With lockdown restrictions slowly easing, the pressure is on for businesses to comply with Government-led Covid-19 guidelines and ensure social distancing and hygiene precautions are fully implemented in offices and work spaces.
These include a coronavirus health and safety audit for all businesses of more than five people, increasing the frequency of cleaning and hand washing, and encouraging back-to-back or side-by-side working. With changes likely to be in place for the foreseeable future, the emphasis is on employers taking legal responsibility for their employees health and safety.
Getting Back to the Office
Many businesses are struggling with where to start and how to actually implement the changes. As we start the long road back to our new normality, it is important that our work spaces adhere to social distancing measures to enable businesses to begin trading fully again and lessen the future impact on our economy.
Whilst many organisations are able to take advantage of remote working, for many UK businesses this is neither a sustainable or achievable way to work, often due to the need to handle stock or sensitive data. So what changes do we need to implement to ensure returning employees state safe in the workplace?
Steps need to be taken to ensure that additional hygiene practices become common place in the office. Hand sanitising units and antibacterial wipe dispensers are low cost, easy installations and will be essential in combatting the spread of infection.
Consideration needs to be given to the personal working space of staff. Allowances should be made to avoid hot-desking wherever possible and desks should be safely spaced and divided. Remote working should be encouraged where possible to reduce face-to-face contact. In larger, open plan environments consider one way systems in walkways.
The number of staff in the office at any one time should be kept to the minimum required, with others working remotely. Teams grouped by varying skillset will allow for easy isolation should virus symptoms be present.
Deep cleaning will be required to be increased as standard, with regular disinfecting of shared areas. High traffic contact zones, such as handles, bathrooms, desks and chairs will need wiping down with an antibacterial cleaner frequently throughout the day.
Quick Actions to Make Your Office Safer
When returning to the office we can, of course, expect the required levels of hygiene to be permanently increased in order to protect staff and visitors from viral infection. Of course, these increased measures will have a direct impact on the requirements of the workplace environment, some of which will take time to plan and implement. That said, many of these steps can actually be achieved quickly and simply.
- Remove absorbent furniture and fabrics
Unless they are bleach friendly, soft furnishings are hard to keep clean. Instead choose office furniture and screening that is functional and easy to wipe down.
- Install hand sanitising dispensing units. Encourage the regular use of hand-sanitiser and promote the importance of keeping personal workspaces clean.
- Add perspex screens between workspaces
Installing screening between workspaces and public areas is a quick and effective way to protect your staff and, if applicable, the general public from the risk of cross contamination.
- Allow 2 metres between all seating
2 metres should be granted between all workspaces. If this is not possible when at full occupancy, consider shift patterns or part-remote working to reduce the overall number of staff in the office at any one time.
- De-clutter personal workspaces
Uncluttered environments are easier to disinfect and maintain cleanliness of and clear of clutter. Discourage desk toys and minimise paperwork.
- Integrate top hygiene practices into your culture Create policies to support your new measures to ensure that staff are fully updated. In the event of sickness, staff should be encouraged to stay at home. Should a full “sick day” not be appropriate, remote working should be provided as an option.
Designing a Safe Office Layout
There are many steps that can, and must, be taken to adapt your workplace to prevent the spread of infection and minimise impact of a further outbreak in the future.
Desks and workspaces should be reconfigured to allow at least 2 metres between employees. Desks should also be reconfigured to create back-to-back or side-to-side working arrangements whenever possible. Partitioning should be installed to allow staff to work closely without the risk of cross contamination. Shared spaces such as kitchens and meeting rooms should be redesigned to allow for appropriate distancing measures to be carried out, including floor markers and signage to help guide and remind staff to maintain safe distances between themselves.
Open Plan Office Design
Open plan offices should be divided using screening so that employees can work without the risk of infection, and working spaces should be configured to allow for back-to-back working. Shift patterns should be adjusted, where viable, to discourage full occupancy
within the office.
In larger, open plan spaces, one way traffic systems should be considered to help support social distancing in walkways. Floor stickers, signage or painted visual aids should be installed to enable safe working distances to be adhered to. Installing additional break-out zones will reduce congregation of people during breaks, as will staggering break-times and lunches.
Safe Work Planning
Where possible the minimum number of staff should be in the workplace at one time. These core members should practice social distancing, from each other and the general public, supported by way of screening and/or physical distancing measures. Where physical distancing is not viable work teams should be established, made up of varying skillsets. In the case that there is an outbreak of infection within one team, it then becomes relatively fast and easy, to isolate the case to one section of your business – allowing work to continue and minimising the risk of spreading the infection.
Face-to-face meetings, when unavoidable, should be held in well ventilated rooms or even better, when the weather permits, outside. If possible install bike racks, consider joining a local bike to work scheme and allow for additional parking, to reduce the number of staff needing to use public transport.
Change Your Workplace Thinking
Amongst the challenges and barriers your business is facing right now, it is important to try to retain who you are and what your goals are for the forthcoming months. When adapting your working spaces to adhere to distancing requirements, take time to plan your new layout to ensure it will work for your staff and still works for your company goals.
We do not believe that these changes are being put in place for a quick fix. Rather we see that by adjusting fully to the new normal we find ourselves in, the adaptations will allow us to move fluidly through the unknown landscape that lies ahead. By taking the correct measures to keep your staff safe and your business functioning, future impacts of an extended pandemic or new waves of infection will be minimised.
Investing in these preparations properly will not only protect staff, but will also minimise the risk of financial impact from absence or closure.
For many, particularly those who are business owners, the period of lockdown has been a chance to reflect on what has been working well as of late, and what in fact, has not. Take this moment as an opportunity to refresh and revitalise your workspace and allow it to work as best it can, to support the current demands of your team and the day to day running of your business.