How to prepare your office so your employees can return to work safely
England, BATH. (May 28, 2020) – Let’s face it, 2020 has not been an easy year for most people. We are now preparing to exit the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. But we can’t let our guards down too much. We must do our best to bring our employees back to the office in a phased manner while ensuring their physical safety and psychological wellbeing.
It doesn’t need to be complicated. But you do need to be thorough. It starts with following government and HSE guidance, developing policies and communications. Then you need to review your space planning to ensure physical distancing between desks, in meeting rooms, collaboration spaces and breakouts. Where adequate physical distancing isn’t possible, the introduction of Perspex screens and dividers could help. But we do have reservations about these from an environmental point of view – think about the short-term use of large amounts of acrylic which will then be consigned to landfill for the next several thousand years. And while aesthetics may not be the top priority currently, we still believe it is important to think about how the workplace design makes your employees feel. Therefore, our preferred approach is to keep people safe by spreading them out, not by enclosing them in 1990s style cubicles!
Other safety measures are the affordable, immediate and simple to install signage and wayfinding that will introduce one-way systems, and deal with tight passing points around the office. Hygiene measures such as air purification, instant sanitisation, handwashing stations, and more frequent office cleaning will also play a big role. Other physical adaptations could include handsfree products such as foot door openers or anti-bacterial covers for door handles and chair adjustment levels. More permanent measures that reduce touchable surfaces might be to switch to softphones rather than those big, clunky, dust gathering desk phones. Medical measures could range from temperature checks and offering Covid-19 tests and antibody tests.
Tie all of this together with behavioural measures such as clear protocols for if a staff member falls ill, guidance for team or partner working, staggering start and finish times, and increasing flexible working.
Employee concerns related to the coronavirus are likely to continue for some time. This will vary depending on the location and the level of community transmission still active.
Employees, and their family members, may be anxious about returning to shared public spaces, including the workplace.
The more employees understand about what safety measures are being taken, and why, the more likely there is to be employee buy-in, and the less likely that employees may make complaints internally or externally to other third parties regarding perceived risk in the workplace. Regular communications will reassure. They will also be necessary for reminding your people when social distancing or hygiene behaviours start to slip.
Additionally, culture may have been diluted somewhat by everyone working at home for months, effectively in micro silos. This is about connecting people again and reassuring them that you have their best interests at heart. Involving your employees in the process will help them feel confident about returning to the workplace and will promote a culture of trust and collaboration.
On 11 May 2020 the UK Government published official guidance, in conjunction with the HSE, to help employers get their businesses back up and running and workplaces operating safely. The five steps are key to meeting these requirements and should be implemented as soon as it is practical. Once you have implemented these, make sure you communicate this with your employees and clients, for example via your website.
Employers have a legal responsibility to assess and manage the risks of COVID-19 and protect workers and others from risk to their health and safety. The current guidance is still that staff should work from home if possible. Businesses have a duty of care for our employees when they are working, wherever that may be. That means they need to be monitoring the health and wellbeing of people working from home at the same time as planning for their return to the workplace. Developing clear policies, in consultation with your employees, will go a long way to reassure them that they are in safe, responsible hands.
About Interaction Interaction are workplace design and build experts, their team of psychologists, designers, furniture consultants and project managers can provide a full package to support your business in returning to the office and implementing social distancing in the workplace, as well as several other environmental and behavioural measures.
Get in touch if you’d like help with your Covid-19 Return to Office Planning or to download your own return to work guide email – Charlie.email@example.com
We can help you return to the office
SAFELY | CONFIDENTLY | RESPONSIBLY