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Operations Playbook

As we prepare for a phased re-opening of commercial and public activities, there are a variety of operational decisions that business leaders need to consider. Chief among these are updates to sanitization practices and ensuring that the worksite is correctly prepared and maintained. The continuous and effective communication of these changes is also critical.

& Safety


& Threats


Health & Safety


Standards and practices relating to cleanliness need re-evaluation to ensure the health and safety of staff, customers and visitors. Recommendations to consider include:

  • Evaluate the building and its mechanical and life safety systems to determine if the building is ready for occupancy. Check for hazards associated with prolonged facility shutdown such as mold growth, rodents or pests or issues with stagnant water systems and take appropriate remedial actions.
  • The workplace should be thoroughly disinfected before anyone returns. This includes tools, workstations, restrooms, common areas, phones and all electronic items.
  • Building plumbing systems should be thoroughly flushed prior to re-entry.
  • Once occupied, develop a plan to determine what needs to be cleaned, how often to clean and if regular disinfection is needed.
  • Generally, the more people who touch a surface, the higher the risk. Prioritize cleaning high-touch surfaces.
  • When no people with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 are known to have been in a space, cleaning once a day is usually enough to sufficiently remove virus that may be on surfaces and help maintain a healthy facility.
  • Disinfecting kills any remaining germs on surfaces, which further reduces any risk of spreading infection.
  • More frequent cleaning might be needed when the space is occupied by young children and others who may not consistently wear masks, wash hands or cover coughs and sneezes.
  • If the space is high traffic or certain conditions apply (if there is high transmission of COVID-19 in your community; low number of people wearing masks or improper mask usage; infrequent hand hygiene; the space is occupied by people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19), you may choose to disinfect after cleaning.
  • Train employees in proper personal hygiene and cleaning and disinfection practices and post notices regarding best practices for hygiene in the workplace.
  • Ensure employees have adequate time to wash their hands and have an adequate supply of cleaners, soap, hand sanitizer, wipes, paper towels and tissues on hand at all times. Employees should wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, they should use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Provide easy and regular access to disinfectant, cleaning products, disposable wipes and hand sanitizers for employees’ workspace and personal hygiene.
  • Ideally, place touchless hand sanitizer stations in multiple locations to encourage hand hygiene.
  • Ensure adequate provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) to staff and visitors. The CDC Burn Rate Calculator available in the resource section below supports figuring out necessary quantities.

HVAC Systems

Ensure that HVAC systems in your facility operate properly and take steps to improve ventilation and filtration. Recommendations for commercial buildings and schools are below:

Commercial Office Buildings

  • General
    • Verify HVAC controls are operable, remote monitoring available and alarming capabilities.
    • Verify and commission the HVAC systems to ensure at least minimum outside air are delivered to each space per ASHRAE Standards 62.1 and outdoor air dampers are properly controlled.
    • Continued operation of all systems is recommended during occupied hours.
    • Outside air for ventilation should be increased to as much as the HVAC system can accommodate. If there are significant energy impacts, use minimum outside air as required by Standard 62.1 with MERV-13 filter minimum.
    • Evaluate building occupied hours, adjust as necessary (for example, extend building hours to encourage physical distancing).
    • Flushing sequence or mode should be implemented to operate the HVAC system with maximum outside air flow for two hours before and after occupied times, or, achieve three air changes of outside air in the space.
    • Consider UV/C light as an enhancement where spaces require additional measures, e.g. spaces that serve vulnerable occupants, or, MERV-13 filter or 100% outside air are not possible, etc.
  • Consider opening windows as an enhancement for outside air, especially when the system cannot accommodate MERV-13 filter or 100% outside air.
  • Post warning signs if exhaust outlets are near pedestrian areas; consider diverting to avoid them.
  • Cooling coils, heating coils, condensate drain pans and humidifiers inside air handling equipment can become contaminated.
    • Consider adding ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) for coil surface and drain pan disinfection. If coils are fouled or mechanical cleaning is still required, consider cleaning coils and drain pans using a foaming agent to ensure breakthrough through the coil (avoid using pressure washing to not re-aerosolize particles on the surface).
  • Heat Recovery Devices
    • Some energy wheels have the potential of cross contamination between the intake and exhaust air stream.
    • When heat or energy recovery devices (heat wheels or enthalpy wheels) used in air handling systems and dedicated outdoor air systems (DOAS) serve more than one space, consider whether the energy recovery device should remain in operation.
    • Refer to ASHRAE specific guidance on energy recovery device operation during epidemics and pandemics for further information.
    • Other heat recovery devices that decouple the intake and exhaust air streams such as run-around coils, plate heat exchanges and heat pipes can continue to operate.
  • Unoccupied Hours
    • If a space has occupants after hours (e.g. cleaning crew, maintenance workers, etc.), the space should be operational.
    • As a minimum, the ventilation system, toilet and other relevant exhaust systems should be on, if the space is within the comfort zone.
    • Consider only operating necessary spaces after hours (e.g. limit the operation of ventilation and exhaust system per actual location of the cleaning or maintenance workers; designated toilet location for security staff, etc.).
    • When toilets are expected to be used or cleaned, the toilet exhaust fans should be on, and should remain on for 20 minutes (or three air changes of the toilet room) after the usage. The relevant makeup system should run accordingly.
    • The two hours of flushing should happen after significant activities, during unoccupied hours when no, or minimal, occupants are in the space.
  • Operate and Maintain HVAC System
    • Dampers, filter and economizers seals and frames should be intact and clean, functional and responding to control signals.
    • Evaluate return air (RA) and exhaust air (EA) grille/register placement. If possible, modify space/furniture so air passageway avoids occupants.
    • Zone and air temperature, humidity, CO2, PM2.5, PM10, etc. system sensors, as applicable, should be calibrated and accurately reporting environmental conditions to the building automation system (BAS) or local controllers.
    • Air handling systems should provide adequate airflow with no blockages in the duct system (for example — closed fire/smoke dampers) and air from the air handling system should reach each occupied space.
    • Ensure exhaust fans are functional and venting to the outdoors.
    • Update or replace existing HVAC air filtration to a minimum of MERV 13 or the highest compatible with the filter rack, and seal edges of the filter to limit by-pass. Make sure the air handling systems and fans can overcome the additional pressure drop of the new filters and still maintain air flow at acceptable levels.


  • Temperature and Humidity Design
    • Winter classroom recommendation: 72 F/40-50% relative humidity
    • Summer classroom recommendation: 75 F/50-60% relative humidity
  • Ventilation Design
    • Follow current ASHRAE 62.1 standard or local ventilation standards for minimum outside air requirements.
    • For remodeling an existing Air Handling Unit (AHU), increase outside air to maximum allowable per AHU without compromising indoor thermal comfort for learning environment or space indoor air quality (IAQ).
    • For Dedicated Outdoor Air Systems (DOAS) that are being replaced, size unit capacity for at least 150% of code minimum flow.
    • During the pandemic, disable any Demand Control Ventilation (DCV) and introduce the maximum possible outdoor air (OA) flow 24/7 until further notice (including DOAS).
    • Apply and utilize outdoor air quality sensors or reliable web-based data for outdoor pollution information as part of the new ventilation operation.
  • Filtration Design
    • Use of at least MERV-13 rated filters is recommended if it does not adversely impact system operation.
    • If MERV-13 filters cannot be used, including when there is no mechanical ventilation of a space, portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) air cleaners in occupied spaces may be considered.
  • Operation and Scheduling Guidelines for Existing Air Handling Units (AHUs) during the Pandemic
    • Cooling and Heating Equipment
      • Change the start of operation hours (e.g. change 6 a.m. start to 4 a.m.) and run DOAS units two hours before and after occupancy to create a thermal lag and minimize HVAC operations when occupied.
    • Exhaust Fans
      • On school days, turn on exhaust fans when DOAS is running to flush the building with outdoor air and positively pressurize the building.
    • Dedicated Outdoor Air Systems (DOAS)
      • Run DOAS units two hours before and after occupancy as part of new DOAS sequence of operation.
      • For DOAS units equipped with active, thermally operated desiccant dehumidifier, consult the manufacturer for safe operation.
      • For new installations, designer should designate a “Purge/Flush” mode for operations to minimize the virus transmission via HVAC systems.
    • Energy Recovery
      • Many air handling system types (central air handling units, DOAS units, terminal systems, etc.) include Energy Recovery Ventilation (ERV) systems.
      • Some types or configurations for energy recovery systems allow for exhaust air transfer from the exhaust airstream to the supply airstream, while others do not. Depending on system configuration, this may be cause for concern. Refer to ASHRAE specific guidance on energy recovery device operation during epidemics and pandemics for further information.
    • AHU’s and Packaged Rooftop Units
      • Increase filtration efficiency in existing air systems.
      • Compensate for loss of capacity in winter with portable plug in electric heaters or higher discharge temperatures.
      • Compensate for loss of capacity in summer with lower discharge temperatures off of AHU — recommend 52 F.
      • Check and fix economizer dampers and controls and maximize the economizer operation when possible (favorable outdoor conditions and outdoor air pollution).
      • Check, fix and modify control sequences in variable air volume (VAV) systems to avoid outdoor air flow /minimum outdoor air (OA) air flow shortage.
      • In VAV systems maximize the total supply air flow in each VAV terminal when the system is in full economizer mode.
      • Minimize the unit air recirculation to minimize zones cross contamination thru the return air system.
      • Install UV/C lights, ionization in AHU’s. UV/C lights a destructive to filter media. Ensure no UV lights shall shine on filters.
      • Install Humidifiers in AHUs and Packaged rooftop units if possible.
      • Install duct mounted humidifiers at classrooms as an alternate.
    • Local HVAC units
      • Increase Filtration to the maximum MERV suggested by the manufacturer.
      • Compensate for loss of capacity in winter with portable plug in electric heaters or higher discharge temps.
      • Hydronic /Electric radiators / baseboard can remain operational.
      • Check unit ventilators for proper amounts of OA and operation.
      • Install Portable humidifiers in each classroom for local humidity control.
    • Space Air Flow
      • Ensure airflow patterns in classrooms are adjusted to minimize occupant exposure to particles.
      • Recommended guidance is to provide lowest possible particulate concentration anywhere in the space.

Screening Protocols

Prevent exposure and infection in the workplace. Recommendations to consider include:

  • Actively encourage employees who have symptoms of COVID-19 to notify their supervisor and stay home. Employees should not return to work until they have met the criteria to discontinue home isolation and have consulted with a healthcare provider.
  • Employees who have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 should notify their supervisor and stay home until the criteria to discontinue home isolation are met, unless:
    • The exposed close contact was diagnosed with COVID-19 infection during the previous three-month time period and shows no symptoms or if the exposed close contact has been fully vaccinated against the disease and shows no symptoms.
  • Consider conducting daily in-person or virtual health checks (e.g. symptom and temperature screening) of employees before they enter the facility, in accordance with state and local public health authorities.
  • For virtual health checks, encourage individuals to self-screen prior to coming on site. An electronic monitoring system could be implemented in which, prior to arrival at the facility, employees report absence of fever and symptoms of COVID-19, absence of a diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the prior 10 days, confirm they have not been exposed to others with SARS-CoV-2 infection during the prior 14 days and confirm they are not undergoing evaluation for SARS-CoV-2 infection such as pending viral test.
  • For in-person health checks, conduct them safely and respectfully and in a way that maintains social distancing of workers in and entering the screening area.
  • Employees who appear to have symptoms upon arrival at work or who become sick during the day should immediately be separated from other employees, customers and visitors and sent home.
  • Perform enhanced cleaning and disinfection after anyone suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 has been in the workplace.
  • Establish communication protocols when workers have been potentially exposed.
  • Establish worker sickness reporting protocols.
  • Evaluate and adjust sick leave policies to reflect the need for isolation and incentivize workers who are sick to stay home.
  • Provide accommodations for vulnerable populations.
  • Communicate workplace policies clearly, frequently and via multiple methods. Employers may need to communicate with non-English speakers in their preferred languages.

Revisiting the Physical Worksite

Thoughtful changes to the place of business can help ensure that staff, customers and visitors are kept safe. Recommendations to consider include:

  • Conduct a thorough hazard assessment of the workplace to identify potential workplace hazards that could increase risks for COVID-19 transmission.
  • The physical worksite should be marked with six-foot guides to allow staff, customers and visitors to easily adhere to recommended guidelines for distancing.
  • Entrance and exit areas, parking lots, break rooms, locker rooms, elevators, lobbies, hallways and staircases should be marked with visual cues and directional indicators. Limit use and occupancy of elevators to maintain social distancing of at least six feet. NOTE: Download a DSM Forward elevator and stairwell signage template.
  • Reception or common area furniture should be spaced out. Arrange reception or other communal seating area chairs by turning, draping (covering chair with tape or fabric so seats cannot be used), spacing or removing chairs to maintain social distancing. Common areas that function as amenity spaces (for example: fitness centers, meeting rooms) should be closed for 30 days following re-entry.
  • Workstations should be reconfigured to increase separation distance and workstation and equipment sharing practices should be reduced. Install transparent shields or other physical barriers where possible to separate employees and visitors where social distancing is not an option. In workspaces without assigned workstations, consider temporarily assigning employees to specific workstations for a specific period.
  • Additional waste receptacles for PPE should be added, especially around entry and exit areas. Use no-touch waste receptacles when possible.
  • Replace high-touch communal items, such as coffee pots, water coolers and bulk snacks, with alternatives such as pre-packaged, single-serving items.
  • Encourage the use of outdoor seating areas and social distancing for any small group activities such as lunches, breaks and meetings.
  • When possible, all non-essential doors should be propped open to reduce the need for direct contact.
  • Ensure ventilation and water systems operate properly.
  • Post signs and reminders at entrances and in strategic places providing instruction on hand hygiene, cough and sneeze etiquette and COVID-19 symptoms. Signs should remind individuals that those who have a fever, cough or any sign of sickness should not enter. Post signs for non-English speakers, as needed.

Workplace Vaccination Program

Employers should assess options for vaccinating your workforce. Options include on-site at the workplace and off-site in the community.

Consider a workplace vaccination program if you have:

  • A large number of workers on site with predictable schedules
  • Ability to enroll with your jurisdiction’s immunization program as a vaccination provider, including appropriately training staff, or engage an enrolled vaccination provider
  • A location with enough space to stand up a vaccination clinic while maintaining social distancing through the entire process, from screening to post-vaccination observation

Consider off-site vaccination if you:

  • Are a small- or medium-sized organization that does not have the resources to host a vaccination clinic
  • Have mobile worker populations that frequently move from one job site to the next
  • Have workers with highly variable schedules
  • Have a majority of workers who would prefer vaccination in a community clinic rather than an employer-run clinic

Employers can build vaccine confidence by following these steps:

  • Encourage your leaders to be vaccine champions. These leaders should reflect the diversity of the workforce. Invite them to share with staff their personal reasons for getting vaccinated and remind staff why it’s important to be vaccinated.
  • Communicate transparently to all workers about vaccination.
  • Create a communication plan. Share key messages with staff through breakroom posters, emails and other channels. Emphasize the benefits of protecting themselves, their families, co-workers and community.
  • Provide regular updates on topics like the benefits, safety, side effects and effectiveness of vaccination; clearly communicate what is not known.
  • Make visible the decision to get vaccinated and celebrate it! Provide stickers for workers to wear after vaccination and encourage them to post selfies on social media.

The CDC created the COVID-19 Vaccine Communication Toolkit for Essential Workers to help employers reinforce confidence in this important prevention tool. Whether vaccination is at the workplace or in the community, employers should:

  • Offer flexible, non-punitive sick leave options (e.g., paid sick leave) for employees with signs and symptoms after vaccination.
  • Allow time for vaccine confidence to grow. Workers who are hesitant at first may become more confident after seeing coworkers get vaccinated. Employers with an onsite clinic should offer more than one opportunity for vaccination. Mobile clinics can return to a worksite multiple times on a rotating schedule. Employers using community locations can provide supportive policies (e.g., paid leave, transportation support) for an extended period of time.
  • Ask organizations and individuals who are respected in employee communities to help you build confidence in COVID-19 vaccines.

Business Practices

Review Workforce Practices

Review workforce practices to help prevent exposure to COVID-19. Recommendations to consider include:

  • Evaluate whether any more employees can feasibly work remotely and to the extent reasonable, take steps to enable such employees to work from home. The ongoing use of virtual meetings, conferences and service provision should be prioritized. When this is not possible, stagger shifts, start times and break times as feasible to reduce physical proximity at any given time and minimize people on site.
  • Face masks and other PPE should be worn in accordance with the most up to date recommendations from the local public health department.  
  • Require adherence to newly mandated workplace practices (e.g. masks, social distancing, etc.) by all individuals to protect themselves and their co-workers from infection.
  • Consider posting signs in parking areas and entrances reminding guests and visitors to wear cloth face coverings if possible, to not enter the building if they are sick and to stay six feet away from employees, if possible.
  • Encourage the use of electronic forms of payment or contactless systems. Where cash must be exchanged, ensure there are adequate supplies to clean between transactions (hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes for pens, etc.).
  • Set "no personal contact" rules regarding handshaking, hugging and other physical contact.
  • Establish a clear (short- and/or medium-term) policy regarding limits and restrictions on business travel. Encourage disclosure of personal travel destinations.
  • Consider offering the following support for employees who commute to work using public transportation or ride-sharing:
    • Offer employees incentives to use forms of transportation that minimize close contact with others, such as offering reimbursement for parking for commuting to work alone or single-occupancy rides.
    • Allow employees to shift their hours so they can commute during less busy times.
    • Ask employees to wash their hands as soon as possible after their trip.
  • Include all employees in the workplace in communication plans (e.g., management, staff, utility employees, relief employees, janitorial staff, maintenance staff and supervisory staff). If contractors are employed in the workplace, develop plans to communicate with the contracting company regarding modifications to work processes and requirements for the contractors to prevent transmission of COVID-19.


Virtual site entry preparation sessions should be conducted prior to the re-opening of any shared workspaces. Hosting multiple virtual sessions where new workplace policies and procedures are described will ensure clear communication with impacted staff and tenants. Use clear and simple instructions that are in the preferred languages spoken or read by the employees. Record and post sessions so that people may link to them and/or re-watch them. Create an easy system to handle questions. As appropriate, cover instructions for:

  • Infection prevention measures
  • Identification and isolation of sick persons
  • General hygiene
  • Cleaning and disinfection
  • Masks
  • Social distancing
  • Use of PPE
  • Safe work practices
  • Stress management

Put an auditing process in place to make sure processes are being performed by all.

In-Person Events

As businesses resume normal operating activities, they will need to rethink how they host larger meetings and events. Recommendations to consider include:

Pre-Event Communication

  • All pre-event communication should relay health and safety measures being taken at the gathering (e.g. mask wearing, social distancing, food, etc.).
  • Make sure attendees are aware of new meeting etiquette such as refraining from hugging, hand shaking or high fives.

Health and Sanitation

  • Take extra precautions with attendee-facing staff including health screenings, offering flu shots, sneeze guards, masks, gloves and breaks for frequent hand washing.
  • Consider conducting a health screening with all guests during check-in in accordance with the most up to date recommendations from your local public health department.
  • Make hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, soap and water, or similar disinfectant readily available to staff and guests.
  • Incorporate sanitation into the design whenever possible to help ease guests' minds.

Venue Considerations

  • Ensure the hotel or venue is well-ventilated and has enough space to account for social distancing recommendations.
  • Seating arrangements should plan for four – six feet per person instead of the industry standard of two feet.
  • Increase the number and width of the aisles.
  • Check that the venue has ample bandwidth for any web broadcast or digital/virtual component.

Agenda and Timeline

  • Stager groups to avoid queue lines or unnecessary bottlenecks.
  • Build in extra time for sanitation services by the venue.
  • Consider building in extended breaks so guests can get out and get fresh air.


  • Offer multiple and/or separate registration areas.
  • Consider installing plexiglass between registration staff and attendees at check-in.
  • Use floor decals to ensure proper social distancing.
  • Frequently clean any kiosks or contactless products used for check-in.
  • Consider conducting a health screening with all guests during check-in in accordance with the most to date recommendations from your local public health department.

Table Materials

  • Decline pre-set items such as pens and pads and forego communal sharing vessels, like candy dishes and water pitchers.
  • Include sanitation supplies on the tables for surfaces to be wiped down in the moment.

Meal Functions

  • For breakfast and lunch, offer boxed and pre-plated meals for takeaway dining at breakfast and lunch.
  • For dinner evening functions, consider dine-arounds to support local businesses or use multiple onsite hotel outlets to help control group size.
  • Plan for plated meals.
  • Remove communal items like bread baskets and butter from tables.
  • Stagger dining times to minimize groups and avoid groups in elevators.


  • Hold socially distanced, shared group experiences. Such entertainment options include:
  1. Virtual concerts.
  2. At hotels where balconies all face a common area, consider balcony parties with a shared concert experience below.
  3. Offer outdoor concerts in wide open spaces where guests can stretch out but still be entertained.

Hybrid Setting

  • In a hybrid setting of digital and onsite attendees, remember to incorporate design elements for the virtual audience to decrease the difference between the physical event experience and the digital event experience.

Opportunities & Threats

Future Considerations

The physical workspace may be forever changed not only by the massive forced experiment in virtual working during the shutdown, but also by increased health and safety concerns among staff and customers. Notable design cues for the future include:

  • Aesthetically designed visual cues that reinforce recommended distancing. For example, carpets with circular patterns aligned to distancing standards.
  • Increased investment in air quality management systems.
  • Consideration of increased remote work opportunities to optimize space for potential growth and increased efficiency.
  • Alternate venues to allow for socialization otherwise sacrificed by more remote work. This attends to the mental health needs of employees avoiding the adverse effects of a "siege-mentality."

Additional Resources

Legal Disclaimer

The Greater Des Moines Partnership's DSM Forward playbook is not intended to constitute legal advice or provide specific direction. The preparation of a business continuity or preparations plan should be undertaken with the advice and direction of appropriate specialists and personnel, in consideration of the unique circumstances impacting each business. Third-party websites or material linked to or referenced in DSM Forward are for informational purposes only and do not constitute a recommendation of The Partnership of that material or its authors. Last updated: 5/8/2020