Are Paper Processes Contributing to the Spread of Coronavirus in Your Office?

by Libby Bevin on April 14, 2020

When recently surveyed about the impact of Coronavirus on HR, 89% of public sector respondents said that keeping employees healthy was their biggest concern. Given that 92% still have some portion of their employees working from the office, that means the majority of HR professionals are being forced to rethink how they conduct daily operations in their physical environments.

From decreasing face-to-face interaction, disinfecting surfaces, maintaining distancing, and providing employees with hand sanitizer, there’s no shortage of recommendations for reducing the spread from colleague to colleague. But there is one that’s conspicuously missing from the conversation, especially in public sector organizations where many processes still remain manual.

Even as we've obsessed over whether our Amazon boxes and DoorDash bags could be infected, researched how to safely use credit card machines, and sought out tips for effectively sanitizing the handles of a shopping cart at the grocery store, how did we overlook the risk of continuing with manual paper-based processes?

According to WebMD, the Coronavirus lives up to 5 days on paper. Coupled with research from the University of New South Wales that the average person touches their face 23 times per hour, the risk of the virus spreading from paper to hand to face (via the mucous membranes through the eyes, nose, and mouth) is significant.

For those of us who are lucky enough to currently be working remotely, there's a good chance that when we return to the office, we won't be in a 100% safe zone. The Coronavirus is unlikely to be completely eradicated. Even if it is, we’ll look at our routines, meetings, and communal break room gatherings through a new lens of risk assessment. Organizations will overhaul the processes they had in place in the past. Minimizing unnecessary contact by implementing touchless processes will be the foundation of that. 

In China, they are already planning for it. A leading US commercial real estate firm is helping companies there get over one million people back to work. Based on World Health Organization recommendations and the advice of medical specialists, they’ve developed a new office space concept that provides six feet between workstations, rules for traffic flow, and additional ventilation. We can probably speculate that eliminating all routing of paper between individuals will be another given for post-pandemic offices.

Public sector organizations have been known to use outdated processes, including literal paper pushing, and modernization has long been a necessity. Perhaps COVID-19 will be the impetus for the overdue change, as software will be justified less by its ability to improve efficiencies, and more as a must-have for providing a safe and healthy workplace.

After the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will see a changed world. As White House advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said, "I don't think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you. Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease -- it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country." 

Why wouldn't we look at handling paper the same way?

Libby Bevin

Libby Bevin is a content writer and editor for NEOGOV. Libby earned a Master of Arts in English Literature and Language from Wake Forest University and a Bachelor of Arts in English and History from Stetson University. Contact Libby at lbevin@neogov.net.