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5 Takeaways from COVID for The Great Return to Office

June 21, 2021. Written by Joonas Vikström @ Joonas Vikström

As we have just settled to the new normal with remote working and social distancing, we have another paradigm shift lurking behind the corner: The great return to the office. At the time of writing, this great return cannot happen quite yet, but seems like everyone is buzzing about it and preparing. It’s a matter of weeks when this is happening as people are being vaccinated efficiently and the infection charts are finally dragged down.

But are we returning to the same “old normal” it used to be, or have we learned something new from these pandemic times? Only time can tell, but at least there are some reasonable takeaways from the pandemic years helping to prepare for the future challenges in case they appear. Hopefully they won’t.

1. Basic hygiene

During the time of the pandemic there seemed to be a flood of technical devices and applications for enhanced indoor hygiene. However, nothing appeared to outperform the good old basics, the gold standard of hygiene i.e. hand washing, normal cleaning and basic human behavior to mitigate the infection risk. Basic principles form the base to build on with all kinds of add-ons. Don’t come to work if you feel sick and remember to cough to your arm or sleeve, not your palm. If these basics are covered, you’re already halfway there.

2. Contact surfaces & cleaning

Keeping your desktop and things organized is not just polite but also a risk mitigation action against infections. Cleaning an empty table is way easier and more efficient, than dodging empty coffee mugs and paper piles with a cloth. Some cleaning contracts do not allow the cleaning personnel to touch the belongings on the table tops, so it is advisable to take care of that yourself. Typically, employees are unaware of this even though the desktop is one of the dirtiest surfaces in the office.

The pandemic raised more awareness about the role of contact surfaces. Disinfecting the contact surfaces or having contact surfaces with integral abilities to self-disinfect with antimicrobial technologies help to cut the infection chains. Meeting areas, hot-seat desktops in the office, self-service desks and similar places with high-touch surfaces are infection hotspots, which are optimal setups for antimicrobial furniture and equipment. Reducing the microbe amount from contact surfaces also reduces the risk of infection (Cassandra D. Salgado MD, 2013).

ISKU+ is an antimicrobial furniture collection. Read more here.

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3. Ventilation & Air purification

Good indoor air quality enhances productivity and wellbeing in the interior whether it is an office space, class room or even at home. In contrast, having high levels of carbon dioxide in a room might cause you a headache and makes you feel tired. Opening a window occasionally might help a lot.

Furthermore, ventilation is also a key solution to mitigate contagion via aerosol particles. Aerosol particles together with pathogens may concentrate and stay airborne for long periods of time posing a risk to crowded indoor spaces (Aalto University, 2020). Additionally, proper air purification and light-based technologies moderate the aerosol risk likewise via reducing microbe amount with UV-C irradiation and collecting the particles to a HEPA-filter for instance. UV-C irradiation has shown to be effective against wide range of microbes, also SARS-CoV-2, commonly known as the COVID-19 (Christiane Silke Heilingloh, 2020).

4. Distancing and dividing

It seems like part of the “remote working normal” is here to stay. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, organizations are preparing for a return with a hybrid model where larger stake of the productivity comes from remote working compared to the general sentiment prior to the pandemic (Andrea Alexander, 2021). For hygiene, this is positive news, as physical distance mitigates the risk of infection. Thus, adapting the willingness for remote working together with existing office premises, leaves more space for distancing and improving hygiene.

However, not always people have the possibility to keep distance. Dividing a workspace with dividers and screens is an easy way to segregate the workstations to prevent direct exposure from colleagues’ coughs and sneezes. Though, this should be adapted together with preferences concerning the purpose of the working space but also acoustics.

ISKU has lots of dividers and screens in its collection. Review solutions here

5. Communications

The pandemic years have shown us the importance of clear communications about the compliance measures and tools available for infection control. The pandemic, as an unknown life-threatening disease, enforced societies to research, plan and implement various measures literally all at the same time making the guidance and communications very blurry. It was easy to witness examples of hygiene instructions which were simply too difficult to follow.

Human behavior is a key variable affecting the success of indoor hygiene. For instance, it is well studied that handwashing compliance can be influenced with interventions, reminders and feedback of performance. However, long term influence cannot be achieved solely with one-off educational interventions about the tools and means in place. Long-term solution requires more strategic approach with regular adapting (Susanne Gaube, 2020). Clear guidance and accessibility together with a long-term strategy ensures that the users are pulling the same rope together with the interior design and technical solutions in place. This guarantees the best results and value for the invested time and effort.

Works Cited

Aalto University. (2020, April 6). Researchers modelling the spread of the coronavirus emphasise the importance of avoiding busy indoor spaces. Retrieved from Aalto University: https://www.aalto.fi/en/news/researchers-modelling-the-spread-of-the-coronavirus-emphasise-the-importance-of-avoiding-busy

Andrea Alexander, A. D. (2021, April 1). What employees are saying about the future of remote work. Retrieved from McKinsey & Company: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/what-employees-are-saying-about-the-future-of-remote-work#

Cassandra D. Salgado MD, K. A. (2013). Copper Surfaces Reduce the Rate of Healthcare-Acquired Infections in the Intensive Care Unit. Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology Vol. 34, No. 5, May 2013, 479-486.

Christiane Silke Heilingloh, U. W. (2020). Susceptibility of SARS-CoV-2 to UV irradiation. American Journal of Infection Control, 1273-1275.

S.Naikoba, A. (2001). The effectiveness of interventions aimed at increasing handwashing in healthcare workers - a systematic review. Journal of Hospital Infection Volume 47, Issue 3, 173-180.

Joonas Vikström picture 2021

Joonas leads the concept development of antimicrobial ISKU+ furniture. He is experienced working within international marketing and sales with a degree of Master of Science in Economics.

“ISKU+ concept is an inspiring opportunity to combine the sustainability and social responsibility of ISKU with so called hard values of profitability and organizational productivity in our customers’ operations. Electric office desks were the revolution of ergonomic working conditions, antimicrobial furniture does the same via indoor hygiene.”