- Some companies are going the extra mile to reassure workers that their offices are hygienic.
- Mitie, a UK outsourcer, equipped its headquarters with ultraviolet light sprays, stickers, and flippable coasters.
- Scroll on to take a tour.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
The battle over the office return is not only about remote work. Living through a pandemic has fundamentally changed how many see health and safety in the workplace.
According to a Glassdoor-commissioned poll of 1,042 US workers in July 2021, 89% of respondents said they had concerns about returning to the office. Many of their worries centered on commuting and a lack of privacy, but 35% of these were directly concerned that they’d catch COVID-19 from their colleagues.
Some companies are mandating their workers are double-jabbed before returning. But others are adopting whizzy gadgets to reassure their staff.
Mitie is a UK facilities management company that provides outsourced services across multiple sectors including security, office management, healthcare, and logistics.
Since April 2021 it has spent £1 million ($1.4 million) fitting out its sites with COVID-19 safety measures after internal polling suggested workers wanted to feel safe before they returned to the office.
As the company manages serviced offices, it was also thought the the HQ could act as a test case for its wider network, Daniel Guest, chief operating officer of Mitie Technical Services, told Insider.
All the devices had their uses before the pandemic, but have been tailored for use during COVID-19 and beyond.
Insider was given a tour of Mitie’s HQ, located on the 12th floor of the UK’s tallest building, the Shard, to see what workers can expect.
On entrance to the 12th floor, guests are thermally scanned to detect whether they have a high temperature — usually 37 degrees or above.
If a person is too hot, they’re asked to wait 10 minutes before trying again.
Masks are not compulsory, but a strict one-way system is in place — and it is adhered to (mostly) and denoted by stickers on the floor. Employees pre-book their visits through the company’s workplace app, which also tracks capacity.
“From a COVID-19 point of view, we have tried to make everything really visible,” said Mitie’s Guest.
Digital boards with information about all the new tech are dotted around
Information leaflets, virtual boards, and posters are placed around the office enabling staff to scan a QR code to find out how the tech works.
Flippable coasters signal if an area is clean
Mitie’s open-plan canteen features a more simple safety innovation — red/green coasters.
Each table comes equipped with a small, red or green circle. If a table is clean and safe to sit at the coaster will be green side up, if it’s still dirty it will be red. It’s not a fool-proof measure, but it’s designed to give people a little extra confidence.
‘Torpedoes’ designed to cleanse the air
Hanging at regular intervals throughout the office are a series of metal cylinders. Embossed text on the side reads: “Hi, I’m here to disinfect the air so you can breathe easy.”
There are 80 ‘torpedoes’ throughout the building, each unit — manufactured by the Belgian firm Luxebel — typically covers a floor space of 25 square metres, but it differs depending on the exact floor plan.
Air is sucked in through the unit and treated using ultraviolet light before being pumped out back into the office.
Here’s how they look up close
Stickers indicate ‘high-contact areas’
After inspecting the torpedoes, we’re led through a door into a meeting room. There’s a small round sticker stuck above the handle which reads: “Sparkle Area”.
These are used to indicate frequently touched, potentially high transmission areas, so that they are cleaned more frequently. There’s also usually hand sanitizer located nearby. They’re on all door handles, and cupboards, the communal hot-tap and the tea and coffee in the staff kitchen.
UVC disinfected meeting rooms
Another otherwise typical meeting room features two square ceiling tiles hanging in the centre of the room. These emit ultraviolet light onto surfaces to kill germs and any droplets following a meeting.
It’s similar to the technology regularly used in operating theatres. It’s not as visually pleasing as it sounds — a blue light and humming indicates that the machine is on, but there is little in the way of physical beams. A cleaning cycle takes around 10 minutes or so.
Ultraviolet radiation can be toxic for humans, so the system doesn’t work if anyone is in the room. The door is locked and then activated manually at the push of a button. A sticker chart left on the table changes colour to indicate how much ultraviolet has saturated the surface.
The cleaning device up close
How necessary are measures like this?
Establishing trust — and importantly trust that the employer cares — will be important in order to reassure people to return to the office said Claudia Crummenerl, vice president of the people and organization at Capgemini Invent. To establish that trust companies will have to take “extra precautions”.
It is a balance however, adds Crummenerl. Trust levels will depend on individuals as well firm culture and the attitude of managers.
Guest says the measures have a wider purpose beyond simply protecting people from COVID-19. “If we think about the workplace of the past there’s always been sickness, there’s always been illness about, so we see it as a long-term thing.”