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Coronavirus: Preparing the Office for Returning Employees

We've finally seen the initial easing of the lock-down restrictions in the UK, raising the possibility that it won't be too long before the bulk of the workforce will be allowed to return to work. For office workers this could mean a very different environment to the one they left. 

Now’s the time for employers to have a good think about the steps they need to take to be up to speed when restrictions are lifted.

Added on 15.05.2020

Do you have room?

First thoughts will probably be about space. Depending on how many people have been furloughed, made redundant, or will remain working from home, you’ll need to decide if you’ll need extra room to comply with social distancing.

It's a good idea to start planning right now: the last thing you want is to lose valuable time in transition, not to mention the possibility of encountering difficulties in sourcing materials and building contractors, as these will both be in high demand.

This might be the time to speak to your landlord to see if they have any input. If you think you will have to incur costs to change the layout of the office it’s definitely worth asking the landlord if they would be prepared to share these costs.

Involve all departments

Depending on the size of your business, it might be a good idea to put together a 'Return to Work' planning team. There will be legal, HR, IT, Health & Safety, Logistical and Operational considerations. The key is to get people involved from all appropriate departments. You might be surprised how many employees will be keen to have an input.

Ask your employees for their views

Once you have your team assembled, you could take the opportunity to reach out to the rest of the workforce (perhaps with a questionnaire) so that they can let you know if they have any reservations about returning to work, or what their preferences are in relation to working from home or in the office. They could also let you know if they live with a vulnerable person and how they plan to travel into the office.

Safety

The Chartered Institute for people development (CIPD) have suggested that we all ask three key questions:

  • Is it ESSENTIAL?
  • Is it SAFE?
  • Is it mutually AGREED?

At the forefront of all our thoughts will be safety. Before anyone can step back into the workplace the office will need to be well prepared. The things that you will need to think about are:

  • having the office deep cleaned and then cleaning more regularly;
  • ensuring that there is sanitiser available in all common areas, especially near the lifts and at the entrances and exits;
  • reconfiguring with social distancing in mind, so that people aren’t sharing desks (hot-desking) and are at least 2m apart; 
  • erecting screens between desks and have people facing away from each other (particularly if you can’t get the desks 2m apart. 

Thinking about how people will move around the office space will be key and you'll need to plan this so that workers stay 2m apart. This could mean any or all of the following:

  • restricting access to certain areas;
  • introducing one-way flows (as we've seen in the supermarkets);
  • using floor tape to mark out areas to ensure that employees keep to the 2m rule;
  • closing the kitchen, canteen and vending machines;
  • encourage people to bring in their own food and drink;
  • discouraging people from going out for lunch;
  • having highly visible signage all over the workplace encouraging good hygiene, social distancing and use of the sanitisers.

There are a few other practicalities and precautions that you can think about taking:

  • avoiding face to face meetings, so continuing to conduct meetings via conference calls and video link platforms;
  • managing occupancy levels and allowing working from home where appropriate;
  • regulation of high traffic areas such as walkways and lifts;
  • how you will handle any CovID-19 related friction or complaints;
  • installation of a thermal body temperature screening camera.

We think that by far the most important objective will be that everyone feels completely comfortable and safe in their new (and slightly weird) working environment.

The new normal

One thing is certain: the workplace will change drastically and, in some ways, forever. Naturally this will cause some anxiety at first, but hopefully we can eventually take some positives from the situation. With more people working from home, we could be looking at more productivity and a smaller outlay for employers, while at the same time a better quality of life for employees. Less commutes, more time with family and friends and timeout for ourselves.  This can only be a good thing. 

From a community point of view, we've learnt to look out for each other, and we’ve realised that there are vulnerable people all around us who need our consideration and support. While most of us have been at home so far, there’s no reason why we can’t bring that same spirit back into the workplace when this is all over.