In evaluating COVID-19 infection risk, it is important to consider the entire system, from community to home to office. The most effective way to manage your overall risk would be to eliminate all potential external threats that might introduce the virus to your team members or your office. In reality, that’s just not possible. Your employees have personal lives and contact with the world. While reducing external threat is the best way to reduce your overall threat, you will still need to mitigate and reduce the risk of internal spread.
The primary goals of your COVID-19 response should be to improve your team’s health and safety by:
- Reducing the threat of external factors that could introduce the virus into the workplace
- Containing spread and impact by managing internal factors should the virus get into the workplace
External risk factors include your team’s personal lives outside work such as their community and home, the commute to work, the building, and any outside vendors or guests who might be visiting your workplace. While the ideal is to eliminate sources of external risk, you have limited ways of controlling these external factors as they are pervasive and dependent on an individual’s personal life circumstances.
The primary way we recommend to manage external risk is to modify and manage behaviour through administrative controls (training, policies, procedures and protocols). There are 2 areas that would have the most impact on the risk to your workspace – building admin controls and your organization’s admin controls.
Internal factors include your corporate practices, your space (office design, furniture layout), cleaning practices in office as well as individual personal hygiene in the workplace. We look at managing internal risk in 3 different levels. At the top tier and most effective are internal organizational administrative controls. These are cost-effective, easy to implement, and can have drastic immediate impact on your risk level.
At the second tier are physical space changes that modify behaviour. These can be split into 4 types – layout, hygiene, communication and structure. These typically involve some cost and can take more work to implement. Note: we do not recommend immediate structural space changes as these are costly, and often inflexible and irreversible.
The final tier is personal behaviour. These are measures dependent on individuals and their individual behaviour, such as hand-washing.
Does this measure actually improve safety in your office space? Caveat: We are not medical professionals or scientists. While this might be the most important measure, based on our internal discussions, this is also the most controversial measure – safety can be subjective, and we urge you to evaluate the measures we recommend through your own lens.
We consider psychological comfort as a different measure from safety – it is possible to implement measures that don’t add to safety, but still gives your team comfort (a placebo!). The opposite is true too – if your team does not feel safe, no measure will make them want to work in office. It is absolutely crucial for your team to not only be safe, but feel safe in coming back to your office. Note: while some measures might be invisible and not provide psychological comfort, you can make them more visible by explaining or communicating with your team.
Is this measure able to deliver outsized impact for its cost? Our goal is to identify measures that deliver the most value to reduce the stretch on your team’s resources.
Is this measure laborious or can it be implemented quickly and easily? Does it require coordination with multiple other parties? We tend to prefer measures you can directly and easily implement to help accelerate your return to office.
The first countries to come out of lockdown have been in Asia, and many measures have been inspired by the actions they’ve taken. While those measures might have been highly effective there, Canadian and western norms and our legal framework can make some of them difficult to implement. For example, keeping records of temperature scans of people who come into your office might have potential legal and privacy implications here that may not apply in other countries.
For many growing companies, the workplace is a cornerstone of your team’s culture. There will likely have to be a trade – many measures will sacrifice the workplace experience in pursuit of safety. Our goal is to try to minimize the impact on workplace culture, as well as identify measures that might encourage new ways to maintain and grow your culture.
Flexibility will be a core strength for growing companies to respond and thrive in this COVID-19 environment. Besides considering some of the other criteria such as cost and ease, flexibility also considers reversibility, or the ability to revert or modify a measure depending on alternative cases and scenarios.