Lockdown restrictions are slowly being eased and some are gradually returning to offices and other places of work. Working from home permanently doesn’t suit everyone and many are eager to head back to work.
If your business is planning to bring people back into the office in the coming weeks, here’s what you should know about social distancing in the workplace.
Government advice for offices and contact centres stipulates that employers should carry out a risk assessment.
So if you’re returning to an office in which you employ other people to work too, you should do this. You’re also advised to share the findings of your risk assessment with the workforce.
Enable Those at Risk to Work from Home
If at all possible, those at a higher risk (those “shielding”) should be enabled to work from home. If you can take steps to allow those people to continue to work from home, do so.
Ensure Anyone Who Must Isolate Does NOT Come to Work!
In a bid to reduce transmission of Coronavirus in the office, it’s really imperative that you and your employees follow the current advice on self isolation in the event of symptoms.
At the time of writing, that means:
- Any employee who develops Covid 19 symptoms should not come to the office. They should work from home if well enough. Those symptoms include a high temperature, a new continuous cough and a loss of smell or taste. This employee should isolate for 7 days.
- If anyone living in the same household as an employee or in the same support bubble develops symptoms, then that employee should isolate for 14 days. They shouldn’t come to the office.
Social Distancing in the Office
The current advice is for employees to maintain a 2m distance from one another (and from members of the public if you have the public on your premises).
In the event that this isn’t possible, you can reduce this to 1m with other mitigations as outlined in the Government guidance (see resources below). This might include things like screens.
Other recommendations to help people keep a distance in an office generally affect larger businesses more than smaller ones, but include:
- Staggering start and finish times to reduce congestion at arrival and departure times
- Considering one way systems around the building
- Reducing movements between different parts of the workplace
The guidance also recommends:
- Employees should have their own desk/work station that is not shared with others
- The layout of desks is modified to give people a 2m gap
- Where that’s not feasible, the use of screens is recommended
Avoid Unnecessary Meetings
Getting a group of people together in what can often be a small space for a meeting isn’t advisable. Stick with the phone, or meetings in larger open spaces where people can retain 2m gaps.
But ultimately, if you ever needed an excuse to ditch unnecessary meetings, this is it!
For me personally, I’ll be taking a couple of extra steps too:
- I won’t be having clients in for meetings in my office for the foreseeable. It’s based on the fact that the advice is to keep people in small groups. So I will have as few external people around as possible and cutting meetings face to face with non employees is a simple way to do this
- I won’t be visiting clients at their premises for the foreseeable either. We can take every step in the world to reduce the risk in our own office, but once employees are on someone else’s premises, there’s no way to be sure what steps they have taken. I therefore feel it pertinent to reduce the risk to employees by not sending anyone out to meetings for the foreseeable.
In communal areas, it’s recommended that you advise your employees to maintain the 2m social distance and adapt the layout of such areas as much as possible to accommodate it.
If you can’t accommodate that, then consider staggering break times in order to have fewer people in those areas at any given time.
It makes sense to recommend that workers bring in their own food too.
Cleaning and Access to Sanitiser
Provide employees with sanitiser in areas where they’re likely to touch surfaces like door handles.
Personally, we’re going a step further and ensuring everyone has access to hand sanitiser on their desk too as well as in communal areas. And we’re also providing people with anti bacterial wipes to keep their own stations clean during the day.
We will then be cleaning the office more frequently as well.
Do employees have to wear face masks in the office?
No, generally not. The Government guidance suggests that, where 2m social distancing is in place, face masks offer no further protection against the spread of Coronavirus.
However, you are encouraged to permit your employees to wear masks if they wish to.
For us, it won’t be necessary in the office. But our office is in a shared business centre and some of the corridors are narrow. So personally, I plan to wear one in the corridors and when collecting post from the very small post room! But in the office itself, I won’t be wearing one.
Keep Talking and Support your Team
Honestly, I find just talking to my team a lot about the process of getting everyone back in and the measures we will take has been really helpful.
Bear in mind that some people will feel very, very nervous about coming back into a workplace. Support them in whatever ways you can. If they use public transport, offer flexible start and finish times to allow them to travel at quieter times, for example.
Just chatting it through with the team, keeping them in the loop and getting their feedback and ideas on making the office a safer place to work can be invaluable for everyone.
Getting Back to Work!
It’s a weird scenario that business owners and employers find themselves in. These are unpredictable times and this is a fast changing situation. But read the guidance, put in place whatever steps you can and support your team in reducing the risks.
And, risks aside, I’m personally really looking forward to getting the team back together – even if that is at a very safe distance!