Updated on 10th July 2020
There are no immediate signs that the ways of life we’ve adapted to during lockdown are going to revert completely back to what was considered ‘normal’ any time soon. As lockdown restrictions have eased, though, some steps toward normality have been taken, such as the reopening of non-essential shops and the very gradual reopening of offices.
These three outcomes seem the most likely:
While you can read the government guidelines on working safely during the coronavirus outbreak here, we’re going to highlight some practical steps you could take to make your office environment safer if you do decide to re-open, and explore some ideas on how office spaces and working habits could change for businesses of all shapes and sizes going forwards, once and if, we are encouraged to return to the office.
So, what steps can you take to make your office a safer environment? Aside from pursuing the initiatives we’re about to explore in this article, it may be worth updating your policy on working from home and flexible working.
Having the option to work from home permanently, or semi-permanently, may make some of your employees feel more comfortable. Doing so, though, may encourage further considerations on your part- such as ‘should we run more social events to keep the team morale high?’. It may be worth starting to make these considerations and taking the unique circumstances of your business’s operations and premises into account- to ensure that you’re as prepared as you can be for returning to the office.
So, how can you know how your staff feel about all of these potential measures? That’s simple- ask them. It may be worth surveying your staff to gauge exactly what their attitudes are and a simple, 10 or 20 question survey could help you to build a deeper understanding of your employees’ attitudes. This, in turn, may leave you better informed to design your new office policy and your staff feeling like their voices have been heard.
There are two main groups of changes to consider here. One is the physical, practical ways in which office routines will change; we’re talking cleaning equipment, protective equipment, etc. Alternatively, there could be a number of lifestyle changes, such as a desire to keep the number of employees in an office low at any time, or to work from home. Let’s dive into some of the possibilities.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) have suggested that face masks may act as a way of preventing the spread of coronavirus, and are now mandatory on public transport in the UK. They may not, however, be as comfortable if worn for extended periods of time. If, for this reason, face masks do not prove to be a practical option, you may need to explore different options.
One of those options could be sneeze screens; plastic screens that sit between employees to serve as a wall that may help to block the transmission of fluids between co-workers.
If you aren’t sure what sneeze screens are, they generally look like little enclosures that separate tables/groups- or they could take the form of a plastic screen that you may talk through when visiting your local bank.
Social distancing has become the new normal. Whilst the guidance in the UK has been to maintain a two metre gap between yourself and others since lockdown started, the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s guidelines indicated, at the same time, that upwards of one metre is a safe enough distance to limit the transmission of coronavirus.
Maintaining social distancing could prove problematic for some businesses, though, as some business models and office spaces may simply not be able to operate with a two metre rule in place. This led to businesses pressuring the government to launch a review of the social distancing rules, to see what minimum social distance is needed to keep people safe whilst still allowing businesses to operate without too many difficulties.
Whatever the outcome of this review may be, the government has indicated that some form of social distancing is here to stay until a vaccine is found and this will directly impact the reopening of office spaces as lockdown restrictions ease.
While it’s hard to say for sure, it looks like one-way systems may be quite prominent in UK office spaces. This involves setting up your office space to allow traffic to move in one direction, making it easier for your team to socially distance by removing the awkward inconvenience of bumping into each other when moving around. Have you considered whether this could work for your office space?
Another measure which supports this is rotational working.
The core focus here is to promote good hygiene practice by limiting the amount of people sharing the office space at any one time. This makes it easier to maintain social distancing while still allowing access to the office for all of your employees- just not all at one time.
Phasing shifts could involve having half of your team in during the morning and the other during the afternoon. But determining exactly who comes in and when could be tricky, as well as how to clean areas in between this change over. Wired.com speculate that it could be important to ensure everyone in your business spends some time in the office to maintain a sort of natural balance of personalities.
Why is this? Well, extroverts and leaders may feel more inclined to come back into the office sooner, while introverts or quieter workers may prefer to work from home if given the option. But perhaps splitting these groups up and encouraging everyone to come in on a fairly equal basis could help to preserve your office’s dynamic, in a safe way. Food for thought, at least.
Alternatively, introducing a flat cap on the amount of people allowed to use the office; then preventing any further employees from coming into work once the limit has been reached may be a necessary measure if you’re finding that you don’t have enough office space to properly observe social distancing measures otherwise.
Finally, and perhaps the most obvious change brought about by coronavirus, is a need for increased cleanliness in the office. This could be achieved by cleaning the office more- including wiping down surfaces, decontaminating door handles and keeping clutter to a minimum.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as gloves, face shields and masks may be required alongside sneeze screens to ensure that your cleanliness procedures are both robust and effective, and some general cleaning may even be a necessary part of your employees’ duties in the short-term.
Whatever the outcome of the discussions around reopening the office may be, we wish you all the best with adjusting to the new normal- whether this means transitioning back into the office space, embracing a work-from-home model, or a mixture of both of these options.