Many companies have asked for employees to come back to work, whether it be full-time, flexitime or on a hybrid model. And as everyone starts trickling into the office, it can be difficult to switch back to the pre-pandemic harmony that may have existed in your place of work.
For the most part, we’ve grown used to working in our own space, on our own. To now have to share space with people who are not in our bubble, can be daunting for many. And while working in close proximity to others could potentially breed germs, it could also breed hostility.
So, just how can employees create a harmonious workplace? How can business managers and bosses ensure that there aren’t any dishwasher wars taking place between colleagues?
Here are tips for creating a safe workplace for all.
Get extra help where needed
Everybody has become fanatical about cleanliness – and rightfully so. As employees start coming back to work full time again, it’s probably just a matter of time before a dirty cup is left in the sink or someone doesn’t clean up after making themselves a sandwich.
While it may be a minor irritation at first, it could flare up into something bigger and before you know it, people are fighting over who didn’t pack their dishes into the sink and who left their half-eaten lunch in the fridge to become an ecosystem all of its own.
Awazi Angbalaga, Country Manager for cleaning services company, SweepSouth, suggests that businesses hire someone to come in on a regular basis to clean the space.
According to Angbalaga, this takes the burden off of the team to always be on top of things in addition to their daily work and ensures that surfaces and areas are properly cleaned.
A study done by microbiologist Dr. Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona to measure bacterial levels in offices shows that personal work areas contain alarmingly high levels of bacteria. Desks, in particular, are teeming with germs. In fact, says Dr. Gerbera, the average desk harbours 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table! A desk can support 10 million bacteria, and without proper cleaning, even a small area may contain bacteria that can make you ill. Work surfaces need to be kept hygienic by regularly cleaning them with an antibacterial product.
Phones and keyboards need to be wiped down weekly
Phones and keyboards also need to be wiped down weekly to stop them from becoming bacterial battlegrounds.
According to British microbiologist Professor Sally Bloomfield, our hands and the surfaces we touch are the superhighways for bacteria. And, because we touch our phones and keyboards so often, they top the list of the dirtiest items on our desks.
“People are still feeling very nervous about the spread of germs in shared workspaces,” adds Angbalaga. “You need to see to it that your office is being cleaned properly and thoroughly so that your team is working in the best conditions possible.”
Other sanitary measures to implement include placing bottles of hand sanitisers around the office and encouraging any employees who are hot-desking or using phones that others have used, to keep antimicrobial wipes handy, advises Angbalaga.
“Remember to also ask your office cleaner to disinfect hand-contact surfaces like door handles and the buttons on the photocopier – both of which are of the most touched spots in the office. Ensuring your workspace is sparkly clean not only creates a space where people feel more comfortable and happier, but it could also result in fewer employees getting sick and needing to take off work,” she adds.
Physical environments that support wellness
The impact the physical work environment has on our wellbeing is increasingly well understood. In the world of hybrid work, the workplace needs to be more than a functional place in which work is done, but rather be an inviting space that promotes creativity and collaboration, or “less office cubicle and more cafe lounge”, as the Harvard Business Review puts it. Consider office design that is inviting – spaces that incorporate greenery, natural light, art and design, all of which contribute to making the space a pleasant one to be in.
Office workers returning to corporate spaces will have spent the past two years surrounded by their houseplants and taking afternoon walks, so will undoubtedly have a heightened desire to avoid spending hours in workspaces with poor ventilation and no natural light, or spaces that have dust or contaminants in the air.
Workspaces that feel more eco-friendly definitely have a positive impact on workers’ wellbeing and productivity and will definitely go a long way towards creating a peaceful work environment.
Green spaces promote an open and calm feel, which, in an office context, could result in team members interacting more harmoniously and collaboratively – a big plus as businesses rally to rebuild post the pandemic.
Lastly, as people learn to work together at the office again, consider holding inspirational team events that rekindle old, or foster new bonds amongst colleagues.
As companies start finding their “new normal” they need to transform and evolve in ways that not only suit the company’s purpose, but also recognise the tremendous value of happy employees.