The impact that the pandemic has had on the workplace environment has changed the way business is conducted. The skyline of many American cities may look the same as it did pre-COVID, but inside those buildings there are likely to be fewer people.
“Prior to COVID, 20% worked from home,” observed Michael Hutton, VP of strategic accounts for Dallas-based Business Flooring Specialists. “Now it’s 70%. A recent Gallup poll found 56% of U.S. workers were ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’ working remotely.”
Fewer full-time staff in-office has remodeling plans adjusting to accommodate social distancing and creatively using flooring color or styles to designate workspaces, common areas and conference areas. To encourage staff to return to the office and continue to be in the workplace more often, some companies are adding sleep, meditation and fitness rooms as added wellness amenities that all utilize resilient flooring solutions for both performance and aesthetic reasons.
The original wave of lockdowns in the spring of 2020 acquainted many more companies and their employees to the practice of working from home, and the advantages of higher productivity, potentially less stress and expense and time savings from the actual daily commute to the office. Based on the growing success and popularity of telecommuting, a hybrid solution has begun to take shape in many commercial environments that is being evaluated to continue post-pandemic.
Employees may now work with in-office/out-of-office flexibility. This strategy enables many employers to improve retention rates, because in today’s office, the majority reports they would change jobs for a more flexible work environment. The other component that complicates and impacts working from home is educating children in addition to completed work. Flexibility of hours has been needed to accommodate various “life” schedules for employees.
Resilient Flooring Advantages
The fear and concern among employees and employers for the spread of communicable diseases such as COVID, and now the emerging COVID-19 Delta Variant, in a confined commercial workspace is real. Specification and installation of hard surface resilient flooring, as a part of office space remodels or new construction, has always been a popular choice because of reasonable initial cost, performance, durability, styling and aesthetics that contribute to branding strategies. With the pandemic focused on cleaning and disinfection, the ease of maintenance has continued to increase the specifications for resilient flooring, promoting confidence in the safety of the work environment.
Employers obviously have little control on the workplace at home, other than encouraging employees practice good hand washing hygiene including the use of hand sanitizer, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, and staying home if having symptoms or feeling ill.
Ease of Maintenance
The two most preferred floor coverings in the workplace are resilient flooring and modular carpet tiles. Resilient flooring provides a hard surface that is easier for cleaning and disinfection. Proper maintenance of workplace flooring surfaces can limit the spread of infection, similar to cleaning and disinfecting other high-touch surfaces (or fomites), such as buttons on all copier and other equipment, telephones, light switches, computer mouse pads, drinking fountain, arms and backs of seating, trash cans, vending machines, etc.
Because resilient flooring is a hard versus soft or porous surface (textile, fiber, etc.), popular flooring types such as luxury vinyl plank or tiles, vinyl sheet, rubber or linoleum can easily be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. The EPA List N is the reference document for registered products available that are anticipated to be effective against SARS-CoV-2 inactivation. However, even if a disinfecting chemical is included on the EPA List N for efficacy, it does not mean that the chemical will not damage surfaces. Therefore, all surfaces within a workplace being cleaned and disinfected (including the flooring) need to be reviewed for compliance with the material, surface or product manufacturer recommendations and the cleaner or disinfectant chemical manufacturer to verify that the chemistries are compatible and will not degrade the material, surface or product.
For chemical disinfectants that are effective as well as the least caustic, use the EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE)-Certified Disinfectants and follow label instructions. A list of DfE-certified disinfectants on List N is available at www.epa.gov/pesticide-labels/dfe-certified-disinfectants and found by typing into the search box “Disinfectants for use against the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19)”.
It is also important to note that advanced wear layers found on most resilient flooring products eliminate the necessity for harsh chemical solutions for regular cleaning. Resilient floors usually only require to be swept and damp mopped with a pH neutral cleaner. This maintenance advantage reduces the chemicals (and related volatile organic compound emissions) that workers are exposed to and saves time and money for the business in the process.
Indoor Air Quality
In addition to ease of cleaning and disinfecting, resilient flooring positively contributes to indoor air quality and wellness in the workplace. Today’s resilient flooring, and even many of the adhesives used to install some resilient flooring products, is designed to emit very little to no VOCs into the air. VOCs are found in almost every workplace interior finishing and equipment product, from paint, to desks and cabinets, to office supplies.
VOCs are known to cause a variety of adverse health effects, from eye, nose and throat irritation to fatigue and dizziness; therefore, the resilient flooring industry supported the creation of a standard and subsequent certification, FloorScore® that addresses indoor air quality. The FloorScore certification is one of the most well-known and frequently searched for and referenced by the design community.
When specifying resilient flooring, look for the FloorScore designation, which is the designer’s assurance that the specified floor has been third-party tested to contribute to good air quality due to greatly reduced VOCs (following California building code Section 01350). Developed by the Resilient Floor Covering Institute (RFCI) and certified by SCS Global Services, FloorScore certification sets strict limits on the types and amounts of VOCs that can be emitted by non-carpet flooring products.
Ortho-phthalates have been used as plasticizers to make vinyl products flexible. However, there have been some concerns raised regarding the potential of ortho-phthalates being endocrine disruptors. As a result, in 2010, the resilient flooring industry began replacing ortho-phthalates with terra-phthalate plasticizers that have no known impact on the endocrine system. Terra-phthalates can be made from renewable or bio-resources such as soybeans, palm oils or castor oils. Today, all RFCI member manufacturers use only terra-phthalate plasticizers in their vinyl flooring.
Another concern that has been addressed is the utilization of heavy metals for stabilizers in flooring formulations. Heavy metals (lead, hexavalent chromium, cadmium and mercury) testing can be completed per test method EPA SW 846 Method 3052 and not exceed the limits of 100 PPM by combined weight. No intentionally added heavy metals are utilized by RFCI members that manufacturer vinyl flooring.
For vinyl rigid core resilient flooring products, it is recommended to look for the Assure® certification, which includes third party testing reflecting no intentionally added ortho-phthalates or heavy metals.
Health & Wellness Building Certifications
In addition to product certifications, the pandemic has created a need to address occupant health within buildings in context of COVID-19 and community acquired infections, resulting in the development of Fitwel’s Viral Response Module (VRM) that sets standard for safeguarding occupant health and wellness including a third-party certification to mitigate viral transmission in buildings. The WELL Health-Safety Rating certification system has also been developed, focusing on operational policies and procedures, maintenance processes and the development of emergency preparedness plans to address a post-COVID-19 world.
Wellness and staff satisfaction in the workplace coupled with the ability to retain workers are important measures to be tracked by the employer. Having a safe, well-designed environment will be a more welcoming and comfortable environment in which to return to work. The use of resilient flooring, with all of its advantages – ease of cleaning and disinfecting, reasonable installation and maintenance costs, contribution to healthier indoor air quality, durability and performance makes it the successful flooring solution for workplace environments.
Read next: How to Specify Cleanable Surfaces for Healthcare