Getting back to work during coronavirus pandemic: Tips for a safer, healthier office

by: Julie Unruh

Posted: Jun 11, 2020 / 05:57 PM CDT Updated: Jun 11, 2020 / 05:58 PM CDT

Getting back to work is not as simple as it sounds during the coronavirus pandemic. Company owners and office managers are trying to create a safe environment while also making employees feel safe when they return.

What will your office look like when you finally do return?

Christina Brown is an interior designer at Eastlake Studio, a workplace office interiors and architectural firm. She admits connecting when the world has been asked to isolate is a difficult proposition.

“We’re humans by nature and the reason we want to get back to the office is to connect with people,” she said.

She said the key these days is wellness.

For most offices that begins with cleaning first then disinfecting. 

Rich Kurkowski of Stratus Building Solutions relies on non-bleach, green products to clean. Fluids match the colored cloths his team uses so toilet rags don’t get used on telephones.

 “(We make) sure all the dusting is done,” he said. “Baseboards, glass, keyboards, electronics –  then hitting all touch points and surfaces with disinfectants.”

Disinfecting is the final step. 

 “You do want to use a disinfectant, something on the EPA list for coronavirus,” he said. “And you want to be using on touch points – switches, handles and electronics and bathrooms.”

Kurkowski’s business and business at Celtic Environmental Group, where their slogan is “Fire, Rlood and Blood,” have added COVID-19 cleaning to their list of offerings in recent months.

Both companies have seen their calls triple in recent months. 

This spring, Celtic was called into clean Loyola Academy in Wilmette.

Mandy Manalli is with Celtic Restoration Group.

 “It’s just nice to have that extra layer of feeling,” she said. “Like you’re giving your employees some feeling of safety when they return to the workplace.”

But there’s even more employers can do:

The bosses at Eastlake Studio say start smart, but start simple, and start by giving your workers choices.

 “Flexibility is the key here,” Brown said. “We don’t know what is going to happen six months or a year from now. We shouldn’t be rushing to spend tons of money on solutions that may not work in the future or are not environmentally unsustainable in the future.”

Keep in mind, an old office layout may no longer work. 

  • Reorganize the space so people are six feet apart.
  • Post signage about social distance and hand washing.
  • Create single occupancy spaces by utilizing unused areas that you can then fill with plants, one chair, dividers and screens and always electrical power.
  • Explore touchless technology. 
  • Invest in door stops for interior doors and there will be fewer handles to touch. 
    Consider anti-microbial lighting to help reduce some pathogens.
  • Consider replacing some office fabrics.
  • Replace plexi-glass. It scratches and is hard to keep clean.
  • Consider light-colored desktops so you can see how clean or dirty your desk really is. 
  • Communicate with your employees before they come back. Let them know what you’ve done to create a safe work environment.
  • Be flexible and nimble. Not everyone is going to feel the same about a return. That also means be understanding. 

“People are your most expensive asset,” Brown said. “So they should be happy. If they are happy, they will do great work for you.”