In the context of the need for offices to operate during epidemics several measures should be taken to prevent and limit the transmission of viruses by:
- maintaining a safe distance between users of the building
- limiting the number of people touching an object/surface
- limiting the contact which persons might have with surfaces touched by others
- maintaining a healthy air quality and limiting the spread of infections through proper ventilation
- cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting spaces and surfaces, as well as the HVAC equipment servicing these spaces
- reducing the stress level of building users
A set of general measures which can be immediately taken in existing office buildings, without substantial investment and remodeling, are thus the following:
- All access doors of the building will be used to distribute entrance/exit traffic via several access routes
- If the building HVAC system allows, change setting to working with 100% fresh air, even if this would bring a deviation of 2… 3 °C from the setpoint.
- In spaces with openable windows, one window will be permanently kept open for good natural ventilation and to reduce potential viral load in the air. However, this measure depends on the outside temperature. This might conflict with the air conditioning system of the building, which is generally set to be turned off upon opening windows. Administrators can thus choose to disable sensors.
- Place disinfectant door mates at entrances. Hand sanitizer dispensers shall be installed at every entrance/exit of the building, in each office space with more than 10 people.
- If possible, retrofit reception desk located near entrances with a screen or replace desk with a video intercom piece of equipment. Alternatively, find other means to provide protection for receptionist, such as using dividing elements which will ensure the receptionist’s 2.0 m distance from visitors and/or those who enter the office space.
- As close to the entrance as possible, designate a space where employees can leave their street clothes (coats) and, if necessary, change shoes. This may be done by converting the closest meeting room.
- As close to the entrance as possible, designate a space which will serve as an isolation room where an employee showing symptoms may be isolated until arrival of medical help, or until the said employee may rest until being able to leave, in case the employee cannot leave office straight away.
- In the open areas of the office, workstations will be reallocated or repositioned such as to ensure a minimum 2.0 m distance between users. In some offices, especially in call centers, this measure will reduce the office capacity by up to 70% – for this reason, the recommendation in such epidemic periods is to also alternate employees’ schedules to provide shifts and/or allow work from home.
- Additional partitions will be used to protect workstations in the vicinity of corridors. It is recommended to use plants or decorative elements to achieve separation.
- Conference rooms and relaxation spaces will be reconfigured to encourage social distancing. Reduce the number of chairs/sofas. Additional partitions may be introduced (furniture or vegetation).
- Analyze location of printers/copiers and relocate them so they are not in the vicinity of a workstation, and such that they can be used without having to cross the minimum 2.0 m distance to the nearest workstation.
- Limit the number of doorknobs/ or doors by establishing an “open doors” policy for all offices and conference rooms for the duration of the epidemics.
- Remove/ dismantle doors which are not necessary. Example: doors to the printer room, to the archive (unless that has secure files), to the kitchenette, or first row of doors to group lavatories or sanitary facilities (these can be later replaced with a labyrinth-type entry).
- Create a space of relaxation / conversation which can be used by one employee at a time for rest /private telephone conversations. It is recommended to ventilate this space for 15 min and disinfect between uses.
- Floor signaling will be mounted to indicate safe distances between users in all locations where crowding may occur (hallways, waiting areas).
- Restrooms will be cleaned often, by washing the floor, disinfecting the toilets, faucets, doorknobs, light switches. In multi-storey buildings, make sure the floor drain is filled with water and covered to avoid germ transmission from contaminated sewage.
- Sanitizing products will be delivered to all employees, such as masks, gloves, disinfectant wipes.
- All staff/employees will be instructed on proper hand washing, mask wearing, use of interior and exterior spaces within the office building.
Implementation of the above measures is critical in limiting the transmission of viruses and represents a set of minimum measures. These must be taken together with clear local administrative measures, which must be communicated to everyone involved (administrators, users, maintenance staff) to ensure good cooperation and limit infections.
Other measures involving new investment in equipment and space remodeling include:
- Redesign open-office type of spaces and transform into individual offices.
- Redesign eating spaces such that distancing is observed (partition with vegetation, organize islands, use large tables, fixed chairs).
- Modify furniture to respond to social distance recommendations.
- For every 10.00 sqm of office space, ensure one openable window; alternatively, resize use of fresh air to 100%.
- Replace switches/ faucets/ toilet flaps with no-touch devices/sensors.
- Add devices which would allow doors to be opened by foot instead of operated by hand.
- Introduce strategies to reduce chronic stress levels and reduce cortisol levels that can cause activation of viruses by playing ambient music, introducing individual relaxation spaces etc.
- Equip each computer with webcam and encourage virtual meetings even among employees in the same office.
- Modify HVAC systems to include filtration of the type used in “clean rooms”, medical spaces.
- Equip office spaces with air purifiers with embedded UV-c germicide lamp, which can disinfect the air during the working hours, or include UV-c lamps in the existing ventilation system. Debits/capacity of stand-alone purifiers need to be correlated with primary HVAC systems in order to ensure efficiency.
- Equip offices with UV-c germicide light removable lamps with timer/programmer for disinfecting the surfaces of the interiors after-hours, during night-time – these cannot be used while people are present in the space to be disinfected by the lamp as they are extremely harmful. For this reason, it is recommended that they are installed with a protected switch, which is only accessible to authorized personnel which had been trained in this respect.
- Implement a “clean-office” policy (cleared table) for optimal disinfection.
- Equip office space with sterilizing equipment for small objects (keys, phones)
Every company is encouraged to hire an auditor who will determine the appropriate measures to be taken in each specific case.