Though working from home has become the new normal for office workers, eventually, the time will come to head back to the office. With increased socialisation, productivity and the various mental health benefits that come from a shared office space, it’s no surprise that most workers are clamouring to get back to normality.
However, in the current climate, safety must remain paramount. With exposure to the virus being possible on a person’s commute and in countless other environments, it’s no surprise that office workers will be wondering exactly how the office will be made COVID-19 safe.
Therefore, if your business is looking for the most up-to-date guidance on how to make your office COVID-19 safe, read ahead for the most crucial safety measures to adopt within your business that will create a safe environment for your staff. As it’s difficult to know exactly where to start and how to best implement these changes, the main focuses should be risk assessment, improved hygiene precautions and office spacing.
What measures Can I Take to Make Our Office COVID-19 Safe?
Assess The Risk
For your business to be compliant with government safety regulations, the first thing to do is put in place a satisfactory risk assessment.
Everyone needs to assess and manage the risks of COVID-19, and as an employer you will have the legal responsibility to protect your workers’ health and safety. A plan that identifies sensible measures to control the risks of the workplace, this risk assessment will help a business to decide whether they have done everything they need with regards to COVID-19 safety. Should you be seeking further information about managing risks and risk assessments at work, simply read up on the government’s guidance here.
The main thing to be aware of when creating a risk assessment on making an office space COVID-19 safe is increased handwashing, enabling working from home where possible, and reducing personal contact between staff members.
Both possible through staff rotation and office spacing, social distancing is one of the most effective ways to make your office COVID-19 safe. Consideration should be given to the personal working spaces of your staff, with hot-desking and desk-shifting removed wherever possible. To reduce the need for hot-desking, remote working should be encouraged where still possible to reduce face-to-face contact and unnecessary in-person communication. In large, open-spaced offices, ensure that a one-way system is in place to avoid close contact between staff members moving around the office.
Though it may be difficult, staff canteens should be closed-off or be in minimal use due to their communal nature. Should they remain open and in use, ensure that cleaning frequency is increased to protect staff and prevent possible contamination.
With social distancing comes office reorganisation. Though an utter upheaval of the current office space is certainly not encouraged, desks and workspaces should be reconfigured to allow employees to be at least 2 metres apart. Where possible, side-to-side, or back-to-back working should be encouraged to prevent viral spread. Should it be financially viable, partitioning should be installed to allow staff to work closely without risk of contamination if a face-t-face layout can’t be avoided.
In addition to this, where possible, the minimum number of staff should be in the office at one time, with core members practicing social distancing from each other and the public. Where physical distancing cannot be achieved, varying skillset teams should be established in-office, so that isolation is possible if an outbreak occurs within one team. That sector of the office can then isolate and minimise the spread of infection.
Adequate cleaning and ventilation will be necessary to make an office space COVID-19 safe.
Most air conditioning systems will not need adjustments, but advice can be sought from HVAC engineers or advisers should you have concerns. In addition, opening windows and doors frequently to facilitate ventilation is a must.
When considering adequate cleaning, frequent cleaning of work areas and work equipment using standard cleaning products will be necessary. In addition, more frequent cleaning of objects and surfaces that are communally touched (door handles, keyboards, and bathrooms) will be necessary.
In addition to greater general cleaning requirements, making your office COVID-19 safe will require good handwashing information, sanitizing stations and clear guidance for the use of communal toilet facilities in the area. To keep workers as safe as possible, it is best to overprovide than ration sanitising equipment where you can. For further information on sanitation and COVID-19 cleaning measures, please refer to the government guidelines on this matter.
PPE and Face Coverings
Though the aforementioned methods regarding office safety are the most effective ways to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, PPE and face coverings are recommended should your employees require them. As PPE cannot realistically be provided to all employees on a daily basis, face coverings should be used in enclosed spaces where social distancing or other protective measures are not possible.
In office spaces PPE is not strictly necessary, but under the current circumstances some businesses may wish to employ the use of PPE for their staff members. In these cases, employers should ensure that their workers are aware of how to use face coverings safely, and the official government guidelines for PPE usage will prove inherently useful in this instance.
Where possible, face-to-face meetings should be avoided and held through virtual platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Should these face-to-face meetings be necessary, they should be held in well-ventilated rooms or outside to allow for adequate distance and a lower rate of possible transmission.
Financial Considerations of Implementing Measures
Though the financial implications of COVID-19 are far-reaching and will continue to impact businesses for some time, it is crucial that individual businesses adapt their goals for the coming months. Though restrictions on office spaces may not create an ideal working environment and could prove costly to businesses, there are many ways to overcome these new challenges and rise from the pandemic stronger than ever.
Investing in virtual meeting software, cleaning supplies, signage and PPE may prove financially trying for businesses, but they are crucial during this time to enable a healthy and protected workforce to thrive. In fact, most measures that should be considered for offices are low-cost (relevant posters, promotion of handwashing and the promotion of good respiratory hygiene in the workplace), so businesses should not be overly apprehensive when applying them.
You may also want to consider adopting the cycle to work scheme, if you haven’t already, which will prove especially helpful for local staff who would usually rely on public transport. Government advice states that employees should walk or cycle to work where possible if they do not have use of a personal vehicle.
While these additional costs may be difficult at first, you will likely find your business saves in other areas, eg: increased productivity due to reduced meeting times, or cost savings on the cancellation of events. Invest that money into staff safety measures and hopefully you will benefit from a healthy workforce too.
By adjusting to the new normal and adapting as best possible now, businesses can implement these measures should they become necessary again in the future.