Preparing for a safe and sound return

Our team at Ted Moudis Associates is driven with a focus and a passion for creating great places to work. During these last few weeks we have experienced unparalleled changes in our work and personal lives due to COVID-19. Our priority is to evaluate how we can properly prepare for a return to the workplace—both from a psychological and physical surroundings standpoint. We gathered our experts in workplace strategy, interior design, materiality, furniture, biophilic design, WELL, and architecture to brainstorm possible solutions. Although much is still evolving around COVID-19, we look forward to bringing forth this discussion with you as we create workplaces that will be safe, welcoming, and productive for our return. 

 

We analyzed the impact of COVID-19 across six workplace categories. Each category has near-term considerations and long-term best practices. The intent is to not only minimize the spread of coronavirus, but also potential future viruses.

Organizational Policies
Given current CDC guidelines, a six feet span is required for social distancing. This will impact the floorplan, as well as policies to support this. Employees will look to their employers for transparency in policies and training to effectively support all in this transition. 

 

Near Term Considerations

  • Promote employees not feeling well, or exposed to the virus, to stay home or safely leave the premises.

  • Consider shift working or a percentage of staff continuing to work from home, along with staggering work hours to minimize density and flow of people.

  • Enhance cleaning protocols and consider implementing a clean desk policy for everyone to allow for through cleanings.

  • Provide training on how to use spaces in accordance with the CDC guidelines.

Long Term Best Practices

  • Evaluate options on how to enforce maximum capacity, potentially through sensors or desk booking.

  • Continue to communicate polices as they are updated by city and/or state governing offices.

 

Density & Space Planning
Flexibility is a priority—we seek to design adaptable spaces for the current environment and the future. Consider going beyond building code guidelines by expanding distances between spaces, limit the occupancy of common areas, and provide alternative routes for high traffic paths. Each space type and overall navigation can be evaluated to make the necessary adjustments. 

 

Near Term Considerations

  • Re-evaluate the spacing between workstations. This may require taking some workstations offline temporarily to provide a six-foot radius between seats. 

  • Remove chairs and modify ancillary furniture settings in shared spaces to reduce capacity and to maintain social distancing. 

  • Limit size of in-person meetings and impose videoconferencing for larger meetings, even for those in the office.

  • Provide stations with hand sanitizer and wipes throughout the office, especially near entrances and in common areas.

Long Term Best Practices

  • Plan for flexibility in workstations and collaborative areas.

  • Incorporate hands-free doors, devices and controls.

  • Allow for increased circulation around common areas, including multiple pathways that lead to a single destination

Materiality & Furniture
Studies are still being conducted on how long the virus can last on various materials, but researchers have found it can exist between 3 hours to 3 days, potential up to 1 week. Selecting the right materials and furniture can help mitigate the spread of disease. 

 

Near Term Considerations

  • Glass or plexiglass separators either as panels or mobile floor systems can assist in providing barriers between users.  

  • Knowledge of the established cleaning protocols for existing furniture will be key to understanding the ability of that product to stand up to the cleaning method prescribed to tackle COVID19. 

Long Term Best Practices

  • Specify a stackable panel system for new builds. This would allow for the lowering (de-stack) of panels, should that be a desired future option. 

  • Consider materials with inherent properties and/or applied treatments (as researched, studied and documented) that will support the cleaning/disinfecting/sanitizing efforts as well as reduce and/or slow down the spread of bacteria and viruses.

  • Ensure any new specifications of furniture to have materials with the appropriate designation as bleach cleanable, antimicrobial, or similar qualities. These material characteristics and the associated cleaning methods must be clearly communicated to those responsible for cleaning so that the finishes are not compromised by faulty maintenance.

Wellness
The built environment is a powerful tool for improving human health and wellbeing. It’s important to assess wellness strategies to implement into our office interiors, notably strategies put forth by the International WELL Building Institute / WELL Building Standard.

 

Near Term Considerations

  • Use hypoallergenic products to reduce occupant over exposure to harmful cleaning chemicals. 

  • Replace filters often and incorporate protective guards on water dispensers

  • To promote the consumption of fresh, healthy foods, be sure to provide adequate cold storage for employees to bring their own meals.

 

Long Term Best Practices

  • Promote proximity and exposure to natural light, which improves mood, alertness, and overall health. 

  • Reduce distractions and mitigate stress by providing designated quiet and collaborative zones.

  • Utilize carbon filters, sediment filters and UV sanitation technologies to maintain high quality drinking water.

 

Building Engineering & Maintenance 
Engineering initiatives and maintenance protocols should be considered as an important component for promoting general health in the workplace. Improvements can be implemented for new office designs, but also via modifications to the existing infrastructure and associated maintenance. While transmission of infectious diseases through the HVAC system play likely only a minor role per the World Health Organization, air quality and temperature comfort are key elements of a healthy environment. It’s important to note that some solutions may raise energy costs and result in possible non-compliance with new energy legislation. 

Near Term Considerations

  • Enhance cleaning and disinfection. Consider cleaning meeting room after every meeting.

  • Utilize portable room air purifiers with HEPA filters for high-density rooms.

  • Increase system maintenance and filter replacement. Display maintenance records.  

  • Run building systems longer and open outside air dampers further to increase fresh air levels. 

 

Long Term Best Practices

  • Allow for higher active humidification levels.

  • Apply highest compatible level for air filtration and U-V filters.

  • Increase outside air intake and circulation.

  • Provide a dedicated return air system. 

 

Employee Behaviors

Employees will have varying levels of impact and anxiety during this time. It will be important to remember that dealing with post-traumatic stress will be part of returning to work, especially in cities that were impacted the most. Allow some level of personal control over the environment, as well as empower employees to do their part to maintain a clean and safe environment for all. 
 

Near Term Considerations

  • Support employees in positive behavior and etiquette, such as cleaning hands when leaving or entering the premises and maintaining social distancing standards.

  • Focus on safety & wellness in communications, provide data from both a human and a scientific view to ease worry.

 

Long Term Best Practices

  • Provide strategic, thoughtful, and consistent communications to all staff. When risk information is communicated in a reliable and authoritative way, people learn and benefit from it. 

  • Provide grief and wellness counseling services to staff.

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