For businesses scheduled to reopen in the wake of the pandemic, the safety of staff and customers must be priority number one.
As businesses across the country begin to reopen in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, undoubtedly new disinfection, cleaning, and sanitization procedures will need to be put in place to assure the health and safety of customers and employees. We asked three industry leaders – architect Timothy Hawk, commercial flooring services provider Thomas Holland, and real estate developer Jon Willette – what the “new normal” for these businesses looks like, and they offer recommendations to help businesses provide the safest possible environments moving forward.
For businesses that have been completely closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, what changes do you believe should be implemented to insure customer and staff safety once they’re allowed to reopen?
Timothy Hawk: All businesses should reconsider their furniture configuration and policies related to the way employees occupy the workplace. All workstations should ensure six foot of separation between employees. If workers are able to avoid facing one another, that is ideal, but if that is not possible, it is recommended to introduce screens to limit the spread of germs. Companies should strive to assign dedicated workstations to individuals and avoid sharing or “hoteling” protocols. Additionally tight access aisles (less than ten feet) should be marked as one-way circulation. It is important that every effort is made to keep employees separated from one another to support social distancing protocols.
The occupancy of all conference rooms and other forms of collaborative space should be reduced to allow workers and their visitors to maintain appropriate separation as well. These new protocols will put pressure on the existing real estate footprint for most organizations, and since most employers will not be able to add additional square footage, companies may have to consider a reduction in the number of workers on-site. Best estimates indicate that perhaps as many as 25% of employees will need to work from home to support the various demands. If this is not possible, then employers may need to adopt staggered work schedules.
Bottom line, business owners will need to decrease the density of floorplates.
Thomas Holland: If buildings have been unoccupied for more than seven days, the CDC recommends resuming normal cleaning practices because the virus that causes COVID-19 has not been shown to survive on surfaces longer than one week. However, the CDC also recommends developing a thorough, ongoing cleaning and disinfecting plan before reopening.
In addition to undergoing enhanced cleaning, work surfaces may need to be disinfected upon re-entry and on a regular basis. The recommended method for disinfecting is electrostatic spraying due to its increased efficacy and coverage. It’s also safer: The droplet size of an electrostatic sprayer is not large enough to become aerosolized, unlike a fogger-generated droplet, meaning it’s less likely to cause respiratory distress.
The first area that should be disinfected in an office building is the janitorial closet, followed by public break and meeting areas and finally workstations and private offices. The janitorial closet houses equipment and other items that are used throughout the building and can spread pathogens throughout the facility if not cleaned and disinfected properly.
Jon Willette: No one can tell what business will look like or how the designs will be altered in the near and long time future. The only thing I do know is that all businesses must make their customers and employees feel safe. With this said, we are suggesting to customers a -Safe Clean- program. We work with our customers to establish a program that fits their type of business and building. For example, we are working with large office buildings and suggest AT LEAST once a month deep complete clean, covering all areas of the building, with Vital Oxide deployed by fogging or high pressure spray. Then, weekly tune ups of the common areas. Between foggings the employee is to maintain their area (desk, office, cube…).
It is also important to establish -Dirty to Clean- areas. Restrict customers, if possible, to certain areas of the facility, lobby and entry areas for example. This way you can control outside contamination better. Employees should enter from one direction and go through a “dirty to clean” room. The process should try and eliminate as much contaminant from the outside entering the facility as possible. Some choose, changing, cleaning or putting booties on shoes, removing coats, washing hands and such. Of course each business and building is a bit different. Changing shoes may be more important to a daycare where little ones are crawling on the floor than a manufacturing plant.
For essential businesses that have been open but may have been operating with a smaller staff during the pandemic, what safety precautions and recommendations do you have once they’re back at full employee capacity?
Timothy Hawk: Smaller, agile team members who have been working to serve an essential function will need to modify their behavior to accommodate the increased density. Additionally, new visitor policy will need to be introduced. Essential workers will have become accustomed to the adjustments to the workplace, but those returning to work, visitors, and guests will add a new wrinkle. It seems obvious that some of these essential worker processes may need to be adapted to accommodate the increased density.
Thomas Holland: Until the pandemic, many service providers cleaned more for appearance than for health. Instead of focusing on minimizing hidden workplace pathogens, these providers focused on removing visible dirt and debris.
Now, however, the focus is on cleaning for health. Facility managers interested in cleaning for health and providing a workplace in which all their employees can breathe easy should carefully review the cleaning specifications currently embedded in their janitorial or specialty maintenance standard operating procedures. More importantly, they should qualify their providers to make sure their staff are trained and accredited in infection prevention methods at both the management and the field level and they have the necessary equipment and knowledge to implement a proper cleaning program.
Today there is a heightened sensitivity to cleanliness. Surfaces that are even lightly soiled may be considered “dirty.” Keeping a facility clean aids in lessening the perception that a work environment is unsanitary. Improving cleaning standards and frequencies while monitoring outcomes will become a higher priority and contribute to a healthy building. Remember, a clean building is not always healthy, but a healthy building is always clean.
Jon Willette: We all need to follow the government guidelines and simple common sense. Assuming the businesses are cleaning properly each “new” employee needs to be onboarded again and understand the rules of engagement for fighting this virus. Establish a health and safety person or team that is focused on the health and safety of your employees and customers. Not only will it be good to focus on but will help to make everyone feel safer.
One issue is, some people are not taking it seriously, this has to be corrected as soon as possible within companies. If customers do not think you are being safe they will move on. Also it is important to look at your business as your customer does. Does the property look clean and tidy? Even if the landlord is responsible for cleaning, make sure it happens. For the near term, people will simply not come in if they feel it is dirty.
What are the most basic procedures that you believe any business should be implementing to safeguard staff and customers?
Timothy Hawk: The old-school idea of a dedicated, full-time receptionist will become important once again. It seems to be a basic requirement that a receptionist will need to greet and screen workers, visitors, and guests. Many of the former office protocols which were typical in the mid-19th century, will need to be resurrected. These designs and procedures supported a culture of control and efficiency, which is now once again essential. Many of our workplaces had migrated to a more casual atmosphere and the idea of a receptionist had faded. Now, when safety is critical, a dedicated gatekeeper, with a sign-in procedure and other safety protocols will be important.
Thomas Holland: One of the biggest challenges for facility managers right now is information overload. There’s an overwhelming amount of guidance available on how to provide a safe environment for staff and customers, and sifting through it all is no easy task. One best practice that seems to be high on everyone’s list is communication. Communication between the company, its vendors and its employees is critical in today’s rapidly changing environment, and those companies that master open and real communication will be better prepared to implement the safeguards that matter most to their stakeholders.
The CDC maintains that it is possible for a person to get COVID-19 by touching a surface that has the coronavirus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes. For that reason, disinfecting the workplace should be a priority for every facility manager. It’s important to make sure the disinfectant you use doesn’t cause more harm than good. Just because the disinfectant has been approved for use against the coronavirus by the EPA doesn’t mean it’s safe to use in quantity in a facility. The safest disinfectants have a Hazardous Materials Identification System (HMIS) rating of 0.0.0.0—the lowest toxicity level possible—and are food-grade safe.
Facility managers also need to make sure they’re working with service providers they can trust. Many providers are new to disinfection and never operated an electrostatic sprayer before last March. It’s important to verify their training and experience and get multiple bids from equally qualified providers.
Finally, be wary of profiteering. The price of electrostatically applied disinfection should mirror that of carpet cleaning. If you are paying more, you may want to look elsewhere.
Jon Willette: We think the Safe Clean procedure we talked about before and washing hands.
What specific industries or types of businesses need to include additional measures to assure safety for everyone entering their facility? What are those additional procedures?
Timothy Hawk: Many of our manufacturing and processing facilities already have stringent entry protocols, so I don’t see a huge need to modify these situations. But, it seems that all types of facilities should adopt screening procedures supported by a secure reception area and an ample waiting area and many will need to address this critical need. Any facility which supports person-to-person commerce (banks, shops, salons, etc.) may want to introduce greeters who help transition consumers to their experience. Office environments may need to be redesigned to reintroduce reception stations at pivotal points throughout their facility, and this will require either additional staff or shared responsibility for existing staffers.
Thomas Holland: Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for every industry or type of business. Every company seems to have some sort of unique building, floor or area that requires a different solution from the rest of their portfolio, whether it’s a 24-hour call center, a manufacturing facility or a food processing center. Being able to identify these areas and understand the unique needs of each will help a facility manager establish the correct protocols to keep everyone safe.
Besides more frequent cleaning and disinfecting, facility managers might want to consider supplying additional manpower to monitor bathroom and break room occupancy. Facilities with food preparation areas will need to use disinfectants that are NSF certified, and some larger public venues may consider ionized hydrogen peroxide systems for their HVAC in order to help contribute to a healthier building. All solutions and providers should be thoroughly vetted.
Jon Willette: Everyone!
In the wake of the pandemic, do you believe businesses will need to incorporate disinfection and sanitization into their maintenance routines? If so, how often – daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly? What should those procedures include?
Timothy Hawk: Sanitization protocols and daily maintenance will be critical. Business owners may need to reconsider the durability and maintenance of their flooring, wall finishes, and furniture systems. Scrubbable hard surfaces will be preferred to maintain a sense of cleanliness and safety. We may consider extending the types of materials that many of our medical facilities have utilized for years into our retail and professional working environments. Cleaning and maintenance of these surfaces will need to increase. Many workplaces have been supported by a light, daily cleaning and a more thorough, deeper cleaning protocol weekly. I sense that the frequency of deep cleaning protocols will increase. Shared restroom spaces and kitchenettes will need to be cleaned daily. Additionally, employers should require individual employees to wipe down their workstation surfaces before they depart each day. Conference room tables should also be wiped clean after each use. Cleaning protocols for any surface frequently touched by many employees will need to change.
Thomas Holland: Businesses will need to consider a more thorough approach to cleaning and disinfecting. You can think of this approach as a three-legged stool. Cleaning is the first leg, and it should be done with the proper products and methods. These include using microfiber towels on work surfaces, hot-water extraction on carpet, and vacuums with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. Disinfecting is the second leg, and this includes selecting the right disinfectant, the right application method and the right provider. The third leg is communication. You must communicate with staff about what you’re doing to keep them safe and what their role is in the process.
Frequencies depend on the traffic and use of the building. At a minimum, you should maintain a daily enhanced cleaning schedule. In addition, you should disinfect frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, light switches, faucets and elevator buttons at least once a day. You should disinfect other surfaces based on level of use. Public areas and restrooms need increased scrutiny.
Jon Willette: For sure, think about the restaurants you go to for carry out. Our clients that focused on cleanliness prior to the pandemic have done the best. You need to have a safe system to go from dirty to clean and healthy doses of Vital Oxide in the infrastructure on which this is based.
Based on your job role, what other insights, suggestions, and/or precautions can you offer to business owners who are looking to reopen after the pandemic?
Timothy Hawk: It seems that many of the technologies that we have used throughout stay-at-home orders are here to stay. Now, more than ever, individual mobile devices will be critical to maintain the efficient flow of work. Many of our peers may be forced to balance family demands since access to our schools, summer camps, and day care centers will be restricted. Some workers may need to support a nomadic existence, where they can quickly pack up their working tools and take them home. Business owners may want to set aside resources to help these individual mobile devices to be supported in the workplace with mobile or fixed large-format displays. Workers, who have become accustomed to sharing their screen through collaborative software solutions will anticipate that this can extend into the physical environment seamlessly.
Thomas Holland: Above all, do your research and make decisions based on facts, not fear. There are few true experts in this field as very few companies in the U.S. have ever dealt with a global pandemic in the workplace at any sort of scale. Beware of those companies taking advantage of the current market by overcharging for services. Compare best practices with peers and industry trade associations such as the International Facility Management Association, the Building Owners and Managers Association International, and Women in Facility Management. These and many other associations have done a great job putting together publicly available COVID-19 resource pages. Move at the pace that fits your employees and companies, and don’t worry what others are doing. Finally, over-communicate with your employees and let them know what you are doing to help them breathe easy.
Jon Willette: You MUST make your customers and employees feel safe!