Returning to the Office after Coronavirus – An Employer’s Guide
Slowly but surely, we’re getting “back to normal” and soon, a Covid-free lifestyle will resume for many of us. Shops and pubs will reopen, gyms and hairdressers will open their doors and we can meet friends and non-bubble folk down the pub for a drink. It also means many Brits will be returning to the physical office so many of our customers are mobilising a return to work plan.
On 22nd February, the UK Government set out a Roadmap for Recovery (here’s the easy-read version in PDF) which means many business owners are preparing to welcome the public and staff through their doors. We outline some
Essential Advice for Your Return to Work Plan
Whether you’re a CEO, office manager, co-working space provider, headteacher or business owner, it is your responsibility to ensure your office space (and front of house space) is COVID compliant. It should be a space where your key stakeholders feel welcomed and safe. We recommend you consult the HSE guidelines on COVID-19 and working safely but we’ve also compiled office-specific guidance for you below.
Post-COVID Return to Work Plan
- Review your office floor plan
We provided practical tips in this blog during the first lockdown and many of these still stand today. It’s important that social distancing measures can easily be implemented should another health pandemic strike again. Preparation is key, so look at your office floor plan and determine whether staff are working with 2 metres distance. Look at your front of house space, do you have social distancing screens in place? Are waiting areas appropriately kitted out?
- Keep your sanitation stations in plain view
These will likely become a norm for offices, so be sure to keep hand sanitizer by key areas (reception spaces, kitchenettes, toilets, printers etc),
- Discuss your plans with your colleagues and customers
If you have an approved ‘Back to work’ policy in place, this should be communicated to your workforce. The mental health and wellbeing of your workforce should be a leading priority in your back to work plan. Perhaps you have an internal mailing list, an intranet or Communications department? Use them. It’s important to highlight what procedures are in place and who staff can reach out to in the event they are unsure about anything. Likewise, if you’re welcoming customers back to the shop floor – update your social media channels and website landing pages, where appropriate.
- Office Signage
Ensure all necessary safety signage is in place to direct staff to do the correct and necessary things to keep them and all their colleagues safe. This should reinforce the covid secure policy and could include floor signage for directional walkways and 2m distancing, or to wear face coverings when required and a reminder for regular hand washing etc. It can also indicate how safe the workplace has been made e.g. explain the regularity of cleaning schedules.
- Push play on those office update projects
Working from home has been embraced by hundreds and thousands of UK businesses, and many companies will want to continue with a hybrid approach to work i.e. working from home 3 days a week, or only visiting the office for key meetings. Your office space will need to accommodate your unique way of working, and you’ll want to make it an enjoyable place to work. So revisit those office refurb plans and open up the conversation about the future of the office with your colleagues. Consult with design specialists like Solutions 4 Office who will provide guidance for you. Make the work environment an attractive “home” for your returning staff – they are the life blood of a business and the more comfortable and inspired they feel, the higher the productivity.
- Should I install perspex screens at my place of work?
Where possible, and budget permitting, we encourage you to invest in personal protective equipment where possible. Demountable perspex screens for reception desks might become a new standard for office environments. With regards to non-office specific protective equipment such as high-vis jackets and safety shoes – you should follow HSE guidelines for your sector of work.
- Will I need to change my office floor plan, even though we’re “getting back to normal”
At the time of writing this guide, apprehension about the future of work is still high but it’s likely that office staff won’t want to return to a high-traffic work environment straight away. There should without doubt be a phased and progressive back-to-the-office action plan which is signed off by senior levels of management. Social distancing will be here for some time so you do need to adapt your floor-plans and/or working patterns.
Face coverings may become a personal choice but we’ve had them for a long time now and many Asian countries, who have prior experience of epidemics, have adopted face coverings as a way to mitigate spreading diseases.
- How do I measure how much space is needed for safe working?
Most companies should have a CAD floor plan which is very handy, because it means companies like Solutions 4 Office, can edit those plans and create new floor plans which will detail where desks and chairs are to be positioned, where sanitising stations might sit, where hot desking will be etc.
If you don’t have a digital floor plan, we can create one for you and your department managers. Contact us if you’d like to discuss how your floor plan needs amending and developing.
- Are vaccination pods or testing pods a worthwhile investment?
From a Solutions 4 Office perspective, we’re seeing more retail pharmaceutical companies introduce ‘vacs pods’ into their floor plans to offer private assessments as well as vaccinations. These can be adapted later for other use and are demountable and reconfigurable. We don’t see these being an essential office furniture addition to a workplace but a worthwhile long term investment.
- Should home-working still be offered as an option?
This is a decision which can only be made by company management but we’re certainly seeing flexible working here to stay for a lot of our customers.
- Pre-Covid, my company was thinking about installing acoustic pods but are these safe in the current climate?
For the past 15 months, Solutions 4 Office have been providing social distancing office furniture, from toughened glass covid screens to wipeable breakout chairs. Acoustic pods provide a comfortable way of working both independently and with one or two colleagues. It’s a highly flexible and attractive piece of office furniture and can be used in a covid compliant manner.
- Back to work guide by the vinyl specialists, Coastline Graphics in Bury St Edmunds (view here)
- HSE provide numerous workplace related guidance documents, one of them being a handy risk assessment template (view here)
- CIPD have put together a guide to help plan your organisation’s eventual return to the workplace as lockdown restrictions continue to evolve (return here)
- The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) provide Return to Work tips here