Safe & sustainable office: a guide for businesses

Updated: Jun 26, 2021

After the enforced work from home period for all, many businesses have now been practicing rotating teams (and they might be doing so for quite some time still).

However, as employees go back, the usual breaks around the Kopi stall downstairs or the water cooler are unlikely to be a part of the “new normal” in our 2021 office.

We’re all having to adapt to Safe-Entry, safe-distancing measures, and hygiene practices to keep our workplace Covid-safe. Sadly, not all of these measures are exactly healthy for the environment (or employees in the long run) and any company with a good Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy should be considering sustainability while also putting their employees’ safety first. The good news is that there are alternatives and planet-friendly options to minimise the spread of transmission that all leaders in sustainability can implement, no matter the size of the business.

1. Sustainable reusable face masks

If we ever thought our mobile phone was the most important thing when leaving the house, we’ve probably reconsidered that ever since the face mask came into our Covid-stricken world. But before you order masks for your staff, consider the material choice. Invisibly, not disposable, but also not polyester or traditional cotton. Who wants to breathe in chemicals and microplastic fibres all day?

Also, traditionally grown cotton is the world´s most water-thirsty crop and often riddled with ethical controversy. Organic and fair trade cotton on the other hand ensures that the people and land are treated with respect. Other materials include bamboo (bamboo is one of the fastest-growing and renewable crops we can make textiles on land from) as used in the Nat:Mask from our local guys The Nurturing Co.

With the expected compound annual growth rate of 53% from 2020 to 2027, providing employees with washable, reusable face masks is much better for the environment than using a new, disposable plastic mask every day.

2. Sourcing sustainable shield screens in-between desks

Acrylic screens are now seen used across businesses both those public-facing such as in cafes and supermarkets, in taxis and at front desks, and at the office in between desks to protect employees working close to each other.

  • If you’ve already purchased them, make sure to keep them for reuse later.

  • If you haven’t, look for ones made from recycled and/or recyclable materials.

  • Maintain them and clean them regularly.

  • Get a recycler to take them back when you’re done, don’t throw them in the blue bin. Or find creative ways to reuse them.

  • Invest in ones you aim to keep long-term

3. Non-hazardous cleaning products

If Singapore could boast how « cleaned » it was, it certainly reached new gold standards in 2020. But some chemicals aren’t necessarily good for you or the environment and used on a regular basis could significantly fragilise our resistance to bacteria.

  • Provide natural soaps - the World Health Organisation stated that thoroughly handwashing with soap and water is the most effective way to clean hands.

  • Encourage employees to wash their hands whenever they can instead of reaching for the hand sanitiser. Some research suggests that frequent use can negatively impact our health, especially that of children.

  • Provide more natural, non-toxic disinfectant products to your cleaners (or ensure the cleaning contractors have such products).

4. Temporarily remove communal furnishings

Making space for social distancing in the office or common areas means you might have to remove some of the non-essentials like sofas and designer egg seats. Don’t throw any of them away or buy new furniture you might temporarily need that is less bulky for instance, instead:

Even HipVan has office chair rental
  • Rehome furniture by gifting to your employees or via Carousell for the one-off items

  • Sell to second-hand stores or furniture rental companies

  • Rent what you are missing

Avoid dumping at charity shops that are already inundated with “stuff”! The secondhand market is quite saturated, but charities get the worst of it.

5. To each their own barePack/BYO

The coffee gatherings might have gone, but the coffee addiction remains. If you are still providing coffee and tea for your employees, don't be tempted to favour disposables and lock up the reusable cups. Instead, ask employees to bring their own cups and containers, and remind them to keep one in the office purely for office use. Here are some tips for a safer and sustainable pantry practice:

  • send a memo that disposables will not be available in the office and for everyone to bring their own cup and to wash their own after use

  • keep hygiene practices strict: no cups or containers must be left on desks at the end of the day or in the sinks.

  • provide prongs for biscuits instead of replacing with individually wrapped snacks

You can also gift a barePack membership to your employees so they can borrow containers when they forget their own. It reduces waste in the office as well as bins filled with germs and food waste! We have barePack e-Hongbao gift cards for CNY which could make for an original, safe and useful gift for your employees this Chinese New Year.

2020 has been a challenging year but the Covid pandemic at least opened our eyes to the problems in our society. 2021 will be hard, if we do things well, but the start of fixing what we’ve seen can no longer go on doing business-as-usual.

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