Should We Work In Open Offices With The Threat Of The Coronavirus?

Since news broke yesterday that the first confirmed case of coronavirus has reached South African shores, the government has been urging people to keep calm and carry on.

This is not the time to buy 300 cans of beans.

Just make sure that you use soap and give your hands a proper scrub every now and then throughout the day.

If your days are spent in an office, you probably have some questions about what will happen if the virus spreads.

In countries where the infection rate is high, many companies have sent their employees home to work remotely.

VICE wanted to know what happens before the mass evacuation of the office space, by looking into whether the style of workplace that you inhabit can increase your chances of getting sick.

A review of studies on the subject and a chat with an expert on how common viruses spread reveals that yes, open offices put us at a greater risk of getting sick. It also reveals that humans are disgusting, walking germ-factories, that every office is a person-sized petri dish of infection, and that we should probably all just work from home.

Fair enough. Humans are gross.

To be less gross, and I can’t believe this has to be repeated over and over again in these trying times, put down the damn beans and wash your hands.

On to the studies:

One study of more than 1,800 Swedish workers found that people in open plan offices were nearly twice as likely to take short term sick leave (of one week or less) than those who worked in private offices. A survey from Denmark showed employees in open plan offices were 62 percent more likely to take a sick day than those with their own separate office.

Another survey from Canada had similar results, with open office workers taking an average of 3.1 sick days in a year, compares to 1.8 sick days for employees who worked from home. Open offices have also been associated with higher rates of Sick Building Syndrome—a condition where workers get headaches and respiratory problems—and with higher stress levels, which have been linked to weakened immune systems.

If you’re wondering how viruses spread in the workplace, here’s a play-by-play:

  1. An infected person touches their nose or mouth, picking up the virus, and then touches a surface. A healthy person then touches that surface, picks up the virus, and then touches their face, infecting themselves.
  2. An infected person coughs or sneezes and a nearby healthy person inadvertently inhales or swallows some of the infected spit.
  3. An infected person coughs or sneezes, leaving behind a cloud of viral particles, which a healthy person walks through and inhales.

Look, we work in an open office and have a strict ‘no coming to work sick’  policy. If you’ve got the flu or any other ailment, work from home.

And if you think you might have come into contact with the coronavirus, for some reason, stay indoors and contact a health professional.

If you are genuinely concerned, call the NICD’s general public hotline at 0800 029 999, Monday to Friday, between 8AM and 4PM.

You can read the rest of the VICE article here.

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