It has been a long while since most of us have been working from the comfort of our homes. Some of us love working from home and the rest of us would like to return to the normalcy of workspaces. However, Covid-19 is making the latter choice hard. People are scared to return to workspaces fearing a Coronavirus infection. Also, an infection means getting admitted to a hospital leading to an expensive bill. Let us go through the incredible and implementable office safety guide and checklist to maintain a healthy and safe workplace.
- The New Normal for Workspaces to Brave COVID Pandemic
Business establishments are under pressure to ensure the safety of employees, customers, and visitors as well as monitor compliance and mitigate the risk of coronavirus. Many companies are exploring options to get their workforce back to their respective offices. Some enterprises are exploring working in shifts following assigned time slots for employees to be at the workplace to reduce the number of people working during a given day.
Some tech giants are researching technological solutions to help employees return to their workplaces with safety as their priority. For instance, Tech Mahindra is working to safely reopen offices for a limited number of employees using a screening technology called Mhealthy. The IT giant, TCS has come up with an AI-powered software called the IUX for Workplace Resilience, to help corporations make it safe for employees returning to work and for customers doing business with them.
- Rethinking Workplaces with Technological Solutions for Safety
While the World Health Organization (WHO) and other health authorities have put out guidelines for companies to make offices safer. However, reopening plans vary widely between countries and cities. Since we are yet to learn about coronavirus in-depth, it is hard to find and deploy full-fledged solutions at a large scale to combat the virus.
Research from CBInsights explores the aspects of a tech-enabled office environment to help employees return safely back to work and also protect them from contracting the virus. According to the research report, “To stay ahead of the curve, companies will need to consider key investments across wellness, remote collaboration tools, mobile cybersecurity tech, accessible HR tools, and workforce training programs for professional development and upskilling.”
Even though technological solutions are expensive, it has become mandatory to deploy these solutions to prevent the mass spread of the virus. These solutions are mainly centered around social distancing norms and tech that involve minimal touching of surfaces at workplaces. These solutions might also require office spaces to expand since more space is needed for social distancing norms to be put into place.
- Screening at the Office Entrance
It is better to identify and eliminate possible Coronavirus carriers right at the entrance of the workplace. As is the practice now, a security guard can be placed at the entrance who should check the temperature of the employees. In case an employee is found having a high temperature, he/she should be sent back home.
Also, at the entrance of the workplace, companies can place a sanitizer station which can automatically spray sanitizer on the passers-by. This will be an added advantage over individual use of hand sanitizers.
The American cloud-based software company, Salesforce reopened its offices in South Korea, Hong Kong, and China by the end of May 2020. The company is employing its own Work.com solution, where employees take the “Daily Wellness Check-In” survey containing five short questions to ensure safety. Work.com also will help employers to limit the number of people working on the floor and assign shifts and time slots to avoid overcrowding in the office spaces and elevators. Elevators present a great challenge when it comes to social distancing. Salesforce’s recently reopened offices in Asia only allow 2 to 4 people on elevators and individuals are expected not to talk during their ascent/descent.
Elenium Automation, a company that provides self- service and automation technologies for the airline and airport sector partnered with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to roll out a self-service kiosk that uses touchless and virus symptoms detection technology at airports. This beats the temperature check at entrances as this kiosk does an in-depth evaluation of an individual’s health.
- Air Filtration in Workspaces
Workspaces are cooped up with many people working in open workspaces improving the chances of the virus spread. It is found that approximately 75% of the air in the workplace is recirculated and filtered indoor air. This is the main reason why air filtration systems and humidity controls should be a top priority when it comes to employees returning to work.
Companies should keep in mind that the particular matter (PM) size of airborne coronavirus particles is much smaller than other airborne particles and therefore require a compatible filtration system that will eliminate any virus present in the air. It should be mandatory for businesses to improve air quality by properly installing and maintaining existing air filtration systems.
Another popular approach for some reopened offices has been to use UV lights to kill airborne pathogens. This is not only being done at offices but also homes for added protection. Popular e-commerce websites like Amazon and eBay are selling these UV lights for sanitizing homes. Given the impact of coronavirus on the respiratory system, it is necessary to keep a check on the air quality of our surroundings.
- Low Touch Tech
Organizations are also exploring technology that will limit human contact with surfaces. This is to reduce the surface spread of the virus. There are higher-tech solutions like foot-operated elevators in Thai malls to reduce contact with buttons and an ultraviolet sanitation solution that uses hospital-grade UVC rays to kill pathogens in empty elevators.
A few companies are looking at gesture detection technologies to help employees command elevators without touching buttons. According to the research, “Ultraleap’s virtual touch product STRATOS uses ultrasound technology to create mid-air haptics and sensors equipped with infrared lights to track hand movements. This provides users with a virtual tactile response to their gestures. It can be adapted to button panels in elevators.
- Virtual Meetings
It is commonplace to have team meetings and board meetings in an organization. If it is a meeting of more than ten people you would require a large room to satisfy social distancing norms. Therefore, virtual meetings are the answer to large meetings within the organization. Otherwise, team meetings will have to have a limited number of participants according to social distancing guidelines.
Most organizations have resorted to using video conferencing apps like Zoom to facilitate remote meetings. Even though this is not as efficient as face to face meetings, the COVID -19 pandemic has made it a necessary tool. The research report suggests that Microsoft is developing an algorithmic noise reduction feature for teams that automatically mutes background noises during meetings. The tech giant has also developed several additional features for teams, including a “raise your hand” feature to show when a participant wants to speak.
- Social Distancing
Social distancing is the most important measure to reduce the spread of Coronavirus. Workplaces should have sensors to alert people to be at six feet within each other at all times. VergeSense, software as a service company that develops artificial intelligence-powered workplace sensors. It uses sensors to monitor floor occupancy and send alerts when it senses crowding in a space. It also creates daily reports to help in social distancing.
Post COVID office spaces would require modified seating arrangements to allow proper social distancing especially places that have an open office culture rather than a cubicle workspace arrangement. Employers should be able to move desks apart and establish seating formations that leave every other desk space empty.
The pandemic has made us paranoid about touching surfaces and coming in contact with people. Most of us are now locked inside our homes and are using touchless modes of cash payment rather than traditional card swiping. In this scenario, people who have to go back to work are going to experience fear and will hesitate due to the risk factor. Therefore, it is important that workplaces give first priority to employee safety so they feel safe to return to work.
There are many updated solutions that make use of smartphones and their Bluetooth, Wifi, and LTE capabilities to enable apps that monitor a person’s health and check for vital signs. These apps can alert a person of the presence of an individual with Covid-19 symptoms. This way people can keep a safe distance at all times and make sure they are wearing masks.
Additionally, the health data is sensitive and should be handled securely by the companies that host the app. For instance, the Aarogya Setu app from the Indian government has faced numerous privacy allegations. Esteemed hacker Elliot Alderson said that anyone can access the internal database of the app and that anyone can see who is sick anywhere in India, which violates privacy. Similarly, all health and biometric screens can present privacy and discrimination concerns.
Therefore, it is necessary to protect employees from the spread of the virus as well as protect their data from privacy concerns in case they have to download an app that leverages private data. Finally, companies should disregard the expenses of making the workplace safe and hold the safety of their employees in the highest regard. If you have any suggestions please do feel free to comment below.