Getting Back to the Workspace Post Covid

We now live in a different world and as of today the impact of COVID 19 in India has crossed 52000 cases with over 26% recovery and over 1700 deaths. Thanks to the PAN India lockdown which lead to some flattening. The cost of this is huge in terms of business losses and Job market contraction. Over 70 million are estimated to have lost their jobs and this figure may well cross 100 million as per Outlook India estimates. Post-lockdown, the world of work won’t be what we used to know. No one even knows if this will be a V U W or even an extended W with waves of high and low tides of spread data.

The biggest question in mind of every one now is WHAT NEXT? How will the restart of the work place happen? What does the office of future (at least for next 18 months) look like? What are the points of focus and preparation before we start using the offices?

Based on research /media and personal interaction with some members Some of the major factors to consider before one restarts the work space a

  • Reduce Office Density: Most work spaces in India were built keeping cost per sft. in mind. A lot of companies will be focusing on de-densification and splitting offices. Average office space per person will go back from 60-75/sft to the levels of 120-130 sq. ft. (ref Economic times 22.04.20)  Gone are the times of high density office spaces. So it is time you get only essential workers to office, that too on a rotational basis. While maintaining the existing layout of desks and furniture, seating can be assigned to accommodate the latest recommendations for safe physical distancing. There are so many factors that no standard can ensure 100% safe work environment. Consider if you can even operate with 0% occupancy?
  • Realign Meeting /Flexi /Breakout Spaces: These spaces are useless since most meeting rooms don’t provide for safe distance needed. No breakouts and meetings may be done , unless extremely critical and can’t be done over VC (Video Chat) There are enough and better told for all forms of collaboration. These are now likely to be used for private work space.

  • Redesign the hot-desking/free seating spaces:  Free seating is meant for utilizing less number of seats with more people. Now there is a concern for cleanliness and cross-contamination from multiple people sharing desks. These spaces may need to be used differently until the COVID-19 threat is over.

  •  Redefine who will sit where: Take out the LAYOUT plan for the office and clearly define who will sit where once they are back to office. Essential people to attend office where as the rest can operate from home as far as possible. Till such time the situation improves.

  •  Designated isolation zone/rooms: What if someone falls sick or shows some symptoms then where in office will you isolate that person. And provide that necessary care. This room then will require extra cleaning procedures.
  •  Plan and communicate cleaning routines: Ideally have a checklist ready for cleaning routine for your facility teams. As well as entry point of people and material in the workspace. One such sample checklist can be found HERE. (ref: safeworkaustralia.com)
  •  Screen everyone who enters the office: To begin with automatic sensors  or infrared thermometers to check temperature. Daily checklist of the persons. Sanitiser stations at the entry and exit point will need to be deployed so that operations can go on as smoothly. 
  • Relook at the Air-conditioning System: As Per the CDC of United States , there are three basic means of disease transmission for non-blood borne pathogens: direct physical contact, droplets from coughing and sneezing, and inhalation of airborne particles. While rigorous cleaning and social distancing can help address direct contact and transmission from droplets, airborne transmission may be directly impacted by the specific air distribution system of the building you inhabit. Hence you need a three pronged approach: 

a.  Trap the Virus: To trap airborne particles, review your current air filtration system, replace the existing filters and look at upgrading to a higher rated filter.
b.  Kill the virus: Another approach beyond filtration is to disinfect the air that is being conditioned. One of the most common disinfectant systems for HVAC uses UVC light to kill viruses in ductwork. Some mechanical systems may already have this feature, so simply replacing the UVC lamps can increase the potency of the system.
c.   Flush the Virus: Increasing the amount of fresh or outdoor air and increasing the air change rate is the most common and proven approach to reducing unwanted airborne particles.

A proper assessment needs to be done by expert team for the particular HVAC system before any prevention strategies are finalized or implemented. (Ref ASHRAE position post COVID).

  • Increase humidity in the Air-conditioned Environments: Relative humidity is another important consideration of any system. Studies have shown that pathogens have a difficult time surviving at higher relative humidity levels. However, indoor relative levels above 60% humidity can have negative effects in certain environments, such as facilitating the growth of mildew. So, providing for a tighter range of humidity (40-60%) can mitigate pathogens without causing other adverse effects. (Ref: The ASHRAE Position Document on Infectious Aerosols: Apr2020).
  • Install Touch free Systems: It is now well known that one of the most common ways of spread for COVID 19 is by touching commonly used and infected surfaces. How can we make the office environment touch free? Is it time to say good bye to manual operated toilet systems, attendance, door operations? Meeting room systems? In a subsequent article will share more about these tools and their availability in India. 
  • COVID Safe Working Signages: Entire office space will have to provide for necessary guidance and instructional signages for people at every point of office. Toilet usage, Entry point, walking signs, standing markings for attendance systems, handling touch based items like door , switches etc. 
As we move ahead , and plan for the return to the workspaces , we hope these factors and ideas can support the business recovery and the safety of workers everywhere.I believe every organization should have the tools needed to plan for safety and success during these uncertain times, and we are always happy to help. 

Manish Sethi , B.Tech(iitb),PGDBM,PMP.
MD Dreamspace India ; manish@dreamspaceindia.com

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