Getting your team back working in your office in full or in part is a great feeling. However, as you know these next few months need to be approached with due caution as you invest in all the necessary health and safety measures to keep you, your staff and your clients safe.
In this guide, we’ll break down ten of the most important steps that should be taken today so you can reopen quickly and safely. I hope that everyone in HR will find this a handy summary.
A quick note on the legal requirements of reopening during a pandemic
What follows is simply our advice on getting back to business the best you can. And while we will be referencing government guidelines throughout, it is important to read these guidelines in full yourself, before reopening your site — particularly with regards to the status of lockdown, which could quickly change.
Please click here to check if lockdown measures are currently in place within the business sector.
Here’s how you prepare for business as (un)usual, in the rest of 2020 and beyond…
1. Review all government guidelines, and take the necessary actions
When it comes to getting your office up and running post lockdown, your absolute first priority is to review and follow all government guidelines. This is vital to both comply with the law, and protect the safety of yourself, your staff and your clients.
For offices and contact centre the government has released official guidelines that cover eight key sections, ranging from social distancing rules to potential PPE requirements. You can click here to access this document in its entirety — start here, when drawing up your coronavirus action plan.
2. Conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment
As an employer, it is your legal responsibility to protect the wellbeing of staff, suppliers and clients. Of course, this has always been the case, but we’ve never seen anything like COVID-19 before. A pandemic requires totally new health and safety precautions and, as such, a laser-focused way of assessing risk.
That’s why the HSE (the government agency responsible for Health & Safety regulation in the UK) have issued new guidelines that require businesses to carry out new risk assessments in regards to COVID-19.
You can read through their official guide for more information on what this needs to cover specifically, and you can frame your assessment with this recommended template. But, generally speaking, your coronavirus risk assessment should highlight all the things you’re going to do to limit the risks of COVID-19 within your space.
This should include enforcing social distancing rules, setting up precise cleaning procedures, providing the necessary PPE, and keeping your staff up to date with how you’re going to protect them.
Once you’ve ticked those boxes, it’s worth displaying the government’s risk assessment certificate somewhere visible — to help put both your staff and your clients’ minds at ease.
3. Offer hand sanitising
Government guidelines advise that frequent handwashing is the most effective way of preventing the spread of coronavirus. But frequent bathroom trips aren’t always practical in a busy office — and that’s where hand sanitisers come in.
When picking a hand sanitiser, it’s important to be sure that it contains a WHO approved formula and is at least 60% alcohol-based.
Where will you position the sanitisers? Dispensing stations, for example, are a great idea, as they make it clear that hand sanitiser is available. Placing sanitiser dispensers near your front door, in kitchens, and around desk spaces, shows staff and clients how seriously you are taking the fight against coronavirus — you can even get dispenser units customised with your own corporate branding!
For more information on providing NHS standard hand sanitiser for your commercial space. We can help if you need us.
4. Cleaning & disinfecting
Keeping your surfaces COVID-secure is going to be a team effort. So, create a clear and focused rota, outlining everything that needs doing.
First, focus on the key surfaces that pose the most risk, computer desks, keyboards, kitchen worktops and any communal office equipment (like pens and notebooks). Ideally, these should be cleaned after every use. That’s why a rota is so important — it’ll help to organise whose responsibility that is throughout the day.
Next, create procedures that encourage cleanliness more generally. Really ramp up your toilet cleaning schedule. And ask your staff to wipe down their desks as much as possible — especially if they’re working a shift, picking up from someone else, or preparing to hand over to a colleague.
Government guidelines advise that your ‘usual cleaning products’ will be sufficient for this. So long as you stick to bleach or alcohol-based solutions, your efforts will be effective.
“Hot desking” or sharing of workstations should be avoided for the time being if at all possible. If you have a cafeteria, be extra vigilant that it follows all government guidelines for food hygiene before resuming service.
5. Provide PPE
Government guidelines stipulate that PPE is only essential in medical environments (other than the new rules for face masks coming in from 24th July 2020.) But your staff (and clients) might feel more comfortable if they are wearing a face covering while at work in offices etc. Talk to your staff about how they’re feeling and make face masks available should they need them.
Depending on the size of your commercial space, you could also consider installing plexiglass screens around reception desks where social distancing might be difficult to maintain.
6. Offer flexible work arrangements
Government rules state that all businesses must provide flexible work arrangements whenever possible. This, most importantly, means allowing your staff to continue working from home if they can.
It’s also important to retain a degree of flexibility in general, too — especially for those at higher risk. Try to be understanding of people’s home-lives and responsibilities; if they need to care for a friend, or home-school their child, you should support them in this.
And, of course, grant immediate time off if anyone reports coronavirus symptoms. Remember, it’s still mandatory for those with a fever or new, persistent cough to self-isolate under government guidelines.
7. Enforce social distancing rules
Official government guidelines state that all staff and guests must keep a 1m (in England) or 2m (elsewhere) distance at all times. This is the best and most effective way of preventing the spread of coronavirus, as it decreases person-to-person transmission.
To enforce social distancing measures in your space, you should:
● Provide 1m / 2m markers that remind staff, clients and guests what proper social distancing looks like
● Be mindful of the amount of staff working each day/shift
● Space out desks as much as possible
● Consider alternate ‘work from home’ days if office space is tight
Break areas should be reassessed, too. If it’s difficult for staff to maintain social distancing while on break, you should consider closing small communal areas, and staggering break times as much as you can.
8. Provide clear guidelines and signage throughout your premises
While we’re surrounded by coronavirus news most of the time, it’s still wise to leave a few health and hygiene reminders around your office.
We’ve already mentioned 1m / 2m markings, but there are a number of other visual cues you can lean on during this time. Posters are a great way of reminding people to wash or sanitise their hands, always cover their mouth when they cough, and sneeze either into a tissue or their arm if necessary.
Additionally, if you choose to implement any new procedures — like staggered breaks, or closure of communal kitchen areas — do all you can to make this as clear as possible, to avoid any confusion or frustration.
9. Manage the risk of transmission
When, or if, 1m / 2m distancing isn’t possible, you should do all you can to manage the risk of transmission. This means providing alternative and new ways of working that put the safety of your staff and guests first.
If, for example, your office space gets easily crowded, you should definitely encourage your staff to work from home as much as they can and/or take client meetings off-site, in an outdoor area of a local cafe, if they can.
And again, plexiglass screens are a great way of avoiding staff-to-client contact at reception desks when welcoming any new or returning clients into your premises.
10. Consistently monitor employee health (and general circumstances)
Monitoring the health of your employees is an extremely important part of protecting them, you and your business.
Each day, you should check in with staff and ask about their health and general circumstances. If an employee is unwell, or if someone in their household has symptoms, you should immediately grant them sick leave — as advised by the government.
Encourage your staff to be honest with you about their situations. This means showing understanding, and making it easy for your team to request time off needed.
Overcoming the virus is a collective effort. I hope this summary is a useful contribution.