People sitting at tables in a restaurant.

In the Face of the Coronavirus, Workplace Wellness is Key

As companies are faced with another global health crisis, they are shifting into emergency preparedness mode to protect their most important assets: their people. While much remains unknown about the new coronavirus, which causes the disease known as COVID-19, as we work to control the spread, analysts predict major implications for the global economy, supply chains, and businesses around the world.

Public officials advise the best line of defense is implementing health and safety precautions to prevent the spread of disease, particularly in the workplace, where people spend the majority of their workweek indoors. In an increasingly connected and mobile world, employers must also develop a clear and coordinated emergency response plan that protects their employees while maintaining effective levels of productivity.

Here are a few considerations employers should keep in mind in creating plans for a healthy and effective work environment:

1. Implement cleaning protocols for all spaces in your workplace.

In our recently released U.S. Workplace Survey 2020, in which we canvased 5,000 workers across the US, Gensler found that 10% of people in the workplace today have no assigned seat. These work environments, referred to as dynamic, activity-based, or mobile, encourage workers to use different seats throughout the day to accomplish different tasks. People often use a reservation system or first-come, first-get approach to choose the best work setting that day. In surveying these individuals, a key concern raised by dynamic workers was the cleanliness of shared workstations, and they expressed spending an inordinate amount of time cleaning their workspaces even before they are able to work. Employers should provide disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizers throughout the office, but especially in shared areas. With the current concerns of cleanliness and hygiene in the workspace, organizations using dynamic workplace strategies need to immediately implement a heightened level of cleaning and sanitizing protocols. In fact, organizations should implement cleaning protocols for not only workstations, but include conference rooms, collaborative areas, cafes, reception, and other common areas. To keep employees healthy, you must create a safe and clean work environment.

2. Prepare for a possible work from home strategy.

External mobility is a good thing as well. Our 2020 U.S. Workplace Survey also showed that, 60% of people work outside of their office for various amounts of time during the week, 48% have a choice in where to work, and people spend 14% of their time in virtual collaboration already. That mobility, choice, and virtual collaboration are invaluable in today’s health crisis. As we have seen, organizations are able to announce a work from home strategy and implement it immediately. This is because of the three-decade transformation of work, which created the technologies, management styles, and work styles that have enabled a virtually connected organization. We are a “work from anywhere” culture, and this new paradigm will help companies and workers stay productive in the office and at home in the face of this health crisis.

3. Reinforce good hygiene practices with bold signage and communications.

Health officials note that handwashing is still one of the best ways to protect yourself from the spread of germs, so remind workers to properly wash for at least 20 seconds (sing the Happy Birthday song twice) before rinsing and drying. Be sure bathrooms are well-stocked with soap, and order adequate anti-viral cleaning supplies in the event of a shortage. Employers should also install plenty of hands-free dispensers with sanitizer that contains at least 60 to 95% alcohol throughout lobbies, conference rooms, and lounges. Providing no-touch garbage and recycling receptacles can minimize contact. You can also encourage workers to use tissues when touching common surfaces like metal subway poles during commutes to and from the office. While simple etiquette like, “Cover your mouth,” and “Wash your hands after coughing and sneezing,” may seem obvious, emphasize these health precautions by displaying bold signage to offer friendly reminders. In addition, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests employees have smaller meetings in order to keep a comfortable distance between coworkers (the technical term the CDC uses is “social distancing”). They even suggest avoiding handshakes.

4. Invest in air-cleaning systems to protect collaborative environments.

Employees often come to work to collaborate because working with others is critical to their work process. To that end, people can work together in the workplace if high level cleaning protocols are followed by everyone in order to keep worksurfaces free of potential contamination. The air we breathe is also a shared resource. We’re installing state-of-the-art air purification and sanitization systems throughout several Gensler workspaces including our D.C., New York, and Los Angeles offices. The system will display real-time air quality measurements on digital screens to keep employees informed, and it will act as a continuous disinfectant, improving air quality by reducing airborne and surface contaminants like viruses, bacteria, germs, VOCs, smoke, and other allergens. Ultimately, cleaner air allows for improved recycling of air, which will contribute to energy savings benefits on top of a healthier workplace for all of us.

Whether combating spikes in the flu, allergy season, or in this case, a potential coronavirus outbreak, companies and coworkers should prioritize workplace wellness by collectively taking action to create a clean, healthy environment all year long. By taking simple steps to avoid close contact, practice good hygiene, and communicate effectively, employees can continue to be productive in the workplace.

To learn more about what you can do to protect yourself and your workplace from the coronavirus, visit the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to review guidelines to reduce the spread of the virus.

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Janet Pogue McLaurin
Janet is a principal and Global Director Workplace Research who has been instrumental in leading Gensler’s global Workplace Surveys and Workplace Performance Index® (WPIx) client tool. A registered architect, widely published writer, and speaker, she is focused on the critical issues affecting the development of workplace strategy and design of innovative workplace environments for a variety of clients. Janet is based in Washington, D.C. Contact her at .
Tama Duffy Day
Tama is a principal, global leader of Gensler’s Senior Living practice, and an advisor to the Health Sector. She is a global author, lecturer, and speaker who is dedicated to impacting lives of all ages and enriching communities through the power of design. She is based in Washington, D.C. Contact her at .