Creating safe buildings during these unsettling times is very difficult for administrators in charge of building security and safety. Businesses in industry after industry have been impacted by COVID-19, with most all operations coming to a complete standstill.
But now, many are being given the green light, indicating that facilities can begin opening once again. However, what administrators are discovering is that it is one thing to unlock the doors and welcome building users back. But ensuring their “emotional safety” in these buildings is something else entirely.
You might wonder, why must we care about the “emotional safety” of staffers and building users? Isn’t it enough to enhance cleaning frequencies and require building users to wear masks, wash their hands more frequently, and take other precautions?
Possibly we can better understand what emotional safety is, along with what emotionally safe buildings are, and why it is so essential by how Dr. Dan Harris defined it. According to Harris, an industrial-organizational psychologist, emotional safety means “feeling like you can let your guard down and be yourself.”
Now that you know the definition of emotionally safe buildings, stop for a second and picture the following:
It’s Monday morning, and you are about to go back to work, back to your old workspace for the first time in three months. With everything you know about COVID, do you feel like you can let your guard down and just be yourself?
Are you ready to shake hands or hug one of your co-workers whom you have not seen in weeks due to the building’s closing?
What if that co-worker coughs or sneezes in your presence? How will 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 create emotionally safe buildings and put building user’s minds at ease. Here are four to consider:
Safe Buildings Need Visual Messaging
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 mind about something or some action we should take. Studies have shown 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.
If someone on an occupied floor has a confirmed case of COVID, what should administrators do? Thinking on the spot may lead to chaos. They must be proactive, anticipating that this might happen. Start by having an emergency response team in place. The safe buildings team should include administrators and managers, as well as building tenants. Communication is vital. Rumors will make the situation worse and increase anxieties tremendously. Calmly communicate the news to everyone that might be affected. Discuss the well-being of the person that has come down with the disease.
Then, review the robust plan in place to protect the health of everyone on the floor with an emphasis on cleaning, sanitizing, and decontaminating the area. Continue with regular updates for as long as deemed necessary. These steps dispel rumors and, once again, help promote emotional safety.
Safe Buildings and Open Space
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, in particular, can generate anxieties. Distancing promotes emotional safety.
HVAC Systems Help Create Safe Buildings
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. Plus, adjust controls so that more outdoor ventilation is being brought into the facility, increase the changing of filters along with related steps to ensure the equipment is operating correctly.
And then, do one more thing. Make sure everyone in the facility knows about the steps being taken. Safe buildings just don’t happen. Once again, communication helps promote personal safety and emotional safety as well. For further assistance, Talk to Us. We’re here to help.
As always, we value your feedback, which helps us shape our perspective on recent events, security, and the services we offer.
Chief Executive Officer