How to Create a Healthy Environment for Your Employees and Customers: Social Distancing, Sanitization, and More

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, designing healthy work environments is more important than ever before. Here are some steps you can take to adopt a healthy indoor space.

Air Date: May 21, 2020

Moderator: Suzanne P. Clark, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Featured Guests: Princess M. Kele-Nzeh, Regional Expansions Lead - Southern Africa & North America, Flutterwave

Because of the pandemic, developing a healthy work environment is a dream to many businesses today. Many people question what kinds of sanitization procedures to have in place, the importance of air quality and how many people to allow into an elevator at once.

To help answer these questions, three panelists in the fields of academia and building safety spoke to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce President, Suzanne Clark, about the future of healthy buildings, design concepts to safely reopen offices and how to instill trust in your employees and customers, among other topics.

Healthy Building Strategies Are Crucial in Reopening Indoor Spaces

As people spend up to 90% of their time indoors, these spaces need to be as healthy as possible, especially during the pandemic. Dr. Joseph Allen, Director of The Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard, states that the era of “sick buildings” is coming to an end and transitioning to “healthy buildings” is crucial to thriving in an indoor environment.

“You want to [ask], ‘What's the plan and what's the documentation of verification that it's working?’,” he said. “That should include real-time monitoring of the air quality and independent audits to be sure that the systems are in place.”

Allen stated that some healthy building strategies include enhancing ventilation and filtration, laying out your space to accommodate social distancing, flushing out the water system to prevent stagnation, and requiring visitors to wear proper personal protective equipment.

Allen also stressed the importance of asking specific questions when monitoring of the air quality to ensure the correct air changes per hour are being utilized.

Small Businesses Can Adopt Smart Healthy Building Strategies With Limited Resources

The idea of healthy buildings is an important one, but it may seem far away from small businesses who have limited resources. However, it only takes simple tweaks to create a healthy indoor living environment.

“Really, if you're careful about enhanced cleaning and disinfection, bringing in a bit more fresh outdoor air, increasing the efficiency of the filtration and your return ducts … these are all things that don't cost all that much, and it can be quite effective,” Allen said.

The key is to keep the health of your customer in your mind as you think of creative solutions to ensure a safe and healthy environment.

The World Is on the Verge of a New Social Contract

As everyone adjusts to the coronavirus pandemic, businesses and consumers are creating new social contracts that primarily call for transparency and trust.

“We talk a lot about testing, tracing and treatment,” said Lindsey Leininger, Clinical Professor of Business Administration at Dartmouth University. “I want to add a fourth T and that's ‘trust’ … People look to different sources, and I think small business owners can really help build the trust that we need to get through this crisis.”

“We also believe that the big word is trust, and trust is also trusting your people,” said Jeroen Lokerse, Managing Director of the Netherlands, Cushman & Wakefield and Project Partner at The Six-Feet Office. “We have to keep ourselves and each other safe.”

Academics are even creating informational groups on Facebook to further educate their followers. Leineger’s Facebook group, “Dear Pandemic,” is run by PhDs who want to get fact-checked information out in the open.

“Seek alternative viewpoints and … focus on amplifying the good information from the experts you know and you trust,” added Leininger.

Experts Are Utilizing Design Concepts to Navigate the Spread of COVID-19

Lokerse shares how simply moving the furniture around and changing the way people move in the office can help keep social distancing in check. The concept of Cushman & Wakefield’s “6 Feet Office” is easy enough to implement and get everyone on board to keep employees safe, even with an open-spaced office and buildings filled with people.

Lokerse noted that their meetings rooms used to include over 60 people. Today, this space has been adapted to only allow about 12 people at a time.

“Easily, with some protocols on how to enter, how to leave the room, we can safeguard [the six-feet rule] at all times," Lokerse added.