Some offices are now being redesigned to incorporate wider corridors and doorways plus the addition of more staircases to allow people to avoid using the lift.

Preventing the spread of germs via hand contact involves other challenges. Equipment such as keyboards, desks, power points and light switches tend to be touched by multiple people in meeting rooms. Office designers are reporting an increase in inquiries from companies concerning antimicrobial surfaces and UV lights which could be used for cleaning anything from a keyboard to an entire room. Meanwhile, some buildings are incorporating ‘contactless pathways’ where doors are opened automatically and where lifts may be ordered remotely via smartphone.

Larger conferences and exhibitions pose different social distancing challenges – and these begin from day one when crowds of delegates congregate at the entrance to register and to collect their passes.

These logjams could be significantly eased by means of remote registration via our phones, which could also be used to display our passes. Besides eliminating registration queues this would remove the need for staff and delegates to handle lanyards and physical passes.

In a typical three or four-day conference, the middle day or days are usually the busiest. However, if all visitors were allocated one or two days and perhaps a specific time-slot to enter, social distancing inside the exhibition area would be more achievable and there would be a steadier flow of visitors to each stand.

Indicators on the floors could be used to encourage visitors to walk in a one-way flow to minimise transmission, and conferences that traditionally take up one hall could be spread over two to provide more space for everyone. Casual visits to stands could also be replaced with a more rigid appointment system with meetings held in social-distancing-friendly areas behind the stand.

Washrooms at conference and exhibition centres represent their own challenges. Bottlenecks inside these facilities could compromise the safety of delegates, so a ‘one-in, one-out’ system similar to that adopted by supermarkets could be imposed to prevent overcrowding. However, this would inevitably lengthen the queues.

Waiting times could be reduced by increasing toilet provision, perhaps by installing more portable cubicles. Another solution would be to adopt a ticket system for washroom use which would enable delegates to continue to walk around the exhibition hall until their ‘washroom number’ is called.

Once inside the washroom, automatic taps and flush systems will prevent the need for hand contact where possible, while all dispensers will be designed to ensure that each visitor only touches the towel or length of toilet tissue they use.

Soap dispensers should be ergonomic and quick to use while hand drying should be achievable swiftly and thoroughly.

Hand-drying time may be cut by at least a third when using a paper towel compared with even the fastest of air dryers. Bins should be placed near the door so that visitors can take a towel and move on, drying their hands as they head for the exit. And a mini hand towel dispenser by the door and a small bin placed outside will enable the user to open the door handle using a clean towel, and then dispose of that towel immediately afterwards.

Cleaning rounds should also be as efficient as possible because cleaners will take up space in the washroom - and this will have an impact on social distancing. However, the advent of COVID-19 has alerted us all to the importance of washrooms being kept clean and well stocked.

Remote checks via a smartphone or tablet using software such as Tork EasyCube will enable staff to keep on top of the refill and cleaning situation without physically entering the premises. Tork Digital Cleaning Plans are another good solution since these connect cleaners and managers, keeping everyone informed in real time so that checks and refills may be logged on to the system.

“Bottlenecks inside conference and

exhibition centres could compromise the safety of delegates, so a ‘one-in, one-out’ policy could be imposed to prevent overcrowding.”

Some hand washing facilities could be moved outside the washroom, with open sinks and hand drying facilities supplied along with sanitiser dispensers. These will serve as a second reminder to people to wash their hands while also freeing up space inside the washroom. Delegates, visitors and exhibitors should all be given easy access to hand sanitisers so that they can cleanse their hands between each interaction.

Holding a business meeting, conference or exhibition in the post-COVID-19 world will not be easy, and many of us will feel nervous about heading back into a crowd.

According to a new poll by Ipsos MORI, 67% of UK people say they will feel uncomfortable going to large public gatherings compared to how they felt before the virus.

But unless we are prepared to spend the rest of our working lives behind a screen, a new normal will have to be reached. Our resourcefulness during lockdown has taught us that we are creative and adaptable. So, with a greater emphasis placed on cleaning and hygiene there is every hope that meetings of the future will be as safe and productive as they have been in the past. TOMORROW’S FM | 51

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