I’m sure few of us feel emotionally safe these days with COVID-19. And, I am sure there are few facility managers or business owners that thought they would be living through a pandemic. Fewer still expected that their entire building operations would come to a complete standstill.
However, in Illinois, the green light is starting to flicker. It looks like office buildings, schools, colleges, and many other types of public facilities are reopening or planning to very soon.
As this happens, managers/owners need to focus on ensuring their buildings are “emotionally safe.”
Here is what we mean by that. An emotionally safe building, according to an industrial-organizational psychologist, is one in which building users – your staff and visitors – “feel like they can let their guard down and be themselves.”
Just in case you do not realize how important this may be to your staff, put yourself in the following situation:
It is Monday morning, and you are about to go back to work for the first time in three months.
With everything you have heard about COVID-19, are you ready to shake hands with or get close to your co-workers?
You call a meeting and ask several people to come to the conference room. Even with social distancing, are you comfortable about being in a confined space with all these people?
In the conference room, someone on your staff starts sneezing. How does that make you feel?
As you can see, administrators have much work to do to make sure building users feel emotionally safe to come back to work. Fortunately, however, there are steps they can take to put building users’ minds at ease.
We encourage administrators to post signage throughout their facilities, reminding building users of the precautions they must take due to COVID. This includes the wearing of masks, social distancing, and hand washing. In psychology, messaging like this is often referred to as “suggestions.”
They create an image in our minds about something or some action we should take. Studies have shown that they can be immensely powerful in changing behaviors. By encouraging everyone to take necessary precautions and seeing that others are abiding by the visual messages, they also help everyone feel a bit safer working in an indoor environment.
The Role of Cleaning and Emotionally Safe Buildings
Just in case you have not noticed, professional cleaning has been turned upside down. It is now all about health, infection prevention, and well-being. Ensure that building users are assured that your building has been thoroughly “deep cleaned” using some of the latest infection control technologies such as electrostatic sprayers. You may have seen news stories about these systems being used on airplanes. A mist is applied to all surfaces, killing germs and pathogens, including those that can cause COVID.
Using messaging techniques, keep building users up to date about how these and other systems are being used to protect their health.
Many staffers are likely to continue working at home even after offices and similar facilities are reopened. This means that there will likely be unoccupied space. We advise our clients to take advantage of this situation by relocating workers to open spaces no longer being used, at least for the time being. Confined areas in general, and confined workspaces can generate anxieties. Distancing promotes emotional safety.
Because less space in the facility may be occupied, at least initially, administrators may consider turning off HVAC to reduce energy costs. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) does not recommend this. Instead, they recommend leaving all systems on and suggest running them even longer than usual, 24/7, if possible. This will ensure the air in the facility has been thoroughly filtered. Adjust ventilation controls so that more outdoor air is being brought into the facility; change filters more frequently and take related steps to ensure the equipment is operating correctly.
And then, do one more thing. Keep lines of communication open. This helps promote personal safety and emotional safety as well.
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