It could be said the best types of in-person meetings during COVID-19 era are the ones that don’t happen at all.
Many employers have been encouraging employees to avoid in-person meetings as much as possible. Instead, they rely on video conferencing technology that lets them communicate face-to-face while staying completely remote.
However, as we all know, remote meetings can’t fully replace all the benefits of live contact. And, in particular, some workplaces require the use of specialized equipment or facilities that make it really difficult to avoid in-person meetings completely.
Thankfully, now that we know more about how the virus spreads, safer in-person meetings can reduce or even practically eliminate the chance of transmission between two employees who need to meet in-person — or at least share the same space for a while.
Here’s more about how to meet safely in the COVID-19 era.
Wear Masks and Stay Apart
At this point, government and industry restrictions have almost certainly affected you in some way. So, you’re probably well-aware that a few of the simplest and most effective ways to prevent coronavirus transmission are for people to stay apart and cover their faces with well-fitting masks.
Because coronavirus spreads through respiratory droplets, if you can keep those droplets from flying into the air and dispersing as much as possible, you cut down on the chances that someone else will breathe them in.
Studies have shown that not just any face covering will be effective against virus transmission: Some lightweight fabrics (such as those found on neck gaiters designed for breathability) may actually help disperse particles, for example. (N-95 masks are the most effective, but they’re still typically being reserved for medical professionals).
Although it was thought that masks didn’t protect the wearer, some more recent studies have shown that as long as masks are worn consistently and properly, the people wearing them also get some degree of protection.
That said, masks certainly can’t totally eliminate transmission. Virus particles are almost inconceivably tiny and can easily escape through any small gap in a mask.
That’s why it also helps to keep as far apart from other people as possible, and, of course, to absolutely stay away from people who are coughing or sneezing (or for that matter, yelling or singing).
Six feet is the general recommendation for safety, but again, how far the virus travels depends on other factors, too — as we’ll discuss next.
Keep the Air Flowing
Because face coverings and distancing are the easiest to see and comply with, perhaps they’ve gotten the most attention. However, indoor air flow may play just as big of a role in disease transmission.
The rate at which fresh air moves through your space can be a huge factor in the virus’ likelihood of being passed from one person to another.
For example, if two people are talking in a room with little air movement, the droplets are more likely to hang there and be inhaled by others. But if the air is moving around them, the droplets may blow in another direction and fall safely to the ground before they can be inhaled. (Apparently, although coronavirus can technically survive for at least three hours in aerosolized form, it tends to only hang in the air up to 14 minutes in most indoor settings. Other factors may affect this, such as the moisture level in the room.)
Another tactic that some are using to fight coronavirus is trapping coronavirus particles in an air filtration system. For example, you can install a HEPA filter on your general HVAC system (HEPA filters have been proven to trap particles even smaller than SARS-CoV2), or invest in portable air purifiers with HEPA filters and place them strategically where employees have to meet in-person.
Finally it’s worth noting that improving the air flow for meetings may be as simple as opening a window or even meeting outdoors. In less-hospitable climates, employers might consider investing in canopies to shelter employees from the rain or an outdoor heater to keep employees warm on chilly days when they want to meet outside or just remove their mask for a lunch break.
Opting for an outdoor “walking meeting” can be a nice way to keep your blood flowing and encourage a healthier workday while also preventing potential coronavirus spread.
Disinfect Shared Spaces
In most cases, SARS-CoV-2 is not transmitted by touching shared surfaces. But it’s still a good idea to observe basic hygiene practices such as washing your hands after touching shared surfaces, trying not to touch your face, and disinfecting shared surfaces.
You can place hand sanitizer strategically near entrances and exits of shared areas and/or meeting areas to help remind employees to clean their hands after they’ve been in a shared space.
You should also build cleaning and disinfection duties (for example, wiping down any shared equipment or tables) into someone’s job responsibilities and hold them accountable to make sure it happens regularly.
Screen for Symptoms at Check-in
If your employees must meet in person or invite visitors or contractors into the workplace, it’s a smart idea to screen for symptoms when they arrive.
They should all understand they will not be permitted to work in the office while exhibiting coronavirus symptoms and that they’ll be given the flexibility they need to work from home if they have been exposed to other people with the virus.
It might also be a good idea to get employees and guests to formally agree to a statement that they aren’t exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus before they enter the office. You can do this completely contactlessly with a visitor check-in app like The Receptionist for iPad.
Prepare office guests and contractors in advance so they know what to expect when it comes to COVID-19-related restrictions at your office. Let them know how you’ll help them meet requirements (such as providing a mask and hand sanitizer, for example) and what will happen if they can’t meet requirements (they won’t be permitted inside, for example).Prepare office guests and contractors in advance so they know what to expect when it comes to COVID-19-related restrictions at your office. Click To Tweet
As an employer, you might be required by local regulations to make sure these safety conditions are met.
But even if you aren’t technically required to do so, failing to enforce common-sense safety protocols may result in your employees getting sick or worse. The quicker we can all stop the spread, the quicker we as a society can move past the worst of this pandemic, which has made doing business more difficult for everyone.
To learn more about stopping the spread of coronavirus in the workplace, head over to our COVID-19 Resource Center for Visitor Management.
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