social distancing office

Are Your Return to Office Policies Safe?

  May 5, 2021

By Greg Zimmerman

As return to office nears for many organizations, there are still so many questions. When will full-scale return to the office actually happen? How many occupants will be allowed? Will vaccination be required to return to work? And how frequently will occupants be required to come to the office in a new normal of hybrid office/telecommute work? Survey after survey is showing that most occupants still want the flexibility to work at home at least a few days a week.

Still, perhaps the most important question, even as vaccination rates are increasing, is how safe will occupants feel in their return to the office? A recent story in The Atlantic gave occupants six questions to ask “their boss” about how safe the office might be upon their return. But the story is illustrative for facility managers working on return to office plans because two of the six questions — about cleaning and air flow rates — are directly under the purview of the FM department. 

Interestingly, the story wants occupants to ask how the office is being cleaned, not how frequently. The Atlantic was one of the first publications to start the conversation about “the scourge of hygiene theater” — that is, that maybe deep cleanings with electrostatic foggers and hourly surface wipe-downs are good to show occupants you care, but are really just theater in terms of their effectiveness of eliminating the threat of coronavirus spread. And here the publication continues that idea, suggesting that once-a-day cleaning, as long as they’re being done well, are still probably enough.

The more important consideration is the ventilation rate. The story quotes an expert from the Harvard Healthy Buildings Program explaining that just meeting code isn’t enough anymore. Air changes should be four to six times per hour. While that rate can certainly be effective for slowing the spread, it’s also expensive. Where is the happy medium between ensuring a safe building for occupants and still managing energy efficiency and budget goals? That'll certainly be a difficult question for facility managers to answer as we continue towards the post-pandemic new normal. 

This post was submitted by Greg Zimmerman, deputy editor, Building Operating Management and FacilitiesNet.com


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