In the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we’re all a little leery about the prospect of returning to the office. Since some experts suggest we may be struggling with virus risks for up to 2 more years, it’s vital for businesses and communities to devise contact-free practices and health safety plans—and for everyone to follow them. So what are some ways businesses can create a safer, healthier work environment? Start with the Basics When it comes to protecting the health of your customers and employees, the best place to start is with the basics we all know. While they should already be part of your daily cleanliness routines, it can’t hurt to review them. Handwashing According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), germs can enter your body when you touch your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Germs can also spread when you handle animals, ingest food or drinks, and interact with contaminated surfaces or items. In order to help people avoid accidentally contracting or spreading disease, the CDC has some handwashing guidelines they encourage everyone to follow. \tWet your hands in warm or cool water. \tApply soap and rub your hands together to lather them. \tContinue to rub them together (getting the backs of your hands, nails, and between your fingers) while humming the entire “Happy Birthday” song twice. \tRinse your hands under clean, running water. \tDry your hands with a clean towel or let them air dry. Desk Cleaning Keeping your desk cleaned and sanitized plays a vital role in the reduction of germ-spreading. On average, a desk has 400 times as many germs on it than you would find on a toilet seat. While most of us are happy to scroll through social media while atop our porcelain thrones, we wouldn’t imagine setting up a workspace on one, so make sure your desk is well-sanitized by using disinfectant wipes and sprays to clean the surface, along with every photo, trinket, and item you have on it as well. Common Area Sanitation Cleaning common areas can present a bit more of a challenge. While it may feel like a no-brainer to make sure lobbies, kitchens, breakrooms, and bathrooms are kept clean, not everyone knows the proper way to sanitize a cloth couch or would think to open all of the windows and let fresh air in. Like with your desk, it’s best practice to use sanitizing wipes wherever possible to clean surfaces and other items. If you can, consider using a bleach solution or an alcohol spray with at 70% alcohol to help wash off surfaces. For cloth couches and other fabric items, the CDC recommends you vacuum, launder, and clean with soap and water whenever possible. Personal Hygiene You may not immediately think that something as simple washing your hair can help reduce the spread of germs, but it can. More than 50% of healthy people have the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus living in or on their noses, throats, hair, or skin. When we shower or bathe for 15 minutes, we shed 6 X 106 colony forming units (CFU), which can reduce the risk of infection. Additionally, good hygiene can help prevent bacterially-caused blindness and other infections. Needless to say, keeping your body squeaky clean is a smart choice. Establish In-Office Wellness Measures With people back at their desks, bustling about their cubicles or common areas, and generally resuming their office-based duties, we need to be extra vigilant in maintaining health and safety standards. There are many ways to reduce risk and keep your employees safe, but we’ve created a brief list of suggestions for you to consider implementing in your workplace. 1. Keep Everyone Working Remotely The best way to keep your employees as safe as possible is to leave them at home. While that certainly isn’t an option for every employer or business owner, it may be something you want to consider. Even if it isn’t a permanent shift to exclusively remote work, stretching out the time before bringing everyone back under the same roof could help prevent the further spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses. 2. Establish Work Shifts If it works for your business, you should think about extending hours and establishing shifts or rotating schedules. Perhaps you can divide the day up into a 6am to noon shift and a 1pm to 7pm shift as Harvard Business Review recommends. Take the midday hour to sanitize work and common spaces. 3. Improve Air Quality Not only can improved air quality help with keeping a workplace clean, but it also has the added benefit of increasing work efficiency and employee productivity. When you consider the fact that getting out and enjoying some fresh air can increase energy levels by as much as 90%, it makes sense to crack a few windows open around the office. 4. Monitor Mental Health Working from home has likely had an impact on your coworkers and employees. Whether it’s increased stress from the kids being stuck at home with you or isolation-induced depression, life won’t be the same once the office opens again. It will take time for people to recover, and it’s imperative for businesses to offer additional support to employees with their struggles. It’s also important to remember that mental health can impact physical health. People suffering from depression or other taxing mental health issues may suffer from impaired immunity as a result. Impaired immunity means an increased chance of getting sick and then spreading disease. Everyone should do what they can to keep themselves and others in a more positive mental space. Support and Accommodate More than just sanitation measures, businesses need to take special care of their employees. None of us have gone through a pandemic like this before, so there’s a lot of uncharted territory. Be patient with employees and coworkers. Allow extra time to those who need to rest after recovering from an illness, and be conscientious of those who need some R&R. Stress levels are high. Fear still lingers just below the surface. Now’s the time to ditch antiquated iron-fist leading styles and bloated, big-business hierarchy. Companies are held together by people, not faceless cogs in a machine. Coming back into the office and rebuilding the working community is a perfect opportunity to adjust previously held perceptions and role limitations. Get to know the people around you, even with careful social distancing practices. Discover their stories and struggles. Find ways to support and uplift them so that we can all transition into a brighter, more compassionate future.