Communicate about disease prevention measures to employees and customers to ease worries about getting sick. Be transparent about your processes, including:
- Enhanced cleaning and sanitation: inform employees of upgraded cleaning processes and put an item on your website. Some businesses add a low-tech reminder. The commercial cleaner SERVPRO places a shield in the window of a facility certifying it has been professionally cleaned.
- Ventilation improvements: increasing the percentage of outdoor air circulating inside reduces the concentration of viruses in the air.
- Upgraded air filters: other ventilation improvements such as air filters that remove viruses from the air improve a building’s safety.
- Layout changes: explain changes to the office layout so employees maintain proper distancing. It helps if employees understand why you’ve moved desks apart or removed tables from the break rooms.
- Plexiglass shields: these work best when employees know how they and others should be positioned relative to them.
Concern About Co-workers
Having a clean and sanitary work environment won’t help employees feel safe if co-workers don’t follow healthy practices. When people come to work sick, refuse to wear masks or congregate in the break room, it causes anxiety for others. Businesses that bring employees back to the office must communicate and enforce COVID-19 safety practices. These include:
- Safety policies: provide guidelines for employees before the office reopens. To help change behavior, send frequent reminders.
- Sick leave policies: encourage employees to stay at home when they are sick.
- Fewer meetings: limit the number and size of face-to-face meetings. Arrange conference room seating to keep people six feet apart.
- Flexible scheduling: to facilitate social distancing, limit the number of employees in the office on a given day. For example, members of project teams may come in on the same days of the week while other employees work remotely.
- Limit travel: During a global pandemic, travel is a risky activity. In a recent survey of corporate travel managers, 36 percent predicted travel volume in 2021 would decline 25 to 50 percent over 2019 levels.
- Protocols and protections: plan how the company will handle quarantine and contact tracing if an employee contracts COVID-19.
The Next Normal: Cleaning and Communication
While the availability of a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 indicates a return to an office, it is different from before the pandemic. Employees still wear masks, maintain a social distance and spend less time in the office. Most companies intend to keep deep cleaning procedures in place until the pandemic has ended. Businesses can ease employees’ concerns about the safety with effective communication. Companies must be transparent about cleaning and safety processes and new policies and procedures.