The Spread of Illness in the Office

Our generation is in the midst of a health scare unlike anything we or even the generation before us has seen. The Covid-19 global pandemic has significantly changed the way we as humans function in our day to day lives. Things that we once took for granted, like forgetting to wash our hands before eating has quickly become a thing of the past. Suddenly, basic hygiene practices could mean the difference between life and death for you and/or loved ones. Routine activities such as going to the grocery store are now riddled with anxiety for fear of picking up germs from the shopping cart, to the cashier to even the food we purchased. It is no doubt that adapting to the new normal has been a challenge for all of us; But what will be more challenging is returning to life post Covid-19. 

One thing for certain is that this pandemic has exposed some not so acceptable cleaning and sanitation practices for many businesses. And once we return to some level of normalcy, businesses in particular will not be out of the woods. Patrons and employees a-like will be expecting certain standards to remain, particularly out of fear of the unknown happening again. This is why it is important for business owners to take this pandemic as an opportunity for learning, growth and improvement when it comes to their sanitation and cleanliness standards. It is the expectation for businesses in the food and health industry to maintain a very strict level of cleanliness and hygiene, however, businesses that do not provide these services are not held to the same standards. Still, this does not mean that it is any less important. Businesses would do well to develop a health and safety protocol that specifically details expectations and standards for sanitation to help minimize the spread of germs in the workplace. 

Workplaces significantly contribute to the spread of viruses such as Influenza due to a number of reasons. Firstly, the large number of individuals working in close quarters makes in difficult to practice any level of adequate social distancing when unwell. Viruses such as influenza are most commonly spread through respiratory droplets ie. sneezing and coughing. In an office environment, especially one that is open concept, these behaviours allow droplets to be released into the air in the form of aerosol and free to land on a variety of surfaces. 

Secondly, high traffic areas and frequently used equipment are not always cleaned often enough to minimize transmission between persons. According to the WHO Influenza viruses can live up to 24 to 48 hours on hard, non porous materials and up to 12 hours on plastic. In an office this would be things like the desk, keyboard, pens, phones, fax machine and kitchen/lunchroom appliances. 

Thirdly, we live in cultural environment that is not very supportive of individuals staying home when unwell. Although many companies offer paid personal sick days and the government has also mandated sick leave for all individuals whether paid or unpaid, employees continue to drag themselves to work either out of fear of being questioned or looked down on by their employer or simply because they cannot afford it. For small business owners taking time off from work could lead to a significant loss in earnings or even loss of business. 

Co-working spaces are not immune to these issues, so then what can be done to help reduce the spread of illness in this type of environment? Look out for our next article where we will discuss tips for both co-working owners and their patrons on how to keep viruses at bay in the co-working space. 

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