COVID-19 office safety guide

As states and cities continue to follow the recommended guidelines for COVID-19 workplace safety, new strategies and safety precautions help organizations protect their employees and their bottom line. Similar to past influenza pandemic guidelines, OSHA has encouraged companies to create coronavirus workplace safety guidelines to prevent the continued spread of COVID-19 and reduce its impact on employees. 

The cyclical nature of the virus requires organizations to have flexible strategies that can shift as county and state guidelines change. Tactics including reduced occupancy and social distancing measures, alongside sanitization and hands-free technology, play a key role in evolving COVID-19 reopening workplace strategies. This coronavirus office safety checklist will help organizations follow the latest recommendations and health guidelines for reopening their offices.

The workplace after COVID-19: New normal

Is your workplace ready for the new normal? In addition to existing workplace security guidelines, there are additional safety measures businesses can take to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in the workplace. The CDC recommends using a COVID-19 office safety guide to help you determine what important updates you may need to make in your building to ensure the health of your staff.

Office buildings are prime places for diseases like this to spread, since there are many different people coming and going throughout the day, and most have to pass through common entry points like lobbies, security checkpoints, and elevators. As people start going back to work after coronavirus, protocols and sentiment about the office will continue to change in response to fluctuations in vaccinations, case numbers, and virus variants. These additional safety measures provide a safer work environment for employees from the moment they enter the premises, and help future-proof your return-to-work strategy.

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How people feel about returning to work after COVID-19

Amongst all of the noise and uncertainty, the resounding takeaway is that people are worried about the health of themselves and their loved ones, first and foremost. In terms of returning to work, that now represents an added layer of stress due to the potential health hazard of possible virus exposure that could result in transmitting it to their families at home. 

In a recent survey of commercial tenants, property owners and managers, landlords, and developers, 63% of respondents said they are not comfortable returning to the workplace in the current environment. Yet 70% assume they will be required to return within a year. 

Highest source of stress: 76% are concerned about the health and safety of myself/loved ones.
Sentiment on returning to work: 63% are not comfortable returning, 70% assume they will be required to resume working on-site within a year.

Though vaccines are widely available, many people are still wary of returning to work in any capacity. In fact, US consumers have lingering anxiety, with one in ten US employees saying nothing would make them feel comfortable returning to work, according to a National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics poll.

The new normal timeframe

When we look at the timeline for reopening workplaces, schools, and entertainment, we have to consider the natural phases of the pandemic in regards to vaccines and possible variants. Even with effective vaccines, compliance and herd immunity take time to achieve. As variants of the virus surface, we may need to return to more stringent safety protocols. 

Phase I: Spikes in cases result in workplace closures for all but essential staff, strict social distancing, and stringent guidelines for health and safety.
Phase II: Phased reopening with staggered shifts and limited occupancy. Guidelines and policies continue to shift in response to case numbers, vaccine availability, and possible variants.
Phase III: Relaxing into the “new normal” for the workplace. Readying strategies for the next cycle back to Phase I with flexible technology.

Our framework to consider for decision making

The most important part of establishing a plan moving forward into the new normal is to be prepared and flexible. We are likely to still see a pendulum swing between returning to work in accordance with infection rates, especially as travel opens up and variants develop. The more your building and workforce are equipped to handle the back-and-forth, the better. Therefore, it’s crucial to have a strategy in place that prioritizes flexibility and safety.

Phase I: 1. Develop your real estate plan 2. Prepare your physical space 3. Prepare your employees
Phase II: Infection rates swing up and down 
Phase III: Assess and reassess your approach to flex your space up or down as you learn what works best for your business
Phase IV: Look for long-term learnings to future-proof your strategy

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Future-proof workplace technology guide

Everyone should feel safe and secure at work. In our new normal, this requires fundamental changes to the workplace as we know it. Structural and technological upgrades help boost confidence and peace of mind, enforce protocols, and track activity for a safer experience. In addition to requiring vaccines, survey responses show the safety features that would make people feel more comfortable returning to their workplaces are:

  • Reduced occupancy 

  • Touchless access control

  • Hand sanitizer stations

Increasing the number of hand sanitizer dispensers in the workplace is an easy (and important) win, but it’s not enough to keep people safe, or give them confidence in coming back to work. In order to really make a difference in the sentiment of returning to work, implementing strategies to reduce capacity and eliminating common touch points are essential. Luckily, there are tools that automate and enforce these new processes for efficient compliance with new guidelines.

Reducing occupancy in the workplace

According to the CDC and global health authorities, social distancing is an effective way to prevent spreading COVID-19, especially indoors. The more space between people, the better. Survey data shows many people would feel more comfortable returning to work if their employers and property owners reduced occupancy as part of their COVID-19 reopening protocol. 

The importance of occupancy management: Reduced occupancy was the #1 requested action item by 79% of respondents, 80% of businesses plan to maintain the same building space or decrease the size

The simplest way to reduce office capacity is to reconfigure desks and common areas, putting more space between people throughout the building. Decals and dividers are budget-conscious and encourage social distancing. However, you can’t effectively enforce social distancing and there’s no way to manage or track occupancy levels without new technology.

Many companies are splitting up work hours into shifts of smaller teams so fewer people are scheduled to be in the office at the same time. With this strategy, being able to change schedules and manage user access credential privileges for your commercial door locks and access points instantly become must-have capabilities. Mobile access control like Openpath makes it easy to manage occupancy with shift schedules: simply assign users to groups, and authorize access for each group on different days and times as needed to keep capacity below the set threshold. Plus, with remote management capabilities, Openpath lets admins handle schedule changes and add or revoke user access from anywhere in the cloud.

However, even with the best-laid plans for reducing the total number of people in a given space, it can be difficult to ensure everyone follows the guidelines. Leveraging access control technology goes a long way in eliminating congestion and enforcing social distancing in your facility. Occupancy management systems are a solid investment for any workplace looking to safely reopen after COVID-19. They automate and enforce the capacity limits for your space, with less hands-on management required. 

For example, Openpath’s access control system uses entry and exit readers to track the number of people entering a zone. The system denies additional unlock requests until capacity falls below the set threshold. Administrators also receive alerts and manage occupancy in real-time from the activity dashboard. If you want to invest in comprehensive COVID-19 workplace safety technology for the whole building, you can also integrate access control with people counters and capacity sensors. This data makes social distancing enforceable, and improves space management over time. 

Touchless technology for the built environment

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the new normal, it’s that touching things is a new source of anxiety for many. Think about all the things you touch at work: door handles, light switches, elevator buttons, break room microwaves, and shared computers or desk supplies. When it comes to returning to work after COVID-19, eliminating as many common touch points as possible helps employees, tenants, and visitors feel safer. The best place to start with COVID-19 safety technology is at the front door. Go touchless with your entry system and security controls. Keycards and fobs, touch readers, PIN pads, and turnstiles are one more thing to wipe down throughout the day, and it’s nearly impossible to keep up the necessary maintenance. And yet, only 25% of business and commercial property owners in a recent Openpath survey said they have proactively implemented touchless technology in their offices and buildings.

62% of respondents would prefer to use their mobile phone to access their building

Mobile credentials, which ranked #1 in terms of preferred access method in the same survey, solve this pain point by letting users enter and exit using their smartphone. With Openpath’s mobile-based access control system, you have the ability to go completely touchless thanks to Wave to Unlock capabilities activated by Bluetooth — the user doesn’t even need to take their phone out of their pocket or purse. Similar configurations are available for touchless turnstiles and touchless smart elevator systems. You can also integrate Openpath with Allegion door opener hardware for 100% contactless entry and exit.

Automating wellness verification procedures

In addition to social distancing, making sure people who come on-site are healthy in the first place is essential to safely returning to work during COVID-19. Openpath offers integrations with visitor and tenant management software to automate and enforce wellness procedures. Users have to fill out self health questionnaires or waivers as part of a daily check-in process required for authorized building entry. The integrations allow the entire process to be completely digital so it’s easy to manage remotely. Even for multi-location organizations, this reduces the burden on HR and administration teams.

Some organizations are also turning to temperature screenings to ensure workplace safety during reopening. With on-site thermal cameras integrated with access credentials, users can only unlock the door if they pass their temperature check. If you anticipate visitors to your building, wellness verification procedures can be added to the guest check-in flow, associating mobile guest pass credentials with a completed attestation form. Adding these symptom check processes to your office protocol gives employees and visitors peace of mind when returning to work.

Proactive building security management

In the Openpath survey, 45% of respondents said that security was the biggest challenge they faced when shutting down their offices for necessary safety precautions. With the cyclical nature of the pandemic, intermittent office closures are likely to continue. When nobody is present at the workplace, how can business owners ensure their facility is still secure and adhering to physical security measures? Businesses are also struggling with managing requests for temporary access for employees, maintenance staff, and deliveries. Those who are reducing capacity by making changes to work schedules are needing to constantly shift hours and enforce new schedules on the fly.

With a cloud-based platform such as Openpath, businesses are able to take a proactive approach to managing their building security via remote access. Enhanced COVID-19 safety features like remote unlock, door schedule changes, user credentialing, and video management can all be done anywhere, at any time. Plus, with real-time reporting and activity notifications, you’ll always know what’s happening at your building, without having to be on-site.

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Openpath’s reliable, future-proof mobile access control

  • Multi-technology readers support mobile, keycards, fobs, RFID and Apple Watch

  • Intuitive, open software platform with remote management, dynamic access permissions, and real-time customizable reporting

  • Built-in, high-definition video capabilities with real-time remote monitoring

  • Powerful safety features for occupancy tracking, anti-tailgating, and emergency lockdown activation

  • Scalable hardware and software that secures a single entry or an entire multisite enterprise with ease

  • Integrates seamlessly with existing security hardware and software via open standards

  • Automatic updates, offline functionality, and encryption at every level

Reducing coronavirus transmission at work

COVID-19: 44% of Small Businesses will have employees self monitoring for symptoms and stay home if they feel sick

The best way to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace is to keep the germs out in the first place. Follow these coronavirus office safety tips to help your employees stop the virus from spreading at work.

  • Educate your staff on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, and dedicate additional HR resources to answering their questions about what to do if they become ill, or are exposed to someone who is sick. 

  • Any employee who feels ill should stay home to prevent spreading germs in the office. Consider implementing flexible sick time policies or additional sick leave to accommodate employees who test positive for coronavirus. 

  • Minimize physical contact for employees who are high-risk for contracting the virus. Encourage remote work if possible, or provide a more isolated working environment within the office. According to OSHA COVID-19 safety guidelines, at-risk and unvaccinated employees should wear face masks that cover the nose and mouth or personal protective equipment (PPE) while in the office.

  • Limit business travel, and follow all CDC travel guidelines, including following proper testing, self-isolation and quarantine procedures for any employee who does travel.

  • Support employee hygiene by keeping tissues, hand sanitizer, soap, and disinfectant wipes readily available to all employees.

  • While thermal cameras in offices and checking temperatures at the door may seem like a good way to scan employees, customers and visitors for fever symptoms associated with COVID-19, keep in mind that this technology requires additional privacy regulations. If you do choose to install thermal cameras for temperature screenings in your office, make sure you are taking extra measures to protect personal data and identity information that may be collected via your thermal video surveillance systems. 

  • Contact tracing helps track, report and isolate cases of coronavirus should it affect anyone in your office or building. With Bluetooth contact tracing technology making tracking and reporting cases faster and more efficient, this can be a valuable asset in preventing transmission as you return to work. In order to protect data and privacy, ensure you are using a system that employs end-to-end encryption and anonymous identifiers.

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Social distancing in the office

39% of Small businesses are requiring 6ft social distancing between employees and customers.

Putting more distance between people has proven to be key to keeping the transmission of COVID-19 under control, and is a continued protocol under the United States government guidelines for reducing the spread while reopening. With social distancing becoming the new normal, we can expect the layout of our offices to change as well. Larger spaces, fewer people, and the advent of the “six-feet office” are all starting to make their way into post COVID-19 office designs around the world. You can implement similar techniques in your office with the following workplace social distancing policies: 

  • Create flexible worksites that accommodate remote work and telework. Allow for fewer people in the office, reduce on-site meetings, and discourage visitors unless absolutely necessary. Make sure your meeting spaces and workstations are set up with the best technology for remote collaboration with our Smart Office Guide

  • Stagger work schedules to minimize the number of employees in a space at one time. You can implement daily staggered shifts, or have a percentage of your staff work remotely for one week, then come into the office the next week. Schedule thorough cleanings between shifts.

  • Reconfigure worksites to add more distance between employees. Space desks at least six feet apart, and discourage shared equipment or workstations. You can use physical barriers, like plexiglass or plastic dividers, and floor decals to help guide employees or customers on where to walk to maintain the recommended distance.

  • Set lower capacity thresholds for common areas. If you have access to real-time reporting, you can use space management tools to determine the best course of action. You can also automate this process with occupancy management systems that count the number of entries and exits in real-time, and disable access until the number falls below the threshold.

  • If possible, offer remote or digital services, and change to curbside pickup and delivery options to minimize physical contact. 

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Office safety and sanitization after COVID-19

69% of U.S. workers reported their employer has adopted new or more frequent cleaning practices

There are additional safety protocol measures your business can take to continue to provide a safer work environment for your employees. In addition to regular hand-washing with soap and water, you should implement these COVID-19 reopening maintenance procedures to ensure the health and safety of your entire team.

  • Schedule daily cleaning and disinfection to all high-touch surfaces in your office. Door handles, desks, phones, light switches, and faucets, should be cleaned and disinfected at least daily. For surfaces with the most use in public spaces like PIN pads, shopping carts, and point-of-sale keypads, you'll need to thoroughly clean and disinfect before each use.

  • Make sure you are using an EPA-approved disinfectant for coronavirus, and following all necessary dilution and protection practices according to the label.

  • Increase the frequency of routine deep cleanings, with a focus on high-touch surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, keyboards, telephones, handrails, and doorknobs.

  • Increase your security measures. Traditional security systems may not be well-equipped for a post-coronavirus office environment. Now more than ever, you should be aware of who is coming and going from your facility, be able to track that data in real-time, and react swiftly in case of an emergency. With remote work and staggered shifts likely to continue, make sure your security system offers cloud-based access so you can easily control access to your facility remotely and offer better security for your employees.

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COVID-19 Workplace Reopening Guide

COVID-19 workplace reopening phases and safety guide. Phase 1: Proactive planning and sanitization. Phase 2: Technology and security updates. Phase 3: Automate and enforce new protocols.

Before you return to the office, you should follow the COVID-19 reopening office guidelines outlined by the CDC and health authorities. The best way to mitigate risk in your office is to remove threats to safety and security, including reducing the number of common touch points throughout your building, before your employees return to the office. Consider updating to hands-free technology, and making a few critical updates prior to reopening your office.

Phase 1: Proactive planning and sanitization

  • Studies have shown that the coronavirus doesn't spread as easily in outdoor areas, or spaces with good ventilation. Prior to returning to the office, consider installing high-efficiency air filters and better HVAC or ventilation systems to reduce the viral load in workplace interiors.

  • Identify where and how coronavirus could be transmitted at your workplace. Consider all the high-traffic areas and touch points of your facility: door handles, light switches, elevator buttons, lobbies, bathrooms, break rooms, and shared offices. Then make a plan to mitigate risk in those areas with additional cleaning and disinfection, both prior to reopening the office and as a new normal routine.

  • Eliminate porous surfaces and fabrics throughout your facility. Lobby chairs, carpets, and wall tapestries can harbor coronavirus particles for up to a week without sanitization.

  • Conduct a deep cleaning of the space prior to welcoming employees back to the office.

  • Put together a comprehensive COVID-19 workplace plan. This should include procedures for recurring closures, regular maintenance, and what to do in the event of a confirmed COVID-19 case at your facility.

Phase 2: Technology and security updates

  • Update your door access control methods to a hands-free option. Offering motion-detection features for its readers, a Bluetooth-based system like Openpath eliminates extra touch points in high-traffic access areas like lobbies, elevators and entryways. An all-in-one product like the Single Door Access Controller makes it easy to implement hands-free access control in any size space, even if you only have one or two entries. 

  • Take your safety protocols a step further and integrate your Openpath touchless access control system with automatic door openers, which allow employees to enter and exit without touching a door handle.

  • Install antimicrobial hardware throughout your facility. Door handles, push/pull locks, emergency exit devices and more are now available with a silver ion coating that can help slow the spread of bacteria and viruses.

  • Switch to mobile credentials and cloud-based security systems. Not only are key cards, fobs and RFID badges prone to misuse and misplacement, they require the user to touch them in order to enter a building. Not to mention guest passes are often a shared credential. With Openpath mobile credentials, the user just needs their smartphone to enter (which they’re less likely to lend to coworkers, or forget at home). 

  • Use a cloud-based system for 24/7 remote management, ideal for accommodating work-from-home schedules, but still allowing employees, deliveries, and maintenance to access the building when nobody is there. 

  • Elevators are a common touch point in enterprise business locations and multi-tenant offices. The small, confined space makes it hard to maintain proper distancing in a shared elevator, so you should only allow one or two people to ride at a time. But there's also concern over touching the elevator buttons. Infectious disease expert Dr. Daniel Griffin warns that "everyone is going to be pushing the same buttons with their hands," and it's hard to clean them after every single use. Use a mobile credential like Openpath as one component of your touch-free elevator technology, which can also take tenants only to the floors they have approved access to for added security.

  • Invest in automated and voice-activated technology. Being able to manage daily operations from a personal device eliminates common touch points throughout the workspace. Secure your system via encrypted technology on the cloud to keep security risks low, as well as offer greater flexibility for administrators.

Phase 3: Automate and enforce new protocols

  • Automate and enforce symptom screenings for all employees and staff by connecting web-based wellness forms to a security system via open API. With Openpath’s configurations, you can set requirements for each user to complete a daily symptom assessment in order for their mobile credentials to unlock a door, without needing to check individual forms or station a guard at the building.

  • Set new social distancing policies throughout your building to reduce crowding in lobbies, entries, and common spaces. Schedule arrivals in staggered shifts, make use of video conferencing and virtual meeting tools instead of large in-person meetings, discourage social gatherings in common areas and remove shared appliances from break rooms and lunch rooms. 

  • Consistent communication and reinforcement of new protocols is key to maintaining the new COVID-19 return to workplace standards. Post reminders throughout your facility, send updated guidelines as new information becomes available, and distribute training and development tools to your team so everyone is prepared.

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Closing statement

Budgeting for health technology: 51% of respondents will increase their security spending for COVID-19 workplace solutions

The most important factor of your business is the health and safety of your employees. While it may seem daunting to adjust your workplace policies for COVID-19, it’s vital to approach the return to the office with an abundance of caution. To ensure both your facilities and employees are prepared for a post-coronavirus work environment, you should establish COVID-19 workplace safety guidelines to mitigate risk and reduce the transmission of germs between employees. Prior to reopening offices during COVID-19, make sure you follow appropriate sanitization and disinfection guidelines. 

While personal hygiene plays a key role in preventing the virus from spreading, there are many control factors for businesses to consider. New technology can help make the transition to the new normal smoother and more efficient. In Openpath’s survey, 51% of business owners and property managers said they plan to increase spending on COVID-19 workplace safety technology. In addition to reconfiguring offices to allow for social distancing, increasing disinfection and sanitization frequency in high-touch areas of the workplace, organizations are investing in technology for hands-free access, occupancy tracking, and digital wellness questionnaires. Budgeting for these tools ensures businesses are prepared for shifting needs for the unpredictable post-pandemic workplace, and that spaces are future-proofed and protected from emerging security vulnerabilities.

Take extra precautions to keep your employees safe by updating your security system to offer hands-free door entry. Contact an Openpath team member to get started.

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