10 Best Practices for Reopening Businesses

By Farid Nat
Engineering Analyst
Sustainable Investment Group (SIG)

As buildings begin to reopen for regular business in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, it is important to consider ways that buildings can reduce the potential transmission of this disease within the building. The ultimate goal is to make the reopening of these buildings and return to normalcy as safe and seamless as possible. So, here are 10 things buildings can do as they begin to reoccupy that can reduce the risk of transmission within the building:

1. Increase Ventilation and Use of Outside Air

Commercial HVAC System being testedBy increasing ventilation rates and the introduction of new, outside air, the risk of transmission of highly contagious respiratory infections such as COVID-19 can be vastly reduced. This is because increased ventilation substantially reduces the concentration of particulates like bacteria or viruses that may stick around in the air [1].

2. Control Indoor Relative Humidity

Both the Center of Active Design and ASHRAE recommend maintaining indoor humidity at a level between 40% and 60% as this significantly reduces the infectivity of airborne viruses such as COVID-19. Having your HVAC system set to create an indoor humidity within this range can reduce the chances of transmission of the infection within your building [2].

3. Consider Upgrading Air Filtration Systems

If your HVAC system has filters with less than MERV 13 level filtration, it may be worth upgrading these filters if possible, within the confines of your HVAC system. MERV 13 or greater levels of filtration can reduce the chances of infection 31% to 47% compared to areas without filtration, and even higher level filters, such as HEPA filters or MERV 16 filters can trap over 95% of particles the size of viruses such as COVID-19 [2].

4. Change the Use of Certain Areas

Another way to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 would be to change the way that certain areas are used. For example, the use of common areas should be reduced, or at least allow for people in these common spaces to maintain a distance 6 feet apart. Also, in closed offices or conference rooms, try to keep doors open to increase airflow in and out of the room and prevent the virus from remaining in one place [3].

5. Ensure the Maintenance of Social Distancing

Social distancing is one of the simplest ways to reduce the potential transmission of COVID-19. The droplets that contain COVID-19 mostly do not travel further than 6 feet, so trying to ensure that every person in the office maintains this 6-foot gap can vastly reduce the likelihood of transmission. This can be done by moving office spaces apart, using stairs rather than elevators, and using the next process on this list as well [4].

graphic image showing a social distance of 6 feet

6. Consider 6 Foot Routing

6 Foot routing is the process of creating unique ways for traffic to flow through each office to maintain 6-foot distances between all people in the office. It was found that 16% of influenza transmission occurs in the workplace, so taking measures such as this, can reduce the risk of not only COVID-19 but also potential future infectious diseases [4].

7. Conduct Thorough and Frequent Cleaning of Common Areas

All surfaces such as desks and tables, as well as telephones, keyboards, or other frequently used devices or objects should be frequently cleaned. If an infected individual comes into contact with one of these objects or surfaces, they may leave traces of the infection on that, so if someone else comes in contact with it before it is cleaned, it could result in transmission. As a result, thorough and frequent cleaning to kill the virus or infection is vital to reducing the spread [5].

hand washing sign | wash you hands8. Provide the Means and Education for Physical Hygiene

Posting educational signs in bathrooms on proper handwashing techniques and to encourage them is vital in preventing the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19. Also having automatic hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the building can encourage people to consider their physical hygiene and can kill infectious diseases, preventing their spreading, since physical contact may not always be preventable [5].

9. Encourage Respiratory Hygiene

Encouraging the use of items that can help with respiratory hygiene can also be beneficial to reducing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Displaying posters encouraging this, as well as providing face masks, personal protective equipment like respirators, and even paper tissues can all contribute to reducing the spread of COVID-19 [5].

10. Consider Investing in Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation

photo of Ultraviolet Germicidal IrradiationAlthough potentially costly time-consuming, the installation of UV-lamps inside HVAC ductwork can reduce the spread of infectious diseases through the air, as the UV light inactivates microorganisms as they pass through the ducts. This does not take precedence over regular filtration, but can act as an extra buffer, enhancing air quality and reducing the chances for diseases such as COVID-19 of spreading [1].

Keep in mind this is not an exhaustive list, and it will not necessarily ensure that COVID-19 will not be transmitted, but these measures can significantly reduce the likelihood of transmission. For more resources and comprehensive information, check out our COVID-19 Resources tab under Consulting on the SIG website or visit this link.


[1] https://www.ashrae.org/technical-resources/resources

[2] https://sigearth.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Research-to-Action-Chapter-1-2020.pdf

[3] https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/imm/covid-19-residential-buildings-faq.pdf

[4] https://www.cushmanwakefield.com/en/insights/covid-19/recovery-readiness-a-how-to-guide-for-reopening-your-workplace

[5] https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/getting-workplace-ready-for-covid-19.pdf

[6] http://www.afancoil.com/ultra-violet-c-uv-c

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