Cases of coronavirus have spread to 49 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. Local businesses, schools and the government have already taken drastic measures to help limit the outbreak. The number of infected individuals is still climbing exponentially, as it has in other countries where the virus has taken hold. The average person who contracts COVID-19 infects 2.2 people. By comparison, the average person with the seasonal flu infects just 1.3 people. Those with the H1N1 virus infected between 1.2 and 1.6 other individuals.
Since the novel coronavirus is more contagious than other diseases, it’s become critical for businesses to limit the spread. Curbing contagion in your workplace can help keep your team healthy, reduce sick time and prevent vulnerable populations from a potentially fatal illness.
How Open Offices Spread Coronavirus and Other Diseases
Do open offices spread viruses? The answer is a bit complicated. The World Health Organization (WHO) issued its first guidance on the novel coronavirus on January 10, 2020. While researchers have made progress since then, the situation is still developing. The bottom line is that there’s still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19. The good news is that we understand quite a bit about how other viruses and diseases spread in the workplace.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the primary way COVID-19 spreads is through person-to-person contact. The virus transmits itself between people in close contact, within about 6 feet of one another. It also disperses through the respiratory droplets of an infected person’s coughs and sneezes. It might even spread by touching contaminated surfaces.
So, there are three main things to worry about with an open office plan. The first is the amount of space per employee. The amount of space per office seat fell by 14.3% between 2018 and 2019. The average office has 195.6 square feet per individual, which is more than the 6-foot radius area recommended by the CDC. In open offices, many employees share a desk or sit in benches, bringing them much closer.
Open offices are famous for breaking down walls and encouraging collaboration and communication. The lack of partitions in an open office space allows respiratory droplets to flow more freely. The environment doesn’t allow for social distancing. One study of Swedish office workers found that employees in open office settings take more sick leave.
One final issue with an open office layout is the trend of hot desking. In an office environment with no assigned seating, employees are touching more surfaces. One 2017 study in Arizona found that after placing a harmless virus on a doorknob and one volunteer’s hands, that virus had spread to 50% of the office’s surfaces within four hours. Communal desks and computer equipment allow more people to come in contact with germs on hard surfaces.
3 Tips for Stopping the Spread of Illnesses in the Workplace
Halting the transmission of sickness in the workplace protects your employees and their loved ones from catching harmful diseases. You’ll also reduce the number of sick days your employees need to take by stopping the contagion in its tracks. Here’s how to prevent spreading viruses in the workplace.
1. Prevent the Spread of Viruses With Cubicles, Panels and Dividers for Open Offices
One of the best ways to encourage social distancing at work without shutting down or transitioning to remote work is to give employees adequate space and privacy to get their jobs done. Cubicles are the leading and best way to do that, promoting health and better productivity. Arnold’s Office Furniture is the sole distributor of SUNLINE office cubicles. The design of our adjustable cubicles allows you to rearrange them in as little as one day. So, during the winter months or amid an infectious disease outbreak, you can easily restructure your office to give employees more space and help limit the spread of viruses.
Option 1 – Cubicles
Our 6-by-6 foot cubicles are the perfect size to let your team practice safe social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic and whenever viruses spread. We also offer larger 6-by-8 foot and 8-by-8 foot office cubicles for more protection. Our SUNLINE cubicles have partitions up to 83 inches high to help curb the spread of airborne viruses, though our 53-inch-high cubicles provide seated privacy and are the most popular option for businesses. All of our cubicles are easy to install and reconfigure. Plus, if you change your mind, you can always remove the panels and go back to an open plan whenever you like. Priced around $1495 per workstation.
Option 2 – Panels
If you already have an open office plan, this option allows you to re-purpose your current furniture, but with a quick disassembling of your desks, we attach 53” high panels from the ground up to your existing 5-by-3 workstations This allows for a collaborative atmosphere while still separating employees and keeping everyone at a safe distance. Not a full cubicle, but a great, full-panel option. Priced around $795 per workstation.
Option 3 – Dividers / Screens
Another option if you already have an open office plan but need a more economical solution, is to outfit your existing desks with dividers to help limit the spread of viruses. Our detachable and adjustable panels can help separate open spaces and give employees some privacy, as well as protection from contagious droplets floating in the air. Dividers work similarly but in a less invasive way. They may be better for temporary applications but can also be used permanently. These are 24-inch barriers that attach to existing furniture without disassembly and are sound-absorbing. Check out our quick animation here. Priced around $495 per workstation.
Option 4 – Full Offices
As a final option, if you’re looking to really separate and rebuild, our full-office demountable partitions option is for you. With the maximum amount of privacy and separation, these demountable panel partitions provide privacy and the option for total separation. Priced around $2,595 per office (based on 26 lf).
We can also treat our panels and dividers with Microban, a potent antimicrobial formula that can stop bacteria, fungi and mold. You can reapply this treatment every three months to ensure you have protection from microbes all year long.
Whatever method of separation you choose, know that Arnold’s offers unparalleled flexibility. We can deliver and assemble items after-hours or on weekends, so you can get the products you need when you need them. Safety and efficiency are our priorities. For the DIY options in our catalog, we also have over-the-phone support available.
Ready to get started? We offer discounts on our panel protects for orders over 200. Request a free quote for your new office cubicles or protective panels today.
2. Encourage Employees to Work From Home When Possible (& hold virtual meetings)
As schools across the country transition to online classes, workplaces are following suit. Some of the country’s most notable employers, including Google, Apple and Facebook, have encouraged employees to work from home. Many of these companies are also famous for their open office plans, so take note. The federal government hasn’t yet issued a formal recommendation to work from home. However, it has recommended discontinuing public gatherings of more than 10 people. The CDC has also recommended employers consider transitioning to telecommuting temporarily. Easier said, than done, of course. Often it’s difficult to get into a productive mode when at home, especially if you don’t have a workspace to call your own. Our large variety of desk and chair options allow you to turn your home into a comfortable and productive space – whether temporary or permanent.
If your office can work from home, your team is probably already holding meetings via video chat. For a team that can’t telecommute, it’s vital to limit social interactions in the workplace, especially casual interactions that are less than five minutes long.
The adage “Don’t hold a meeting if it could’ve been an email” might save lives as well as time. If you have to be in the office, you can prevent getting sick at work by holding meetings via video chat anyway. You’ll stop people from congregating in the conference room and allow people to continue their social distancing.
3. Provide Disinfecting Solutions
Be sure to have plenty of supplies to help your employees disinfect themselves and their workstations. Have hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes with at least 60% alcohol at the ready, as well as plenty of tissues. Stock restrooms with plenty of soap and paper towels, which spread fewer bacteria than automatic hand dryers.
Also, disinfect workstations, communal areas, doorknobs and light switches regularly. If several people in your office catch an illness, whether it’s coronavirus or the flu, consider closing down the office to have it professionally disinfected.
Alissa has over 25 years of experience in the office furniture industry. For many of those years, Alissa was a Senior Interior Designer. She then took her love of design and working with customers to the sales realm and has been dedicating her knowledge there ever since. Learn more about Alissa!