Although current government advice until 19 July remains that everyone who can work from home should do so, many business have already begun the transition back into an office working environment or are in the process of planning this. Returning to the office after a lengthy absence, whether from a career break or maternity leave, can be a daunting prospect at the best of times. But those who have been working from home for over a year now because of the pandemic may be wondering what exactly they will be going back to. As an employer, it is important that you address any anxieties that returning employees may have in a proactive and timely way. This includes the more obvious and legally required Covid-19 safety measures, but also more subtle processes that will help everyone feel safe and therefore comfortable.
If not already in place, you should consider the following:
- Creating a Covid-19 workplace health and safety risk assessment driven plan – start by reviewing the government guidance on working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19);
- Before resuming office work, check the building to see if it’s ready for occupancy – check for hazards, assess ventilation systems and water systems for risks of contamination;
- Identify where and how employees might be exposed to Covid-19 at work – identify work and common areas where employees could have close contact (meeting rooms, locker rooms, waiting areas, kitchens); and
- Educating employees and supervisors about steps they can take to protect themselves at work - topics should include, but not be limited to, awareness of signs and symptoms of infection, staying home when ill, social distancing and hand hygiene practices.
Some of the measures you can put in place to maintain social distancing include:
- Using floor tape or paint to mark work areas;
- Providing signage to remind people to keep a 2 metre distance; and
- Limiting movement of people:
- rotating between jobs and equipment
- in hightraffic areas like corridors, turnstiles and walkways
- staggering shifts or having a maximum capacity in the office
- allow only essential trips within buildings and between sites
General office etiquette and rules should include:
- Maintaining a 2 metre distance from each other at all times;
- Washing hands regularly for at least 20 seconds, using water and soap;
- Ensure work surfaces, phones and IT equipment are cleaned before and after use;
- Sit side-by-side or back-to-back in office areas, avoiding being positioned face-to-face where possible;
- Only use equipment in designated spaces;
- Keep desks as clear as possible; and
- Be mindful of social distancing when moving around the office and using share devices, such as printers.
It is important to note that whilst the final restrictions are set to be lifted on July 19, these are largely social restrictions and employees may expect social distancing measures in the workplace to be around for some time after, in order to feel safe. A large proportion of the population are still not vaccinated, and there seems to be a higher resistance amongst the under 25s. Some under 45 year olds many have not had their second jab yet. Hence some NHS regions are offering walk in vaccine opportunities. Employers will need manage expectations and find a balance between accommodating those who are keen to get back to normal as soon as possible and those who see it as a more gradual process. The aim being that all employees feel fully supported at all times. Employers will also need to communicate and consult with staff on their plans clearly and effectively, in a way that encourages employees to respect each other’s views and personal circumstances.
Please get in touch email@example.com if you need advice on any element of returning to the office.