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Workplace Health and Safety

Lessons Learned About Keeping the Workplace Clean and Healthy

In 2020, employers had to deal with many health and safety issues never addressed before, and many of these challenges will not be going away soon, if at all. We talked to our panel of experts about the procedural, hygienic, and environmental changes companies can make now to invest in the short- and long-term health of their employees.

Arianna Huffington

Co-Founder, The Huffington Post; and Founder and CEO, Thrive Global

Why is company culture so important for employee well-being and why must employers change the way they’re working to adhere to this new modernized workplace?

It’s important because we now know an enormous amount about how stress and burnout affect us, both at home and at work. The science is clear that when we prioritize our well-being, we’re more creative, productive and resilient, and we make better decisions. Well-being isn’t just a perk, it’s a competitive advantage. And there’s a direct connection between the health of a company’s bottom line and the health and well-being of every company’s most important resource — its people.

So in the same way well-being boosts our immune system, culture serves as a company’s immune system, giving it the resilience to meet inevitable challenges.

Where do you see the future of work heading in this new era of importance being placed on the employee?

It’s going to be a very human-focused era, which will actually be driven by technology. The rise of artificial intelligence and automation will put a premium on what can’t be automated. And the qualities least likely to be replicated by a machine are those that are the most uniquely human: creativity, emotional intelligence, compassion, empathy, agility, flexibility, complex problem-solving, wisdom and intuition. This shift is going to drive companies to focus as much on their internal resources — their people — as they do on their external customers and capital expansion. Talent recruitment and retention will become increasingly competitive. And the people side of their business will move from the margins to the center of core discussions about growth.

Why is reducing workplace stress so important to both employees and the company itself? How can this help with the bigger picture goals of the organization?

Because stress and burnout are catastrophic for every aspect of our physical and mental well-being. According to one estimate, stress costs American businesses $300 billion per year. And an analysis by the RAND Corporation found that in just five countries — the United States, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Canada — nearly $700 billion is lost each year to sleep deprivation.

It’s clear that for any company to meet its long-term goals, it needs employees who are operating at their full potential.

Can you give some insight into why it is so important for organizations to adapt to a “non-traditional” focused workplace?

As qualities like creativity, collaboration, and teamwork become more central to success, it’s important for companies to create workplaces that nurture and enhance those qualities. Technology can make us more efficient, but it can also isolate us. And as we’re finding out, there’s no substitute for face-to-face connection and human interaction. At the same time, employees also need time and space to recharge and reconnect with themselves, and return to work more productive and creative. So instead of plugging employees into an old-fashioned workplace culture, long-term success depends on creating a culture around how we know employees perform at their best.

How have you found success in your own workplace wellness initiatives?

In my own life, I’m more productive, more energized and more present. And with Thrive Global, I very deliberately wanted to model the idea of a sustainable startup, proving that burnout isn’t necessary for success, even for a startup. We’re living out our principles and showing that not only can we have exponential growth and prioritize employee well-being, but that well-being, unplugging, and recharging are actually the keys to exponential growth. 

Jenny Lytle

General Manager Access Controls, LiftMaster

How have you seen office health and safety initiatives evolve during the past year? 

Businesses today are seeking solutions that will help them reopen safely and continue to provide a more safe and secure environment for years to come. But this isn’t just a traditional office-based business issue. Small business owners, apartment landlords, gated community property managers and even homeowners face similar challenges. Increasingly, they are all turning to cloud-based solutions made possible by smart access systems. 

Since safety and security starts with the front gate and/or door, smart access systems provide ways for businesses to easily control and monitor who is and how people are entering and exiting the building.  Smart access systems provide cloud-based solutions like touchless access, remote verification of guests through live video streaming vs. face-to-face interactions, tying access to employee wellness so that only employees who are approved to come onsite can access the building. 

As a leader in access control solutions, LiftMaster has consistently been at the forefront of leading innovations that address access safety. We believe, whether in a commercial or community setting, access solutions must offer a scalable access management solution that enhances security and reduces liability.

What advice would you give to business owners thinking about returning to the workplace during the ongoing pandemic? 

Managing the entry/exit of full- and part-time employees, visitors, delivery personnel, and service providers, while satisfying basic security needs can present a significant challenge on its own. When you add health safety to the mix, it can get even more challenging. Understanding who is entering and exiting your building and how long they are on the premises on a daily basis is extremely important in today’s environment. You want to implement a scalable access solution with video monitoring capabilities that lets you manage and control multiple entry points, and helps you easily mitigate any security and health risk.

What immediate steps should employers take to prepare their office or building for a safe return to work?

First, we would recommend assessing your existing access protocols and systems, and identify any gaps you need to fill in or upgrade. Having a system in place that allows you to develop a return-to-work strategy is key. For example, most businesses are looking to return in stages, which means you will need a way to easily manage and control who has access to the building during specified days and hours. 

Implement touchless access wherever possible and limit face-to face interactions by providing a way for office managers to easily grant or revoke access, change user schedules, and edit permission levels from anywhere and at any time. Look for a reliable partner to help you address any gaps in your access system. At LiftMaster, we partner with businesses and communities to understand their access needs and provide them with a combination of reliable hardware and innovative myQ technology that helps them advance their access control from a standalone function to a connected, scalable solution.  

What tools and technologies have you seen make the biggest impact when it comes to protecting employees’ health and safety?

We believe cloud-based, smart access systems have had the biggest impact on protecting the safety of employees. Solutions provided by a cloud-based access system can be limitless and provide much more than the ability to manage employee access at the most basic level. Advantages like receiving real-time activity alerts and remote diagnostics allow you to detect and address issues in real-time from anywhere. And when you add video capabilities to the mix, you know exactly who is coming and going, and live video streaming and recorded events provide you with clear traceability for property damage, vandalism, and other nuisances at entry and exit points. 

What do you see for the future of access control and security, and their role in office health and safety?

We believe touchless access is here to stay and the need for it has been accelerated by our current environment. Being able to secure and/or open a door without actually having to touch it has become the new normal. Instead of requiring a key card for building access, employees can use their smartphones to access buildings simply by swiping. Yet the benefits of touchless access control goes beyond health safety; it also provides a more secure and streamlined way to provide access to full- and part-time employees, visitors, delivery personnel, and service providers. Plus, as a business owner, having the ability to lock and unlock your building remotely also plays into the touchless safety aspect of smart access control.  

Scott Dunn

Senior Director, Business Development, Systems and Solutions, Axis Communications, Inc.

How have you seen health and safety initiatives evolve during the past year?

In the past year, we’ve seen an accelerated adoption of technology in response to the challenges presented by the pandemic.  Industries of all types — healthcare, retail, hospitality, transportation, and others — have drawn upon IP-based physical security solutions to meet health regulations and keep employees and customers safe. Many businesses have realized the potential of flexible IP technology and they’re accordingly finding new, innovative ways to use it. Close partnerships between businesses, system integrators, and technology providers are helping organizations reopen, stay open, and conduct their business in smarter, safer ways.

What advice would you give to business owners thinking about returning to the workplace during the ongoing pandemic?

As the pandemic continues to challenge business owners and threaten their livelihood, some are desperate for solutions to meet health regulations and keep people safe. With regards to technology, we recommend businesses think long-term to ensure they maximize their investments. It’s tempting to invest in technology with the potential to help your business stay open during the pandemic, but what else can it offer? Video surveillance, access control, and audio solutions exist that provide security, enhance operations, and help comply with COVID-19 regulations. Smart, scalable technology will grow with a business and its changing needs well beyond COVID-19.

What immediate steps should employers take to prepare their office or building for a safe return to work?

Of course each employer must carefully examine and comply with federal and state safety requirements. Close work with management and human resource teams is also essential to meet employee needs and take proper precautions. When it comes to IP security solutions, employers must coordinate with their IT and security teams to assess systems and vet technology providers. Reliable, proven technology is crucial to short- and long-term success. What’s more, systems based on open architecture and extensive partner ecosystems offer greater potential, scalability, and the ability to implement solutions that more precisely meet the needs of their unique business. 

What tools and technologies have you seen make the biggest impact when it comes to protecting employees’ health and safety?

There are several IP-based technologies protecting people and preventing the spread of COVID-19, namely touchless door entry, smart audio systems, remote video monitoring, and analytics. Touchless door systems are reducing viral transmission by eliminating contact with keypads. Some businesses are using IP audio, triggered by sensors, to communicate health information. Remote video monitoring is reducing health risks, especially in hospitals where staff remotely check on patients — avoiding exposure to COVID-19, extending PPE supplies, and increasing staff efficiency. Among other things, video analytics are helping businesses detect people without masks, track real-time facility occupancy, and map hot spots where people congregate.

Where do you see the future of access control and its role in facility health and safety?

Managing access will always be essential to protecting people and property. In the future, access control technology will play a more important role in creating a healthy and safe workplace. Touchless entry solutions will help reduce keypad contact and the transmission of disease. More businesses will adopt SIP-based devices for smarter security solutions that integrate video and intercom technology. IP cameras and intelligent entry solutions will also play increasing roles by seamlessly recognizing personnel and ensuring secure entry. In the COVID world, other features of network access control- — like its ability to support contact tracing — will also provide significant benefits.

What advice would you give to business owners thinking about returning to the workplace during the ongoing pandemic?

Set consistent rules across the entire company and know how to enforce them. For example, develop a policy for taking and documenting temperatures before workers can enter your facilities, and then be sure each department or location follows the typical guidelines of social distancing, wearing masks, cleaning workstations, and maintaining small group cohorts. These consistent practices help to minimize potential virus spread and improve the effectiveness of contract tracing. In addition, create policies that specifically address outside contractors, and then clearly and continually communicate these rules to ensure the safety of your employees and organization is not compromised.

What tools and technologies have you seen make the biggest impact when it comes to protecting employees’ health and safety?

In addition to procedures like wearing face masks, taping off empty chairs as a clear social distancing guideline, and developing self-assessment guides for people to follow before going back to a work location, implementing contact tracing through software and tools can effectively impact employee health and safety. Some of our clients have also deployed new and existing technologies to further reduce the potential for personal contact or provide remote HVAC operation. For instance, I’ve seen sites that had thermal cameras installed at all entry points that instantly took real-time temperature of the people passing through the doors. 

Some companies are also using other technologies, including data collection and evaluation applications, such as indoor air modeling for HVAC systems. This allows building and maintenance teams to adjust air exchanges and filtration to ensure people are breathing air that is optimally healthy.

What immediate steps should employers take to prepare their office or building for a safe return to work? 

Develop a two-step return-to-work program, which should include a plan for a smaller number of people to return to work and a separate plan for opening the workplace for a full return. For the smaller group, reconfigure the proximity in which people sit to ensure social distancing and determine how many people can be in the office at any given time. To prepare for larger groups past flu season or in early spring, develop full-scale health and safety plans and offer biweekly calls with COVID-19 coordinators in all offices to ensure the steps you take now for smaller groups can work for larger ones.

How have you seen office health and safety initiatives evolve during the past year?

In the past, many health and safety programs were primarily focused on physical safety hazards and ergonomics. Now we have to employ systems thinking to support a plethora of worker needs. From figuring out how to support people who work from home with ergonomics, to managing employee stress, the pandemic is forcing us to also consider personal health considerations, human interactions, and social and emotional support. 

With so many workers under stress due to the pandemic while trying to balance unexpected family obligations, in a manufacturing setting for example, safety becomes even more of a concern. If employees are distracted and not 100 percent focused on the task at hand, this could cause a safety hazard and reduce productivity. 

What do you see for the future of EHS (environment, health, and safety) management and its role in office health and safety? 

The good news is that EHS now has less of a policing reputation. EHS professionals are taking on the business continuity role and organizations are recognizing the value in having them as part of the executive team. We don’t just keep people safe; we help ensure the continuity of operations. And that’s a big shift. 

As more disruptors come, and because we’ve proven ourselves, we’ll likely be asked to stay more connected to corporate operations and decision-makers. In addition, the blurring of the lines between safety and health will continue. As EHS takes a comprehensive approach to health and safety, we’ll work across the organization with human resources, for example, to take into account total worker health.

Meghan Foley

Principal Consultant at Trinity Consultants, EHS Digital Solutions

How have you seen office health and safety initiatives evolve during the past year?

Among our client companies, we have seen a significant focus shift from safety to industrial health with the need to respond to the global COVID-19 pandemic. Also, digital transformation activity that typically occurs over three to five years has happened in six to nine months as companies tear down silos and work-process barriers to enable effective return-to-work policies and procedures. This has sparked increased interest in, and use of, digital technology and EHS software to help companies manage COVID-related and traditional EHS processes, data, and performance management. 

Lastly, we have seen a technology evolution in which leading software and technology companies are enabling integration of EHS and operational risk management programs, processes, and data through integrated, enterprise-wide software platforms.  

What advice would you give to business owners thinking about returning to the workplace during the ongoing pandemic?

We suggest companies move toward cloud-based, mobile device-enabled digitization of health information (e.g., temperatures, symptom reporting) collection, and monitoring. There are a variety of tools on the market for traditional EHS that have reliable and easy-to-use pandemic response and return-to-work tools to facilitate daily data collection from large volumes of people. The only way to reliably collect this data and use it to protect people is through software tools with mobile capabilities, automated alerts, and data analytics capabilities. 

The article “EHS Professionals Leading the Way on COVID-19” (McDaniel, Haman, and Sung, Aug. 2020) discusses pandemic response and return-to-work procedures with a focus on the use of software to drive processes. 

What immediate steps should employers take to prepare their office or building for a safe return to work?

Companies should have a current Pandemic Response Plan, which should be based on current information from reliable sources (e.g., U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)). The plan should reflect company-wide information and expectations, and site-specific health and operational needs. 

Companies should evaluate their readiness to return to work by evaluating the feasibility of their response plan, availability of protective equipment, and readiness of processes and controls. The CDC offers a Resuming Business Toolkit, which includes a restart readiness checklist to help make returning to work safe. Finally, companies should have data collection, management, and monitoring tools in place to allow for symptom/exposure reporting, contact tracing, and employee/visitor screenings.

What tools and technologies have you seen make the biggest impact when it comes to protecting employees’ health and safety?

We have seen effective use of personal protective equipment and social distancing, combined with digital solutions for contact tracing, sanitization actions, and exposure reporting, be the most effective measures for most businesses. Programs like donated sick time pools and work-from-home arrangements can be highly effective in helping support sick or exposed employees as they recover and quarantine to protect others. 

Where do you see the future of EHS and its role in office health and safety?

Going forward, EHS personnel will be challenged to do more data collection, management, and rapid response than ever before. We expect the use of digital solutions like cloud-based software, mobile devices, health-based wearables monitors, and data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to be the keys to effective EHS management. 

EHS professionals and employees alike will increasingly rely on mobile devices to easily collect, aggregate, and communicate information. Health-based wearables or technologies that can provide real-time temperature monitoring or mass temperature screenings for hundreds of employees as they enter a facility, for instance, will facilitate accurate and timely health screenings. Data analytics and AI will allow EHS professionals to visualize and take action on data trends, such as identifying risk hot spots or using data to predict and report on where to expect COVID cases to emerge based on contact tracing and potential exposure reporting data. 

Derek Fournier

President, DeCurtis Corporation

How have you seen office health and safety initiatives evolve during the last year? 

Health and safety initiatives have always been a concern for offices — fire alarms, emergency exits, and smoke detectors are just a few examples of strategies put in place to keep everyone in the building as safe as possible. However, the pandemic has made it painfully obvious that offices need to do more to protect all those within the business’ duty of care, and unfortunately, when dealing with this and other viruses, there is no silver bullet. 

In addition to previous health and safety initiatives, offices now need a comprehensive mitigation strategy that includes good hygiene practices, reliable record-keeping for compliance, and increased training to educate staff on new protocols. Edge mitigation, or the ability to restrict entry to potentially ill persons based on variable criteria like elevated body temperature, is now critical for businesses. This is where a reliable technology platform comes into play. 

An edge-mitigation solution — like DeCurtis Shield™, built atop the industry-leading DeCurtis Experience Platform — can scale up to perform contact tracing in addition to health screenings and be able to evolve to handle the next threat beyond COVID-19. The post-COVID office will need to evolve and adapt to new technologies, policies, and procedures to mitigate the spread of illness. An ideal way to do this is with a platform that can serve the immediate needs and mature into a solution built to address future needs.  

What advice would you give to business owners thinking about returning to the workplace during the ongoing pandemic? 

It is paramount to provide a safe environment for employees to return to the office. To do that, we suggest several layers of new health and safety protocols be implemented. It may seem odd to hear this from a technology company, but it all starts with hygiene and best practices. Training your employees on proper hand hygiene, wearing a mask, etc., will help reduce the chance of an outbreak and should be the first step in any approach. 

Just beyond that, the implementation of a platform for edge mitigation, or the ability to grant or deny entry based on accurate temperature screenings, health questionnaires, mask policies, and other determining factors as required is needed to return to the workplace safely. This screening should include a temperature assessment system that can accurately detect elevated body temperature — not skin temperature — to provide the best data to mitigate illness in a facility.

This process and solution should be as touch-free as possible to reduce exposure and keep employees safe. Touchless edge mitigation solutions like DeCurtis Shield can be deployed at secure entry points and in multiple locations around the facility. Mitigation continues with implementing policy and procedures to require and securely record health questionnaires from both employees and guests before or upon entry. This questionnaire documents the proactive steps the business is taking to screen all entrants into the facility to mitigate the likelihood of an outbreak. Procedures need to be established to handle those with unsatisfactory health questionnaire answers or elevated body temperature, and compliance is critical.  

Approaching all of this in a way that reduces the stress and operational impact on your staff leads to a team that feels safer at work, which is a key factor in keeping workplaces open. Implementing a solution that continues to elevate the health, safety, and security of a facility beyond today’s immediate needs allows businesses to invest in a strategic asset rather than a costly temporary fix.   

What immediate steps should employers take to prepare their office or building for a safe return to work? 

Returning to work safely starts with policies, procedures, and best practices. Hygiene training, mask policies, enhanced cleaning protocols, and social distancing will need to be implemented in order to reopen safely. In terms of technology, businesses should invest in a platform for edge mitigation that includes touchless health screenings based on body temperature, not just skin temperature, and accurate data recording for health questionnaires, contact tracing, and compliance with governing bodies as required. A platform that addresses the immediate needs of reopening and evolves to help businesses stay open is paramount to keeping employees healthy and offices open.  

What tools and technologies have you seen make the biggest impact when it comes to protecting employees’ health and safety? 

A common sense and multi-faceted approach will make the biggest impact on protecting employees’ health and safety. While there are many “quick fixes” to address concerns around health and safety, a truly scalable platform for edge mitigation makes an immediate impact and evolves to serve changing needs over time. Touchless health screenings based on body temperature eliminates the need for staff to do manual screenings, thereby reducing exposure and keeping employees healthy and offices safer to remain open. 

A comprehensive strategy including a reliable platform for edge mitigation is the only way to face today’s demands and stay prepared for changing requirements down the road. We have seen that the implementation of a reliable platform also dramatically reduces the stress level of employees and the number of call-outs from work, and leads to a safer and more productive environment. The ability to perform contact-tracing based on accurate data in the event of an outbreak also makes an impact since businesses can deploy enhanced cleaning protocols exactly where they are needed and quarantine those who may have been exposed.  

What do you see for the future of digital tracing solutions and their role in office health and safety? 

The basics of policies and procedures regarding health and safety have shifted dramatically but are here to stay. Technology surrounding edge mitigation, health screenings, and the secure recording of health questionnaires will eventually be as standard as fire alarms and security systems. That is why it is so important to invest in a scalable solution; a reliable platform will make a direct impact on immediate concerns and can evolve to address future threats. An edge-mitigation platform that includes accurate body temperature screenings, contact tracing powered by location and proximity capabilities, and reliable, secure data collection will eventually be essential for all businesses.  

JP Guilbault

CEO, Navigate360

How have you seen office health and safety initiatives evolve during the past year? 

The pandemic has created a huge need for organizations to rethink what it means to maintain a strong culture of safety. From mandatory health screenings to social distancing requirements, company leaders have had to develop and implement new procedures that no one ever expected to have to create. As a result of today’s turbulent social and economic challenges, businesses are wrestling with violence, suicide, and mental health issues now more than ever. We’re seeing that technology, people, and processes are coming together like never before to address these issues and form a full culture of safety, from prevention to recovery.

What advice would you give to business owners thinking about returning to the workplace during the ongoing pandemic? 

First and foremost, think about employees’ well-being. People will be coming back to work stressed about finances, the health of family members, and more, and the workplaces that make mental and emotional health a top priority will be the ones that push through the pandemic successfully. Look at safety as key to your company’s culture and communicate the importance of safety from the top down. Provide training so employees know what to do in an emergency and who to turn to if a threatening situation occurs. Let employees know their safety and security matter, and productivity and morale will rise. 

What immediate steps should employers be taking to prepare their office or building for a safe return to work? 

The best first step an organization can take is to know where its weaknesses and vulnerabilities lie. This includes identifying weaknesses in physical security systems, as well as exploring areas in which employee training and education can be improved. Revisit your emergency management protocols to upgrade floorplans and revise seating charts that take social distancing requirements into account. Prepare employees to comply with new health screening and other protective mandates with success. Stress related to the pandemic will be weighing on employees’ minds; make sure mental health and other employee assistance resources are available when they return to the workplace. 

What tools and technologies have you seen make the biggest impact when it comes to protecting employees’ health and safety? 

I think behavioral threat assessment has come a long way toward helping organizations identify and address concerning behavior before it escalates into violence. Businesses can get troubled employees the help they need and at the same time maintain a safe, secure work environment in which everyone can reach their full potential. There are also some impressive safety technologies that are connecting people at the fingertip-device level to enable them to respond quickly and communicate effectively in an emergency. Many of today’s emergency management suites are offering robust capabilities for storing, updating, and accessing critical information anywhere and at any time. 

What does building a culture of health and safety within the workplace today mean to you? 

These trying times have made me realize that we — both as individuals and members of society — still have work to do when it comes to how we think about safety. The pandemic has shown us that in order to feel truly safe, we need to be proactive and prepared. Safety isn’t composed of loosely sewn-together solutions — it’s a complete culture, a holistically connected system, that addresses prevention to recovery. A culture of safety puts people first and recognizes that the only way to help people reach their full potential is to make them feel safe — physically, socially, and emotionally. 

Chad Smith

VP of Product Strategy, iOFFICE

How have you seen office health and safety initiatives evolve during the last year?

Employee health and safety has always been a top priority, but COVID-19 caused business leaders to rethink their approaches and policies. The pandemic raised questions about topics like building air circulation, cleaning procedures, office density, and access control. It has also meant businesses had to determine what balance to strike to create a healthy workplace environment while protecting privacy and limiting liability.

What advice would you give to business owners thinking about returning to the workplace during the ongoing pandemic?

Make sure you involve a cross-functional team in the planning process. Get insight from facility management and workplace experience leaders, as well as HR, operations, IT, and legal teams. 

Keep employee well-being at the center of the conversation. It’s important to maintain transparent, two-way communication throughout the process and gauge your workforce’s desire and ability to return as you continue to monitor local regulations and guidance from health officials.

There are ways to manage a safe return, including sanitizing and distancing workspaces, and keeping a close eye on capacity. However, ensure you have contingency plans in place so you’re equipped for various scenarios and ready to adapt as the situation evolves.

What immediate steps should employers be taking to prepare their office or building for a safe return to work?

First, it’s important to understand what your space needs will be, and that depends on how you plan to reintroduce your workforce into the workplace. Determine which employees will return first and how this process will work. Consider alternating shifts or a phased return and whether you’ll require staff to complete health screenings or limit access to certain areas.

Your building plan should include steps like distancing workstations, setting up sanitization stations and procedures for cleaning high-touch surfaces, and establishing new traffic patterns based on how you want people to move through the office. You may want to require employees and visitors to preregister so you can manage capacity and maintain a record for contact tracing if needed.

What tools and technologies have you seen make the biggest impact when it comes to protecting employees’ health and safety?

In addition to communication tools to connect remote workers, the focus is on technologies to manage the risk of infection in the workplace. These include software and hardware to enable safer office environments through workspace distancing, desk and room booking, space utilization monitoring, and contactless visitor sign-in.

Smart buildings that rely on connected devices via the Internet of Things offer a tremendous advantage. A recent survey on smart building tech by research and advisory firm Verdantix found companies are leveraging air quality, occupancy sensors, indoor beacons to anonymously aggregate data on space use.

Building managers are increasingly automating manual processes related to space planning and office moves to help them adapt to changing occupancy and safety needs. Some are also using simulation technologies — like 3-D visualizations, augmented reality, and digital twins (virtual replicas of their offices) — to run predictive analysis.

Where do you see the future of facility management and its role in office health and safety?

Moving forward, employees will expect the flexibility to work in the office or remotely as needed, as well as the technology to give them a consistent experience no matter where they are.

These expectations put faculty management — which is typically a behind-the-scenes function — in the spotlight. Facility managers are the ones who will restructure floor plans to allow for safe distancing, make decisions about whether to repurpose spaces like small conference rooms, and manage janitorial schedules and employee requests for cleaning.

Along with HR, they also play a significant role in shaping employees’ experience and perception of health and safety in the workplace. To keep that perception positive, it’s important for those two teams to collaborate to streamline the flow of critical information, such as wellness questionnaires, self-screening surveys, office guidelines, policy changes or restrictions, and reopening details.

Glory Dolphin-Hammes

CEO, IQAir North America

How have health and safety initiatives evolved during the past year?

Many workplaces and school districts are following recommended guidelines by installing MERV 13 air filtration and running their filtration systems around the clock. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but MERV 13 filters remove approximately 50 percent of ultrafine particles (UFPs) like airborne viruses. MERV 13 systems also require 100 percent ventilation, which is very bad for energy efficiency.

MERV 16 provides a higher level of efficiency than MERV 13. The filtration efficiency of MERV 16 for UFPs like airborne viral particles is much higher at up to 95 percent, so you don’t need to run your air filtration systems 24/7 or have 100% mechanical ventilation. The low pressure drop of NanoMax MERV 16 filters also means that you’re not putting as much strain on your energy systems. 

It’s obviously important to keep our employees safe from airborne infections, but inadequate air filtration and overapplied ventilation can set us back years in terms of energy use. These practices can contribute to climate change and threaten the progress we’ve made in terms of reducing our carbon footprints.

What advice would you give to business owners thinking about returning to the workplace during the ongoing pandemic?

  • Implement a zero-tolerance policy for illness: If someone is sick, do whatever it takes to help that person stay out of the office and away from colleagues to minimize contact with others. Help them meet their personal needs while also ensuring they can continue working however is best for them, such as remote or virtual work. 
  • Rethink conference rooms: There are still benefits to meeting in person, but we need to rethink how we gather in conference rooms and other meeting spaces. We should calculate the dimensions of every conference room and enforce new maximum capacities so that everyone can stay six feet away from others at all times. Air filtration with personal or standalone air purifiers can also help reduce concentrations of airborne infections to keep everyone safe in these smaller spaces. 
  • Pick up the phone: Try to maintain voice and video communication. Picking up the phone or doing teleconferences can help foster good, direct, unambiguous communication with less ambiguity than written words. So much can get lost in chats and emails, and many of us are now over-texting and over-emailing each other with a lot of back and forth to clarify misunderstandings. Use a combination of in-person, virtual, and text-based communication to make sure everyone can contribute and that miscommunications are minimized. 
  • Develop a culture of compassion: It’s important to have compassionate executives and human resources teams who will implement these policies with employee health and safety in mind first and foremost. Work with each employee affected by COVID-19 health concerns individually to make sure their needs are met. Help them continue to contribute by, for example, empowering them to work from home while quarantining, or supporting their stay in a remote location away from infected individuals in their household, such as a hotel.

What immediate steps should employers be taking to prepare their office or building for a safe return to work?

Health guidelines provided by organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should be treated like they’re requirements. The more businesses go above and beyond these requirements, the less likely that they’ll face liabilities for not doing enough to keep their employees safe. 

Above all, practice basic source control and hygiene protocols: Wear masks, social distance 6 feet apart, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer, and regularly disinfect shared surfaces. Illnesses can spread through airborne transmission and surface contact, so it’s important to address both. 

Air filtration can also help reduce airborne infectious material indoors. MERV 16 and HyperHEPA filtration technology can remove a very high proportion of infectious particles while also making sure your facility stays energy-efficient. 

What tools and technologies have you seen make the biggest impact when it comes to protecting employees’ health and safety?

Social distancing and hygiene protocols are by far the most impactful tools that can help protect employees’ health and safety. It cannot be overstated how critical these measures are to help stop the transmission of infections like COVID-19 in the workplace.

MERV 16 air filtration is another impactful technology that can be used in the workplace to filter out airborne infectious particles. MERV 16 filtration alone can remove up to 95 percent of airborne infectious particles over a short period of time. It’s even more effective when source control and hygiene protocols are enforced.

Engineering customized indoor air quality plans has also been very successful in protecting employees as well as clients or customers that come into the office. Doctor’s offices and dental practices are great examples. The air quality issues in these workplaces, such as source capture for aerosols and negative pressure environments for infected patients, require more specialized solutions than are needed in a corporate office. Coming up with a custom plan is the best way to address workplace-specific air quality problems and potential sources of infection spread.

What do you see for the future of indoor air quality and its role in office health and safety?

Thinking about indoor air quality during building design and as part of building upgrades will be key to helping keep offices open no matter what public health crises we face going forward. Now that we better know how to manage airborne infections like COVID-19, we can better prepare our workplaces.

Integrating high-efficiency MERV 16 HVAC air filtration is a big part of this preparation. Reducing airborne infectious particles while also preserving energy efficiency is the only sustainable path I see moving forward. We need to do our best as businesses to keep our employees safe while also improving our stewardship of the earth — and we can do both.

Andrew Shulman

CEO, Mobile Health

CEO, Mobile Health

How have you seen office health and safety initiatives evolve during the past year? 

Health and safety initiatives have taken center stage — more than anything we’ve seen before. The focus on safety has extended beyond the office administrator or wellness coordinator and is now the focus of the entire organization, from the CEO to the receptionist. It is front-and-center on everyone’s mind, and is viewed as a shared responsibility by all stakeholders. Businesses are being more proactive than ever before in implementing safety protocols, including symptom monitoring and testing, that are not intrusive to the employee but give a level of protection to everyone in the office.

What advice would you give to business owners thinking about returning to the workplace during the ongoing pandemic? 

When asked about returning to the workplace, I first ask about their work-from-home experience. If they answer that their experience has been positive, I challenge them on why they are returning at all. Until we have a widely available vaccine, the safest place continues to be at home. But for many this is not an option. In which case I advise business owners to consider a program like symptom monitoring and testing. Putting any measure in place, even if it’s not perfect, is better than doing nothing! This is especially true with COVID testing where the pros outweigh the cons. 

What immediate steps should employers be taking to prepare their office or building for a safe return to work? 

Employees will only return to the office if they feel safe. This includes adding measures to maintain social distancing, implementing rigorous cleaning routines, ensuring all employees wear masks, confirming adequacy of the HVAC system, daily symptom monitoring, temperature screenings, and routine COVID testing. Each item, as a standalone measure, is not enough to make your team feel safe. However, when you combine all of these into a cohesive approach, your employees will know you have tried your hardest to keep them safe while your business remains productive.

What tools and technologies have you seen make the biggest impact when it comes to protecting employees’ health and safety? 

The tool that has the biggest impact on everyone’s safety is the mask. Simple, safe, and effective, just wearing a mask is the best safety tool out there.

On-site COVID testing with rapid results in less than 30 minutes has the biggest impact on safety. The ability to obtain results on the spot and respond accordingly is a huge asset to organizations.

What do you see for the future of occupational health screening and its role in office health and safety?

Pre-COVID, occupational health was often seen as a service that employers were required to do — and they only did it because they “had to.”

COVID has changed this. Employers now understand that workplace safety isn’t just a regulatory nuisance, but an imperative part of the business and business continuity. Without it, employees don’t feel safe to come to work and will find alternate employers who take it seriously. COVID is a turning point in the world of office health and safety.

Zuzanna Kramarz

Janitorial Product Manager, Jon-Don

How have you seen office health and safety initiatives evolve during the last year?

Prior to the pandemic, if a restroom smelled good the entire building was perceived as clean. As a result of COVID-19, we are no longer just cleaning for appearance; we are cleaning for health. Along with the dirt we see and odors we smell, we’re now conscientious of a highly contagious virus, requiring building service contractors to implement more rigorous cleaning protocols. The cleaning and disinfection of common areas and high-touch objects and surfaces has become more important than ever, and needs to be more frequent in order to maintain a clean, safe, and healthy environment.

What advice would you give to business owners thinking about returning to the workplace during the ongoing pandemic?

The health and safety of employees should be paramount to all organizations considering returning to the workplace and some semblance of normal. Reducing exposure to COVID-19 will require newly enhanced protocols for deep cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitization of the workspace. My advice would be to develop a highly detailed plan, implement it, and make maintaining it your top priority. Following the CDC recommendations for the cleaning and disinfection of high-touch surfaces, keeping hand sanitizer and proper PPE available, and educating all staff on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 should be key components to this plan. 

What immediate steps should employers be taking to prepare their office or building for a safe return to work?

Navigating a safe return to work can be accomplished by enhancing best practices and following guidance from your state and local health departments. Ensure all staff members have access to essential supplies, such as disposable gloves, face masks, disinfecting wipes, and hand sanitizer. Encourage employees to follow the 6-foot social distancing measure as much as possible. Each facility should have a sufficient supply of disinfectants and cleaning supplies, and each member of the cleaning staff should be trained on how to properly apply an EPA List N disinfectant for use against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. 

What tools and technologies have you seen make the biggest impact when it comes to protecting employees’ health and safety?

Disinfection is getting a lot of attention due to the pandemic. Traditional disinfectants remain in high demand, however, professional cleaners are seeking alternatives to the “spray and wipe” method. Electrostatic sprayers are gaining in popularity. These devices add a positive charge to the liquid solution as it leaves the sprayer’s nozzle. These positively charged droplets seek out a negative- or neutral-charged surface, and create a wrapping effect that ensures comprehensive coverage of a surface. Electrostatic sprayers are improving the health and safety of building occupants by reducing the cost, time, and labor of frequently disinfecting public spaces. 

What does redefining a clean office environment within the workplace today mean to you?

Now more than ever before, we have greater expectations when it comes to the cleanliness of our workspaces. We all must play a significant role in the process. Each employee should follow proper personal hygiene practices, such as frequent hand washing, use of hand sanitizer, staying home when sick, etc. Everyone should wear face masks when moving around the office or interacting with coworkers, and maintain proper social distancing. Managers and cleaning professionals should support health and safety by making sure personal protective equipment is available, dispensers are fully stocked, and the proper cleaning and disinfection supplies are used.

Adrian Weygandt

Managing Director, Americas at Spacewell

How have you seen office health and safety initiatives evolve during the past year?

Beyond the obvious emphasis on mitigating the risk of COVID-19 transmission — whether through social distancing, smart cleaning, remote check-in tools, and related solutions aimed to address immediate health needs — we are seeing growing interest in more employee wellness in more of a general sense. One area where we have seen a pronounced increase in demand is around indoor air quality. Factors like humidity and temperature can affect viral transmission rates, so controlling them can be one way to reduce the risk of working in an office. 

Importantly, indoor air also has measurable effects on employee productivity and sense of well-being, so optimizing the indoor environment can generate real benefits even apart from the current health crisis. Workplace apps are now evolving to not just help monitor key indoor air metrics, but also to bring that information in visual form to employees, which boosts their confidence in the organization and gives them a stronger sense of control in a challenging time. 

Another important change we have seen among health and safety initiatives is an embrace of technological solutions. While many organizations are doing a lot with low-tech tools like masking tape to show walking directions in the office or to block off seats, others are seeing the value of space monitoring and workplace apps to augment those systems. Utilization sensors, for example, can tell you where in the office people are sitting, how crowded different areas are, and even when people are standing too close together. Having reliable measures of crowdedness can be invaluable for building managers who are trying to find out how to reduce the risk of viral transmission now, and will be even more important in redesigning offices when everyone returns to work at least part time. 

Similarly, workplace apps present a contactless, easy-to-use way for employees to reserve a seat in the office, plan their days and interactions for when they do go into the office, and stay up-to-date on health and safety policies. Again, these are tools that have obvious value in the current context, but will support a more flexible, user-friendly office in the long term.

What advice would you give to business owners thinking about returning to the workplace during the ongoing pandemic?

One key piece of advice is to start thinking about any technological tools that you will need now. Understandably, a lot of work is going into figuring out in which order employees should return, setting up different teams that will be alternating at the office, and other important logistical questions. But a lot of this planning neglects the amount of time it can take to do things like set up reservations systems, order and install sensors, or even the procurement process itself. By the time clients come to us, they are frequently just weeks from opening the office and will struggle to get everything operational in time. Conversely, many companies are adopting a wait-and-see approach until they know precisely when they will reopen, wasting the opportunity to get the systems they will need up and running.

What immediate steps should employers take to prepare their office or building for a safe return to work?

The immediate steps will, in many cases, be dictated by local government requirements, changes in our understanding of transmission risk, and the urgency with which specific organizations want to reopen their offices. This is not a case of one-size-fits-all solutions. At the same time, this also means the most important immediate step is to establish a clear set of internal priorities and targets that can be used to set out the scope of potential solutions. As I mentioned before, returning to work involves a wide range of stakeholders, so taking the time to clarify their immediate needs and ideal long-term outcomes can help drive a more targeted search for solutions and will ensure that the investments produce value for the long-term. 

What tools and technologies have you seen make the biggest impact when it comes to protecting employees’ health and safety?

From a technological point of view, the biggest impact on employee health is probably indoor air management. We know good ventilation and the right temperature and humidity can reduce the risk of transmission in the office, so investing in a good ventilation system and tools to monitor the effectiveness of that system can be important tools in protecting employees. 

From a space management point of view, however, perhaps the most important technology is the ability to monitor and confirm social distancing. Using actual data about how people are moving through an office can allow building managers to anticipate where they might need to add partitions, close off high-risk areas, respace desks, or make other interventions that avoid putting people into situations where they might be at risk. Moreover, space monitoring is a way of maintaining accountability and also giving employees a sense of control, which is something many of us have lost in this pandemic. By being able to visualize where others are and make informed decisions about where to go in the office, employees can take active steps to protect themselves, thereby reducing the stress of returning to the office. 

Where do you see the future of space management and its role in office health and safety?

We see the future of space management as one that embraces data and provides a tailored user experience. Sensor technologies are becoming more sophisticated and cost-effective at the same time, and are well-suited to big data analytics. We believe that by starting to monitor space now, we can help manage space more effectively in the future by building strong baselines about usage patterns. That data can also be used for continual optimization of space, driving small changes in seating arrangements or large changes like downsizing the office space. 

Beyond growing reliance on high-quality, real-time data, we also think user-focused solutions like workplace apps are indispensable. End users need to be able to see that workplace monitoring isn’t a case of employers spying on them, but that these solutions are really designed to make their lives easier and better. A good reservations solution, real-time views of the indoor environment, customized space searches, and other features can all make it clear that space management is ultimately about enhancing the user experience, which in turn drives stronger performance.

Ralph Rathburn

Vice President, Airgle

How have you seen office health and safety initiatives evolve during the last year?

It took a while, but there is now fairly broad consensus that SARS-CoV-2 is spread through the air. So office health and safety initiatives have moved from surface cleaning to removing the virus from the air. Frankly, it won’t be possible to get people to physical distance and wear masks over the long-term, so companies need to remove pathogens from the air through a combination of ventilation and air purification. But we need to be careful of solutions that offer the illusion of safety based on the least expensive response but are not necessarily the most effective solutions.

What advice would you give to business owners thinking about returning to the workplace during the ongoing pandemic?

Look to solve both short- and long-term indoor air quality problems. Remove viruses and nano-particles smaller than 0.1 microns from the air. These cause significant health problems and office air is laden with them. Technology that removes the SARS-CoV-2 virus from the air can also provide long-term benefits — removing the seasonal flu virus and, if your filters are fine enough, perhaps even removing cold viruses. 

In the long-term, removing viruses and other nano-particles from the air could significantly reduce absenteeism and long-term health costs, so my advice is to include the long-term benefits when calculating the cost/benefit of mitigation technologies.

What immediate steps should employers be taking to prepare their office or building for a safe return to work?

Employers should bring in technology to remove viruses and pathogens from the air. Viruses can stay airborne for three hours or more and can travel nearly 30 feet. So you should reduce the time the virus is in the air and available for employees and customers to breathe — preferably 12 minutes or less. Standalone air purification units don’t require building owner participation like ventilation systems changes do. High-specification units that remove viruses and nano-particles smaller than 0.1 microns will provide the fastest and most flexible solution to removing the threat from the air. 

What tools and technologies have you seen make the biggest impact when it comes to protecting employees’ health and safety?

The biggest impact technologies to remove viruses from the air include superfine filters like the cHEPA filter, which is rated to remove 99.999 percent of particles larger than 0.003 microns — that is 100 times finer than the HEPA filter, which rates at 0.3 microns. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is between 0.08 and 0.12 microns and the common cold virus is 0.03 microns in diameter. Combining nano-level filtration with a system to send out hydroxyl radicals, which inactivate viruses, bacteria, and other organics while still in the air, makes a huge impact by attacking the virus on two fronts simultaneously.

Where do you see the future of indoor air quality control and its role in office health and safety?

The future of office IAQ will be dictated by the increasing pace of new viruses developing and spreading. COVID-19 won’t be the last epidemic we see. Additionally, everyone is more aware of the dangers of airborne transmission of colds, seasonal flu and other viruses. 

Finally, as the negative health impacts of nano-particles become more well understood, removing those from the air will also become important for workers and customers. Office IAQ will become a basic maintenance issue for companies. Employees will demand good IAQ in exchange for being asked to work in close proximity with others in an office setting.

Rick Jensen

Chief People & Places Officer, Headspace 

How have you seen employee wellness initiatives evolve during the last year? 

During the past year, we’ve found that businesses across all industries are paying closer attention to the importance of mental health and have created new initiatives that provide employees with increased flexibility as it’s become more difficult than ever to balance work and life. At Headspace, we’ve rolled out an every-other-Friday companywide mental health day (which we call MINDays) to support people in taking time for themselves. We’ve also just announced that we’re going to remain a remote-first company until 2022, so we’re working through making adjustments that meet the needs of our team on a long-term basis, knowing that the lasting impacts of COVID have a longer tail. 

What advice would you give to business owners thinking about returning to the workplace during the ongoing pandemic? 

We’re exploring options for voluntary in-office work when it’s safe to do so, but considering the uncertainty that’s still ahead of us, we’re prioritizing making tools and resources available to our team to work remotely for the foreseeable future. For business owners considering returning to the workplace, it’s crucial to set employees up to feel safe at work. Ensure that you’re creating pathways for open dialogue and feedback, and actively solicit suggestions for improvement, then act on them whenever possible, if they contribute to the health and safety of your team. Creating a psychological safety net as well as leading with mindful understanding are key to supporting your people. 

What tools and technologies have you seen make the biggest impact when it comes to empowering greater employee wellness? 

Especially as we’ve settled into an age where the boundary between work life and home life has dissolved, it’s crucial to encourage mindful technology use. We’ve seen the biggest impact to empowering employee wellness not in the technologies themselves, but in setting boundaries with our devices so we’re not creating addictive behaviors. At Headspace, we put a company-wide Mindful Break on everyone’s calendars at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. The team can take those scheduled breaks to tune into our virtual 10 a.m. company-wide meditation, or they can go for a mindful walk, engage in some mindful movement exercises, or just take some time for themselves.

What advice would you give to employers looking to more effectively hire, train, and retain talent in the age of remote work? 

The advice I would provide is to employers is to do your best to lead authentically and compassionately, which is all about valuing the input of your team, cultivating transparent relationships, being inclusive of different perspectives, and demonstrating a strong moral compass. This leadership style can have plenty of positive outcomes, like employees feeling less stressed, more motivated, more engaged, and less likely to leave. It instills high levels of trust and confidence in you as a leader and in the company as a whole. 

Where do you see the future of employee wellness and its role in office health and safety? 

Because most people will spend the majority of their days in or around work, we believe employers have a huge role to play in impacting employee well-being. It all starts with buy-in from leadership — and walking the walk is important for business leaders. Through mindfulness training, we can condition our brains to respond to stress in a way that protects our health, well-being, and performance. It is imperative for businesses and leaders to take this seriously. We need to integrate well-being routines into the whole day, wherever we are, whatever we are doing.

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