How to guard against virus transmission as your teams return to the office
Protecting employees and customers from COVID-19 is vital as businesses across the globe reopen their doors and people reassemble in physical environments. Changing the layout of offices, shops, restaurants, gyms, construction sites, as well as wearing face masks, social distancing, hand washing and disinfecting surfaces frequently all contribute towards a safer culture.
Writing for Harvard Business Review, Scott E Page, says reducing the number of connections between individuals and the items they touch is one obvious strategy for reducing COVID-19 transmission, but the key to eliminating the spread of infection in the workplace is to restrict or eliminate the pathways that provide links between groups of people. Here’s how to do it.
MAP TRANSMISSION NETWORKS
You need to start by seeking out the transmission networks on your premises before you can start breaking the key pathways down – “a strategy quite similar to the one the intelligence community has long used to break up illegal networks”.
It’s important to identify all the points where the virus could be transferred, whether that’s from person to person via airborne droplets, or via a surface that people carrying the infection have touched – like a door handle, a desk, a whiteboard marker, or the steering wheel of a forklift.
Ask your employees to help to map these two active networks: Person to Person (P2P), and Person to Object to Person (POP) – and also where they connect. Drawing diagrams that illustrate the lines of connection will give you a clearer picture of where the problem areas are.
To map out a P2P network, consider:
- Who physically interacts with whom on a regular basis.
- Which individuals interact with people outside their immediate teams, creating links between different departments – someone who distributes the mail, for example.
- Whether you can sever these “bridging links” by making them virtual.
To map out a POP model:
- Make a list of people.
- Make a list of objects and locations – you could use different colours to denote each one.
- Draw corresponding coloured lines connecting people to the objects that they touch or locations they visit.
- Draw a line between two people if they touch a common object or visit a common location, like the coffee machine.
This diagram helps you pin down the key virus transmission hubs in your organisation and determine ways to eliminate them. For example, if the coffee machine links diverse groups of people, you could remove it.
To be thorough, the P2P and POP network diagrams should be overlaid to reveal additional nodes of transmission and inform further measures to avoid super-spreader links. For example, if you have two stairwells in a three-storey building, assign a specific one to employees working on each upper floor so you break the pathway between them.
“Successful strategies look beyond reducing the number of connections and think about disrupting the networks those connections create.” Protecting your staff and customers from the spread of COVID-19 as you reopen your workplace means going the extra mile to identify and break virus transmission pathways.