As the UK continues to ease restrictions on lockdown, the question of whether non-essential employees, who are able to work from home, should return to the workplace seems to still be at the discretion of employers.
However, beyond Government guidelines and the risk of returning to the office too early before the spread of COVID-19 has actually been contained, employers also face an increased anxiety in the workforce that shared and public spaces are still not safe to inhabit.
Whether or not the coronavirus outbreak will lead to permanent changes to office design, behaviours and culture is still under debate, however, tackling the fear of returning to the office is something that can be tackled in the meantime to make sure that the idea of returning to an office space is made more palatable post-pandemic.
Crown Workspace’s Regional Director, Phil Oram, offers his insights in how to ease concerns for workers returning to the office.
Install new building signage
Floor markings, social distancing signs and posters about washing hands can all give employees a sense of reassurance that something has changed.
A fixed panel protective screen manufactured by The Blind Shop.
Install hygiene screens
By creating a barrier between workstations, designed to catch germs and prevent them spreading, employees can return to work with greater confidence.
Look at space plans to reduce hotdesking and increase fixed positions
Despite spending the last ten years persuading employees to embrace hotdesking, many companies are having to backtrack. Employees will not want to sit at a desk that has been used by other people during the day.
Read more: Is the hot-desking project over??
Reduce the canteen and welfare facilities where crowding could take place
Bowls of fruit in communal areas and staff buffets are going to have to go. Anywhere where there could be a high volume of people in one place is going to make employees fearful.
Encourage people to use stairs rather than lifts and escalators if they can
These are areas where overcrowding could occur. Encourage staff to leave the lifts for those who really need them – and lower the number of people they can carry at one time.
Increase the cleaning regime
Cleaning regimes will have to change to suit the new normal. Big organisations may well go back to having cleaners working throughout the day. Smaller businesses will need well organised rotas, with visible tick charts in place to prove that areas have been cleaned. This can also increase confidence for employees.
Actiu‘s range of office furniture now includes protective desk dividers.
Introduce hand sanitiser stations
These should be installed not only in foyers and entrance halls but across the office.
Reduce the amount of furniture on site to cut down footfall
By removing desks and creating space, social distancing becomes more feasible. At Tesco’s head office, for instance, they are removing every other desk – and physically changing the footprint of the workspace. Employees know they can stay safe because desks have been taken out of use.
Reconfigure the furniture that you do keep
Clusters of desks close together will no longer be possible. Re-arrange furniture so that people are not walking close to desks – or consider utilising smaller desks.
Ensure those who are working at home are doing so safely and comfortably
Especially if they are going to be asked to do so long-term. Arrange for ergonomic desks and chairs to be sent to them; it is the responsibility of the employer to look after their wellbeing in working hours.
Consider who is the right person to take charge of ensuring the office is clean and safe
And ensure they are properly trained. This may be the Facility Director or Head of Estate. In an SME it may be the Office Manager. They should work together with HR and Compliance to ensure communication of safety rules is strong – and that rules are adhered to.