Nine steps for keeping your office safe in COVID-19

From implementing extra cleaning of frequently touched surfaces to including your shared company cars in regular cleans, there are a lot of extra safety standards you need to consider as your team settles back in at the office.

National anti-viral sanitisation company Cleancorp has been inundated with inquiries since the beginning of the pandemic, and company Director Lisa Macqueen said many employees were anxious about heading back to the office, with some too afraid to even return to work.

“If businesses haven’t taken appropriate steps to minimise virus-related risks on-site, it could open them up to the risk of infections, Work Cover claims and negative publicity,” Ms Macqueen said.

Although many of you have been back for a while now, it’s not too late to use this a step-by-step guide designed to help businesses transition back to work and manage the ‘new normal’.

Cleancorp’s nine-step transition plan to minimise COVID-19 risks for employees, clients, and visitors as they return to the workplace:

1. Manage employee expectations
To ensure a successful transition back to the office, employees need to feel their employer has done everything to maximise their safety at work.

Organise a full disinfection coronavirus clean, which includes a precautionary cleaning of all personal spaces in addition to shared touchpoints, such as door handles, remotes, kitchen taps, microwaves, fridges, and coffee machines.

2. Use the four-square metre rule
 The existing seating or working plan of your workplace may no longer be viable for the distancing rule of four-square metres per person. To determine how many staff you can have on the premises at once, calculate the area of the workspace in square metres and divide it by four.

To allow for objects, such as desks and boardrooms, divide the space by eight. For example, if your office is 160 square metres, you could only have up to 40 people in the room, to allow each person to have four square metres of space.

3. Initiate a rotational working system
Once you have calculated how many employees you can have on-site, create a roster system that includes all relevant employees. For example, if you employ 100 people, divide that by five working days, and you’ll find yourself with a 20 person ‘team’ that can come into the office on a set day per week.

However, don’t forget the four-square metre rule, which can be achieved by re-configuring furniture to increase physically distancing or getting staff to ‘own’ a different desk to what they are used to.

Ms Macqueen said: “Whether your employees are rostered on weekly, fortnightly, on a ‘team’ basis, or an every-other-day basis, once you have your roster in place, I strongly recommend that each person uses the same desk or workspace each time they are at work. Hot-desking and shared workspaces present too much of a risk.”

4. Appoint an on-site COVID-19 champion
Select an appropriate person in your organisation to be the ‘champion’ of keeping employees’ hygiene levels on track. Someone with Workplace Health and Safety knowledge, such as a human resources team member, would be ideal.

They would become the go-to person for other employees to ask questions about how they can navigate the ‘new normal’ working environment. For instance, the champion would check in with each team member to gauge what’s working, what’s not, and if they require any additional information or support.

They would also manage the upgraded cleaning schedule for your office or workspace and ensure team members remember to wipe down and clean their equipment after use.

Ms Macqueen said choosing a champion who keeps everyone aware of best safety principles – from good respiratory hygiene to encouraging people to stay home if they show any flu-like symptoms – will reassure staff that their health and safety is the priority.

“It also has the benefit of making them feel like their organisation is ‘there’ for them, and that they have the emotional comradery they need in our new style of working environment,” she said.

5. Create a plan for ongoing sanitisation
Consider equipping each employee with their own bottle of hand sanitiser, hospital-grade anti-viral disinfectant, and cleaning cloth when they return to the workplace.

Having individual sanitary equipment will also alleviate any worry that multiple people are handling the disinfectant.

6. Assess and determine how to use shared meeting spaces
Up until the outbreak of COVID-19, open-plan offices with shared desks and ‘pod’ meeting areas were becoming the preferred way of working for many organisations.

However, for the foreseeable future, these more casual meeting spaces with soft furnishings – surfaces that need to be steam-cleaned, often at a considerable expense – should be avoided, as a virus has the potential to last on these surfaces for up to 24 hours.

If you can, choose a more traditional meeting room with hard surfaces.

Although the virus can live on glass, plastic, and stainless steel for up to 72 hours, these surfaces are much easier to clean and disinfect.

7. Incorporate company vehicles into your cleaning schedule
If you have company vehicles, these now also need to be included in your cleaning schedule – especially if multiple people use the vehicles.

A minimum of one precautionary COVID-19 clean a week will ensure all surfaces within the vehicle’s interior are fully cleaned, and all external touchpoints are also cleaned, such as door handles and side-view mirrors.

8. Consider a cleaning concierge service
Most agencies have high-risk shared touchpoints used by clients and staff. These are best managed by a fully trained day-cleaning team who are uniformed and equipped to sanitise and disinfect touchpoints all-day long – whether they be kitchens, bathrooms, or meeting rooms.

Though some might regard it as extreme, having an on-demand cleaning service will restore confidence in your agency’s hygiene standards day-in and day-out.

9. Hire a commercial cleaning specialist
Some cleaning companies have had to adapt quickly to the new COVID-19 risk environment, while others, especially professional commercial cleaning services, have been cleaning to a hospital standard for many years.

Ms Macqueen said agencies who have committed to additional safety standards, such as ISO 45001, should seek cleaners whose services are ISO certified.

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