Most businesses are itching to reopen. Many offices at this point have been closed for about 2 months or longer. Many business owners are concerned about how they will reopen after the COVID 19 crisis.
Office cleaning and maintenance have taken on a new level of importance for those business owners that are trying to reopen safely. At this point there are more questions than there are answers when it comes to exactly what office cleaning and maintenance needs to be done to keep everyone safe.
Think of it As Office Cleaning and Maintenance on Steroids
If you are like most business owners you likely already have office cleaning services on staff, but COVID 19 has changed the definition of “clean”. It is not enough to make sure there is no mold and mildew built up in the bathrooms.
According to the experts, disinfectant activities, frequently are the new solution to keeping employees safe. Every hard surface will need to be wiped down with a disinfection agent daily.
Of course, wiping down hard surfaces is only part of the solution. There is some evidence that HVAC cleaning services may also be in order before you bring your staff back to work. Commercial HVAC service can clean your ductwork leading to the office to help reduce the risk of virus spread.
What does the CDC recommend about office cleaning and maintenance to reduce the risk of COVID 19 spread? First it is strongly recommended that you hire a cleaning service that is well versed in the CDC recommendations for cleaning your facility. Here is a check list of recommendations:
- Use soap and water first when possible before using a disinfectant. Every hard surface that can be washed with soap and water should be, than cleaned with disinfectant. Soap and water reduce the number of germs on a surface which can make the disinfectant more effective.
- Every area should be wiped down. That means keyboards, computer screens, printer products that people touch, desks, chairs, other office furniture, and more should all be cleaned and sprayed with disinfectant.
- High touch items need special attention and constant attention. Elevator buttons, doorknobs, light switches, handrails and other high touch areas should be cleaned every day at least, if not multiple times a day.
Soft surfaces like carpeting and upholstered furniture also needs to be cleaned. Before vacuuming the area windows and doors should be opened, and the room should be cleared. Approved cleaners for these surfaces can be used.
A key factor is ensuring that your work place stays safe after it has been thoroughly cleaned is employee education. It is important that you educate your employees about hand washing and maintain social distancing.
Unfortunately, meeting around the proverbial water coolers is just not an option for right now. Help employees to understand that keeping six feet apart at all times is vital to their health and to the health of other people in the office.
If you are having trouble educating your employees or getting them to understand how critical it is to stay separated you can turn to staffing services that offer training programs and make the training mandatory. After waiting so long to reopen no one wants this virus to get out of hand so that you have to shut back down. Investing in professional training can be a worthy investment.
The Landscape Will Have to Change
For many business owners office cleaning and maintenance will include putting up acrylic barriers between cubicles to keep everyone safe. In coworking office space that is on the smallish side, keeping everyone six feet apart may not be possible. If you need all hands on deck and cannot work out a staggered schedule than your office cleaning and maintenance will have to ramp up considerably.
Reopening your office with a full staff may require that your office cleaning and maintenance, happens far more frequently, and you may have to change the landscape in the office to meet the suggested social distancing measures.
For example, instead of once weekly office cleaning and maintenance you may have to move to a three times a week model. Instead of office cleaning and maintenance including mopping, vacuuming and trash removal, you may have to pay more to have more done.
Moving employees around to make space is another thing you may have to consider. Adding barriers to keep workers apart, switching up some of the office space, and adding some new routines can also be something to consider. Here are a few things you can do to reopen safely:
- Make everyone bring in their own coffee cup that they keep at their desk. This is a simple step that can mean a lot less contact. If you have a break room or a kitchen that normally supplies paper goods, stop. It can be nearly impossible to keep up with who touches what. Keep everything to a minimal in break rooms and kitchens. Less to touch can mean less spread.
- Invest in disinfectant wipes by the caseload if you can find them, then dole them out to everyone in the office. Make employees responsible for wiping down their space every time they are finished with using it.
- Be sure to hire a cleaning service that understands what proper cleaning for COVID 19 entails. It is not enough to wipe a few things down that appear dirty and call it a day. Proper office cleaning and maintenance is a must.
- Stagger employee hours. Come up with a hybrid solution that allows fewer employees to be on site at a time. Many offices around the country have decided to maximize protections by staggering their staff. For example, some employees work in the office MWF one week, then TTH the next, while working from home on the days that they are not scheduled to be in the office.
Some of your employees will be willing participants in the new landscape and the new rules, while others will not. Ultimately, you will have to set up some sort of system that ensures that everyone plays by the rules.
Your Reopen And Someone Gets Sick
Right now there is no real end in site for this pandemic. Experts all do agree on one thing, any true effective vaccine will not be available at the earliest until 2021. The fact is, even after you are reopened, someone will likely get sick.
What do you do if one of your employees tests positive for COVID 19 after returning to work? There is a process in place that is recommended by the CDC that does not include you having to shutter your doors, at least not for the long haul.
If an employee should test positive for COVID 19, a deep thorough office cleaning and maintenance approach can help to keep your doors open. How long will you have to stay closed? According to the CDC you do not actually need to shut down the office. As long as you can contain the area where the sick person worked, you can continue to keep your office open.
However, if it is not possible to create a parameter around the area where the sick person worked, you will have to close down for about 48 hours so that deep office cleaning and maintenance can occur.
How big of a parameter is needed? Six feet. That magic six foot distance is needed to ensure that no one else comes into contact with the surfaces that the sick person touched.
Here are some suggestions from the CDC on how to handle office cleaning and maintenance when an employee tests positive:
- Wait 24 hours before cleaning the area that the employee worked in. Waiting at least 24 hours will keep from disturbing the virus.
- Open doors and windows during office cleaning and maintenance to help keep the area aired out.
- Every area the person came in contact with should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
If more than 7 days has passed since the sick person was in the office, than additional disinfecting is not needed. Work can continue as normal with the new normal office cleaning and maintenance activities. Anyone that has worked with or come into contact with the sick person, should be sent home for self quarantine for 14 days.
All of these new requirements can be hard on any business, but following the CDC guidelines is important if you want to ensure that your business can stay open through this pandemic.
This is a confusing time. Guidelines are changing frequently, and even the experts, are yet to become real experts with this virus. You will have to remain flexible and willing to change your processes on a dime to keep up.
There are a lot more questions than there are answers about reopening among COVID 19. Here are some of the FAQ’s other business owners have asked:
- Do I have to provide PPE to all my employees? There is no standard yet for supplying personal protective equipment to your employees. In many states it is mandatory for everyone to wear masks in public. With that being said, many of your employees should already have their own PPE. It is really up to the employers at this time. Should you? Probably. Are you mandated to? It depends on your industry.
- Will my business insurance cover any of the office cleaning and maintenance that needs to be done? This is a tricky question. There has been some uproar about insurance companies not paying out even when there is a rider that includes wording that points to a viral or bacterial claim of losses. You will have to ask your business insurance agent whether or not you can recoup some of the costs for things like putting up barriers.
- Do I need to report an outbreak in my office? Many business owners are very worried about what an outbreak can do to their business’s reputation, and rightfully so. There are no mandatory guidelines for reporting an outbreak, but you should know that testing confirmations may wind up releasing the information. Sometimes it is far better to acknowledge and release your own statement and start damage control.
- Can I require employees to get tested before they come back to work? This is another tricky question. You can require that employees are tested for fever before they come into the building, but you cannot actually require that they are tested for COVID 19 before they return. Because this is so new, it is hard to say how this will play out down the road. What if an employee tests positive for COVID 19 can you afford to pay them while they stay home on quarantine? If you can then it may something you can require. If you cannot then you may be opening yourself to a discrimination suit.
- Can I require employees to wear a mask? You can.
If you have any questions, that you are concerned about, you should seek out answers from a law firm that specializes in employee law. It is important that you have the right advice in your corner to ensure that you do not open yourself up to liability.
Get Ready for Some Changes
Until there is a vaccine to prevent future outbreaks, the road is going to be a little sketchy for a while. You may have a few openings and closings down the line for a little while. Be ready for the potential that you may have to make changes quickly and readjust things.
Flexibility is your best friend during this period. Being able to change your direction, always have plan B in place. It is important that you take the lessons that were learned during COVID 19 and apply them moving forward.
Keep in mind that there is a learning curve for everyone during this period. You are not the only business owner that has to make changes. Your competition is dealing with the same things you are. Staying flexible and putting the health of your employees first will ensure that your business will be able to reopen successfully and before you know it you will be back on track.