Expert on what business leaders can do to keep staff safe during COVID


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — For businesses that are currently open or considered essential there are several steps that can be taken to improve the safety and overall health of staff.

Christine Vargas, the President of Vargas Associates, discussed some of those measures during our Greater Rochester Enterprise Why ROC conversation on Wednesday.

Vargas Associates is a Rochester-based interior design firm that performs project management to help clients implement new designs. “We work with a lot of different sectors including corporate, health care, municipal, and education,” Vargas explained.

When it comes to keeping staff safe during a pandemic, Vargas said there are several factors for business leaders to consider. “Right now we’re going to continue to make sure that our workplaces are as safe as possible and that our employees feel confident that they’re safe. If you have anything that can be removed, if there’s any type of high-touch surfaces that you can substitute another appliance or mechanism for it will help eliminate the constant touching by multiple people. There are some things that we can do from a space planning perspective to make sure that people are properly separated and any transmission of germs would be minimized or eliminated.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many businesses scrambling to make necessary changes and budget for them. Vargas said there are some easy, cost-effective modifications leaders can make quickly to meet CDC recommendations. “The simplest things are communication related – so signage in the workplace reminds people not to resort back to some of the habits that we had, even several months ago, that are easy to just float back into. So, for instance, signage to remind people to make sure they’re wearing their masks, make sure they’re social distancing. There’s going to be spaces within the workplace that you’re going to want to put some taping on the floor to remind people. What I find is that most people are good rule followers. They just need those little hints and reminders so that they can make sure that they’re following those rules.”

Vargas said low-cost panel toppers or workspace dividers are also available for added safety.

Beyond the physical modifications, Vargas said business leaders should engage staff working in-person and remotely. “If managers can afford the time, set up one-on-ones with your staff to check in with them. See how they’re doing from a work perspective but also see how they’re doing on the personal front as well. It’s always nice to have some extra support and taking a little bit of extra time goes a long way.”

Company events can enhance the work experience during these uncertain times. “I know in the beginning there were a lot of happy hours,” said Vargas. “I’ve seen trivia. I’ve seen scavenger hunts. We’re in the middle of football season so maybe if there’s a company effort to do some type of playoff fantasy football, something to just keep people engaged, keep them excited. We still may have several months left to go and so we really do need to be creative in what we’re doing to support our teams because they’re out there supporting our clients.”

Vargas also noted it’s important for business leaders to make sure their staff is prioritizing mental health. For example, leaders can set aside planned meditation time for employees to conduct at appropriate distances, or via Zoom for remote workers.

To learn more about Vargas Associates, visit

To learn more about Greater Rochester Enterprise, visit

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