3 Tips for Staying Healthy as You Return to Your Workplace
Many of us have been working from home the last few months — a necessary response as the initial coronavirus outbreak swept across the country. Now, as COVID-19 cases begin to plateau in some areas and states begin to reopen, you may be preparing to head back into the office.
We're slowly settling into a new normal, but the new coronavirus isn't gone. And with public health officials continuing to recommend social distancing and wearing cloth face masks, you may be wondering what precautions you should take as you return to work.
You already know the infection control basics that have kept you healthy at the office during many cold and flu seasons, like washing your hands, covering your cough and staying home when you're sick. But if the last few months have taught us anything, it's that coronavirus is a far more formidable adversary than the common cold or seasonal flu.
Here are three tips for staying healthy while working in an office during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Keep your distance and avoid gathering in groups
The most likely way for COVID-19 to spread is from person-to-person — primarily between people who come into close contact with one another. This means that social distancing is just as important now as it was when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
When someone with COVID-19 coughs, sneezes or talks, the respiratory droplets released have the potential to infect anyone within a six-foot radius. And given that a significant number of people infected with virus remain asymptomatic, it's possible to spread the virus without ever even knowing you have it. This means that limiting face-to-face contact between yourself and your coworkers will be important as you return to the office.
Tips for social distancing in the workplace:
- Redesign conference-room seating to ensure six feet of distance can be maintained between meeting attendees
- Reduce bidirectional hallway traffic by walking through the building in a clockwise fashion
- Avoid congregating in the breakroom and consider eating at your desk
- Utilize virtual meetings as often as possible
- Avoid crowded elevators and elevator banks by waiting for a less crowded elevator or taking the stairs
In addition, when not in your office or cubicle, you may want to consider wearing a cloth face mask to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Know the frequently touched office surfaces where germs may be hiding
Surface-to-person transmission isn't the primary way COVID-19 spreads — but, just as an infected person releases respiratory droplets that have the potential to infect people nearby, these infectious respiratory droplets can also contaminate nearby surfaces. This means it may be possible to get COVID-19 by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Frequently washing your hands and avoiding touching your face throughout the day can help limit your risk of getting sick, but so can limiting your contact with surfaces commonly touched by many people throughout your office.
High-touch office surfaces include:
- Door handles
- Elevator buttons
- Coffee stations and water coolers
- Microwaves and refrigerators
- Counters and tables in the break room
- Vending machines
- Printers and fax machines
After touching these surfaces, consider washing your hands or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Be upfront with your questions and concerns
Just as the day-to-day stress of a job can take its toll, the concern of returning to work before it's safe can affect your motivation, productivity and overall mental health. One of the best ways to reduce your anxiety about returning to work is to get your questions answered.
Consider asking your manager the following:
- How will social distancing be enforced throughout the office?
- Will employees be required to wear a cloth mask in common spaces?
- Are disinfection and cleaning efforts being increased?
- Will policies be adjusted to further encourage employees to stay home if sick?
- What's the procedure for identifying and isolating someone who comes to work sick?
In addition, if you're more vulnerable to serious COVID-19 illness, you may want to consider letting your manager know. You and your manager can talk through the extra precautions you'll need to take, as well as whether there's the potential for you to work during hours that are less busy or continue to work from home.
Lastly, if you're a manager, make sure you're being proactive about having conversations with your employees about their concerns.
Concerned you may have COVID-19?
- If you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you can speak to a Virtual Urgent Care provider 24/7. The provider will help you determine if testing is needed and advise you on where you should go.