Working from home has become the new normal for many of us in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown. But tentative steps are now being made to reopen offices and slowly, carefully resume normal life.
But as we return to offices and other workspaces, it won’t quite be ‘business as usual’. To protect staff and limit the spread of coronavirus, a raft of new health and safety measures will need to be put in place. For example, reorganising office space for social distancing, installing handwashing stations, and new schedules for sanitising workspaces and communal rooms.
One innovative startup has even come up with a way to make using offices as ‘hands-free’ as possible. The cloud-based sheet metal manufacturing company Fractory has designed an antimicrobial SafeKey multi-tool, designed to minimise the need to physically touch door handles, lift buttons, ATM machines and other surfaces that could be contaminated with COVID-19 droplets.
Fractory, an award-winning startup based in Manchester, UK, has made the SafeKey from CZ108 grade brass. This alloy contains 64% copper, which in the right quantities (at least 58% copper) is known to provide a hostile antimicrobial environment to bacteria. While COVID-19 can live on other surfaces for many hours and even days, it is destroyed on copper in as little as two hours. The SafeKey can be attached to a belt or clothing with an extendable cord, making it easy and convenient to use.
Explaining how the idea for the SafeKey, fabricated on Fractory’s own laser cutting platform, was developed, CEO Martin Vares says:
“We wanted to ensure the safety of the people in our own company which resulted in this idea. While there were similar products on offer, we created ours from brass, which is known for its anti-microbial properties and added a few more functionalities to SafeKey.
“As it proved really popular among our team and their families, we decided to bring it to the public.”
The challenges of anxiety and mental health in post-Corona offices
The purpose of innovations such as the SafeKey is of course, to reduce the spread of coronavirus in indoor spaces. However, these tools can also play a crucial role in reducing anxiety. Many of us have scarcely ventured out during the coronavirus lockdown, and are understandably anxious about returning to potentially crowded office spaces.
Organisational psychologist Professor Sir Cary Cooper explains:
“We’re still rightly focused on beating and treating the virus, but there will come a time when we need to address people’s legitimate anxieties around leaving the home, being in public space and going back into work. People will have genuine concerns around issues such as hygiene and contamination.
“Workplaces in particular will need to do a lot of planning to minimise anxiety around returning to work. And it will have to go further than extra cleaning and ensuring employees can keep a safe distance from one another. People will need regular updates on the steps their employers are taking to keep them safe.
“Perhaps just as importantly as what we do to protect ourselves, people will be anxious to be seen to be doing everything they can to protect others. We’ll likely see new social behaviours emerge. Mask-wearing is an obvious one that’s already happening and other ‘performative’ behaviours will emerge too, such as people ensuring that they are seen to be sanitising their hands, stepping aside in narrow corridors and avoiding unnecessary contact.”
Even a gadget as seemingly simple as the SafeKey can be hugely effective in reducing anxiety triggers. By making large parts of everyday life ‘hands-free’ and reducing the number of times that shared surfaces are physically touched, workers can get back into their routines without excess worries about handwashing and sanitising.