Are you an office-goer or employer?
If so, finding out how to reduce the risk of the 2019 novel coronavirus spreading in your workplace is probably at the top of your mind.
Offices are closed environments that are designed to encourage interaction between employees. So it’s no surprise that they are a perfect breeding ground for germs to spread.
For this reason, many companies at the centre of the outbreak, including the China offices of Google, Apple and Microsoft, have shut down their offices for an extended period of time.
We hope to help with this piece on how we can all take a common sense approach to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in our workplace.
Disclaimer: Research on the 2019-nCoV is still ongoing. We’ve written this based on common sense actions we can all take. This is not to be taken as medical advice.
[Download the infographic: Coronavirus Prevention Tips]
How the Coronavirus spreads
First, we need to understand how the novel coronavirus spreads.
According to the CDC, coronaviruses are most commonly spread through:
Through viral particles or droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs. Such airborne droplets can infect another person who breathes it in.
Close personal contact
Such as by shaking hands or touching an infected person, followed by touching your mouth, nose or eyes.
Surfaces contaminated with viral particles
Viral particles can settle on surfaces within 1 meter of an infected person. Touching these surfaces followed by ingestion can lead to infection.
What makes this outbreak worrying are reports that people who are asymptomatic (not displaying novel coronavirus symptoms) appear to be able to spread it.
This makes it all the more important that all office-goers and employers take every precaution to protect themselves and sanitise their workplace.
Open offices could increase the risk of transmitting the disease
Do you work in an open office?
If you do and find yourself getting sick more often, it’s not your imagination.
Open offices now make up more than 70% of the offices in large cities.
However, a 2011 Denmark study found that employees in open offices took 62% more sick leave compared to those in enclosed offices.
This is because the shared ventilation system, lack of walls and increased interaction between colleagues leads to an increased risk of disease transmission.
What’s more, if your workplace practices “hot desking”, colleagues who are ill could circulate between different areas, potentially infecting more people.
So if this is your work environment, take more precautions to reduce the risk of transmission.
Coronavirus prevention tips for employees
Have to spend time in the office?
Here’s what you can do:
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time
It’s a good practice to do this every time you leave or enter the office or visit the washroom. If soap and water is not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
Avoid touching your nose, mouth or eyes with unwashed hands.
Yes, we know this is hard to do – the average adult does this 16 times in an hour. So you’ll have to remind yourself often.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
If you know that a colleague, partner or client is unwell, suggest a conference call or reschedule the meeting. Make use of technology like Zoom, Skype or even the free video call functions on WhatsApp or WeChat.
Nurture your immune system.
Eat healthily and up your vitamin C intake. Keep fit by maintaining your exercise routine. And if you find yourself cooped up at home or in the office, consider using a standing desk to keep active.
Get a flu shot.
The current flu shot will not help with the 2019 novel coronavirus, but it can lessen the risk of you catching the flu and having to visit the doctor.
Clean and disinfect your workplace
An important point and more on that below!
Most importantly, stay home when you are sick.
Remember that none of us are indispensable. And yes, that includes your boss. If you feel that you are coming down with a scratchy throat or the sniffles, take extra precautions and work from home.
Disinfecting your workspace
Given that droplets of the novel coronavirus can linger on surfaces, it’s important to disinfect your workspace on a regular basis.
And if you work in a “hot desking” area, it’s a good area to disinfect your desk before starting work.
Frequently handled but infrequently cleaned items top the list of the most germ-filled items in the workplace.
A study by the University of Arizona sampled 7000 different work environments and found that the top five most germ-contaminated spots were (in order):
Office phone (25,127 germs per square inch)
Desktop (20,961 germs per square inch)
Water fountain handle
Microwave door handle
Keyboard (3,295 germs per square inch)
Just as frightening, bacteria levels increased an average of 19-31% on these items throughout a typical workday. ·
So be sure to use disinfecting wipes to clean your workspace regularly. This can reduce the number of germs by 99% or more.
How to disinfect your workspace
To disinfect your workspace, use disinfecting wipes that contain bleach or above 60% alcohol and follow these steps:
Clear your desk of items and wipe down your tabletop with the disinfecting wipe.
Unplug your office phone and wipe it down with the disinfecting wipe. take particular care to clean the receiver and keypad.
Unplug your keyboard (or laptop) and tap it over a trash can to dislodge particles caught between the keys. Use compressed air to get those hard-to-reach areas below the keys. Wipe the keypads clean with disinfecting wipes.
Mobile phones are especially germy. Remove your cover (if any) and wipe down both the phone and the cover.
Wipe down your chair, particularly the arms, with a disinfecting wipe.
If you have a door to your office, make sure to clean both sides of the door handle thoroughly.
Keep a pack of disinfecting wipes at your desk so you can disinfect your workspace at least once a day, ideally at the start. This will avoid a germ build up.
Coronavirus prevention tips for employers
Many employers already have travel policies to discontinue non-essential travel and work-from-home quarantine for employees who have been to infected areas in recent weeks.
However, there are still a lot of things you can do to protect your employees. These include:
Encourage sick employees to stay home without fear of being penalised
Up to ¼ of employees go to work when ill, because they are afraid of explicit or implicit penalties.
This is counterproductive for employers.
Sick employees circulating in the workplace will go on to infect their colleagues, setting off an chain reaction of illness that damages productivity.
Employers can and should reduce this tendency of presenteeism by setting a transparent and fair sick leave policy, and making this known to all employees.
Senior management can also make an example of themselves by staying home when they are sick.
Allow flexible working arrangements
If the type of work permits, employers can consider letting employees choose to work from home.
This will reduce the risk of employees transmitting the disease to each other, as well as getting infected during their commute.
Take extra steps in cleaning
Employers should ensure that areas with high human traffic get disinfected frequently, at least once a day.
This can include front counters, meeting rooms, lifts, pantries, bathrooms, bin areas and even the water dispenser.
Remind employees to keep their workspaces clean and sanitised
Especially for equipment that they use often like keyboards and their phones.
And provide them with the tools (eg. disinfecting wipes and alcohol sanitisers) for doing so.
Provide basic hygiene tools for employees
For back office staff this could include hand sanitisers, surface disinfection wipes, hand soap, no-touch dustbins, tissues and face masks (for employees who are sick).
For frontline staff, if there is a possibility they have to face customers who are unwell, they can be provided with surgical masks and trained on how to handle such customers.
Provide employees with up to date information and training to reducing infection.
Provide employees with verified coronavirus prevention tips. For instance, information on proper hand washing instructions, cough etiquette, and avoiding touching of eyes, nose and mouth.
Make sure each key employee has a backup if they need to take time off from work.
Ensure that each key employee trains at least one other person to do their job so they can cover for them in times of illness.
This will help employees set their minds at ease if they do have to take time off.
Find this useful? Share these coronavirus prevention tips with your friends and colleagues: