Many companies are beginning the process of re-opening their office locations. With the amount of information out there it can be tough to decipher what is the best way to go about this without jeopardizing the health and safety of your employees. I have been researching the official guidelines from not only the Government of Canada but all the Provinces and Municipalities to determine the best course of action to allow some workers to utilize the office space once again.

Here are my recommendations (please note you need to follow the by-laws put out by your municipality should they differ from these recommendations).

Start with an abundance of caution.

If your employees have transitioned to remote work the current recommendation is to keep them there. However, some employees work better in an office location and may want to work from the physical office once again. Start with these people.

Keep high-risk employees at home. This includes immunocompromised individuals, caregivers of immunocompromised individuals, those with underlying health conditions that make them particularly susceptible to complications from COVID-19, elderly employees and caregivers of elder relatives. (This is not an exhaustive list, there will be other employees who have a legitimate reason to not want to expose themselves, take these on a case by case basis).

The other group that may want to stay home (depending on their situation) is parents with young children. If they can work from home, let them. Childcare is not readily available currently. Camps and Daycares have limited spaces due to capacities being dropped for safety.

You need to minimize the risk of your office environment.

There is a number of guidelines around physical distancing but even if you can keep employees 6 feet apart at their desks should you fill the office building to this distancing capacity? My vote on this is no. Start with a 20% capacity and adjust from there. When you start bringing employees back in there will be kinks that need to be worked out. It is better to do this with lower amounts of people in the office and fix them before bringing more in. Plus, the guidelines and bylaws are changing frequently, this gives you room to adjust as more and more guidelines are released.

In terms of risk – not all spaces are created equal.

Poor ventilation, closed rooms with no windows are all high risk. The government of Canada agrees that confined indoor space has a greater risk. If for example, you have a location in your office that use to sit 15 individuals but has no windows and only one door. I would not maximize the number of people based on 6 feet distance. I would give much more space per person and encourage face coverings. Or move them out of that space all together. Move meetings, etc outdoors, open windows, or video to ensure proper distancing and ventilation.  ( see the end of this article for CDC recommendations on Ventilation).

Your receptionist should be fully protected.

For office buildings with no public access, your receptionist should have a nonmedical face covering and a barrier between them and anyone from the public entering the building. All other employees who can maintain 6 feet of distance are exempt from mandatory face coverings if the office is a secure building with no access to the public. I would still encourage people to come in wearing a face covering to help protect each other.

High touch surfaces need to be cleaned ALL THE TIME.

Stairwell railings, elevator buttons, washrooms, printer buttons and fridge door handles will need to be cleaned ALL THE TIME. Make sure garbage and recycling are no touch. Everyone brings their own water bottle, coffee etc and takes travel mugs etc home at the end of the day and dishes home to clean.

Consider your employees taking public transportation or ride-sharing.

Employees taking public transportation need to be cautious while riding and immediately hand sanitize their hands before entering the building (ie touching the outside door handle). Many public transportation companies in Canada have made face coverings mandatory. If your employees do not have access to a face-covering help them source it. Some good options are Old Navy (https://oldnavy.gapcanada.ca/browse/product.do?pid=654503), and Take Care Supply (https://www.takecaresupply.com/) to name a few.

Here are some more great free resources to help you plan your office reopening.

The Infrastructure Health & Safety Association has some great resources on handling paperwork, packages and lunchroom cleaning/ distancing. They can be found here: https://www.ihsa.ca/Urgent-Notices/COVID-19-Links-Resources.aspx

Sector Specific Guidelines can be found here at the Workplace Safety & Prevention Services website.

https://www.wsps.ca/Information-Resources/Topics/covid19-sector-specific-health-safety-guidance.aspx

 As well, talk to the maintenance team to determine if the following are possible:

From the CDC website (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html)

Increase the percentage of outdoor air (e.g., using economizer modes of HVAC operations) potentially as high as 100% (first verify compatibility with HVAC system capabilities for both temperature and humidity control as well as compatibility with outdoor/indoor air quality considerations).

Increase total airflow supply to occupied spaces, if possible.

Disable demand-control ventilation (DCV) controls that reduce air supply based on temperature or occupancy.

Consider using natural ventilation (i.e., opening windows if possible and safe to do so) to increase outdoor air dilution of indoor air when environmental conditions and building requirements allow.

Improve central air filtration:

Increase air filtration external icon to as high as possible (MERV 13 or 14) without significantly diminishing design airflow.

Inspect filter housing and racks to ensure appropriate filter fit and check for ways to minimize filter bypass

Consider running the building ventilation system even during unoccupied times to maximize dilution ventilation.

Generate clean-to-less-clean air movement re-evaluating the positioning of supply and exhaust air diffusers and/or dampers and adjusting zone supply and exhaust flow rates to establish measurable pressure differentials. Have staff work in areas served by “clean” ventilation zones that do not include higher-risk areas such as visitor reception or exercise facilities (if open).

Consider using portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan/filtration systems to help enhance air (especially in higher risk areas).

Ensure exhaust fans in restroom facilities are functional and operating at full capacity when the building is occupied.

 

At the end of the day employee Health and Safety need to be your top priority through this to ensure a safe return to work and ALWAYS make sure to check with your local by-laws and provincial recommendations to ensure compliance.