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By Tony Piucci
The long-awaited return to the office is finally here with more companies starting their summer reopenings and Labor Day being termed as the unofficial start date for many others. Occupancy rates have climbed above 30% according to the weekly occupancy report barometer from Kastle Control Systems which monitors keycard data.
Some of us (me included) have had our first in-person meetings after 18 months of teleconferences. While these meetings felt odd at first, there is a refreshing energy that comes from seeing people and collaborating in the same room.
However even with these first steps, uncertainty remains which creates an opportunity to take demonstrable steps to protect people’s health in the critical months ahead while planning to make healthier places and spaces an essential amenity.
Pandemic-related health implications add to a series of higher expectations that employees have for their employers, their workplaces and for remote work.
Health and wellness was already a primary focus for employees before the pandemic and the stress of the past year has increased the emphasis on a range of concerns, including mental health, stress management and adapted workplace design.
These expectations have been elevated by the popularity of working from home. According to a May survey, 39% would consider quitting if their employers weren’t flexible about remote work. That percentage increases to 49% millennial employees, according to the poll by Morning Consult on behalf of Bloomberg News.
The safety of buildings, high touch surfaces and indoor air quality are now essential for both occupant health and employee retention. People expect to see and know that they are returning to safe workplaces for now and into the future. It’s about delivering total building health and not traditional cleaning and climate control.
Throughout the pandemic, employees have expressed caution about the return to the workplaces. With approximately a third of the population still unvaccinated and 13% expressing unwillingness to get vaccinated, most offices will have elements of risk.
With a new, more infectious Delta variant of the Coronavirus in the U.S., infection rates are starting to see a slight increase after months of steep declines. As facilities, HR and corporate leaders work toward summer and fall office reopenings, they will need to maintain an integrated set of protocols and controls to help ensure health and safety.
Employ A Hierarchy Of Controls
Controlling exposures to occupational hazards is the fundamental method of protecting workers.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and CDC leverage a hierarchy of controls as a means of determining how to implement feasible and effective control solutions.
Control methods at the top of the graphic are potentially more effective and protective than those at the bottom. Following this hierarchy normally leads to the implementation of inherently safer systems, where the risk of illness or injury has been substantially reduced.
- Elimination and substitution are most effective at reducing hazards, but tend to be the most difficult to implement in an existing process unless the process is in the design or development stage.
- Engineering Controls are designed to remove the hazard at the source, before it comes in contact with the worker. This is where ABM is working with clients to understand potential risks for indoor air quality and priorities to address to help improve building health.
- Administrative Controls and PPE are frequently used with existing processes where hazards, like COVID-19, are not particularly well controlled. Social distancing, mask policies, temperature checks and disinfection protocols continue to play a role to help manage viral spread including flu and colds as well as COVID-19.
Elements of these controls are reflected in ABM’s approaches to both distenfection and indoor air quality control through our data-driven EnhancedClean™ and EnhancedFacility™ programs.
Buildings That Drive Health And Productivity
“Amidst the chaos, one thing is clear: We will all go back to work with new expectations about the buildings where we live, learn, work, and play,” writes Harvard professor Joseph G. Allen and senior lecturer John D. Macomber in the Harvard Business Review.
In a just published book, Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity, Allen and Macomber bring together the science of Harvard’s School of Public Health with the financial insights of the Harvard Business School. They reveal the “9 Foundations of a Healthy Building,” including ventilation, air quality, thermal health, dust and pests, and other factors.
Macomber projects that business leaders and property owners will begin to leverage healthier indoor spaces as recruitment tools and sources of competitive advantage with anxieties over COVID-19 likely to accelerate these trends. He foresees that “offices with the premier health story will get the premium rent and get the tenants, and the offices with a lagging health story will lag.
Throughout the summer and fall, property management, facility and HR teams will monitor to ensure that health and safety protocols are maintained as more people return to work and accommodate in-office, hybrid and remote working arrangements.
As we work with clients with their reentry plans, here our points we continue to reinforce:
- Emphasize health and safety on surfaces and in the air
- Visually demonstrate and provide assurances of safety people can see throughout your building
- Practice an abundance of caution until you have data from employees and your building health before increasing capacity
- Have plans in place in case a coronavirus variant increase health risks
- Ensure healthier buildings are part of long-term strategies and projects
Employee expectations are high for both safety and retention. Your demonstrated response is critical to both safely welcome people back and maintain healthier buildings now and for years to come.
Tony Piucci is SVP of Enterprise Sales Solutions at ABM.
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