In recent weeks, the thoughts of business owners and workforce alike have begun to turn to the office. Some organisations have been very outspoken about their expectations of a prompt and complete office return. Others have been more reticent, telling workers that it will be some months yet before staff can begin going back into the office after lockdown. So when, and how often might people return to office based working? What will it look like and how will it be different? Indeed, how might it be improved? And most importantly, what steps should the whole gamut of office based workforce take to maintain hygiene and prevent transmission?
Initial Building Preparation
Before anyone can even contemplate working from an office, the building will have to be assessed and prepared. Staff should feel safe and confident in their environment in order to work productively.
Areas of focus should be entrance and exit flow, the movement of different teams around the building, and touch point identification. This can then form the foundation of guidance for staff to avoid crowding and maintain hygiene.
Leadership teams must go through a clear risk assessment process to work through logistics. This should take in working habits and needs of different teams and departments. The frequency and demand of face to face meetings and direct interaction between different parts of the organisation all must be balanced.
Office Deep Cleaning
Where this may have once been a seasonal maintenance task, office deep cleaning is set to become a more regular part of a cleaning schedule. While the demands of the business will increasingly require outside visitors for meetings, the space must remain a safe environment for the regular workforce. So alongside daily cleaning and touch point sanitising, a very regular deep clean will counteract fears of transmission.
The norm will transition from interacting on screen through Zoom or Teams to a more 3D experience. So offer clear guidance on social distancing as part of going back into the office after lockdown.
Staff Mental Health
Remember that some of the workforce may be experiencing high levels of anxiety at their impending office return. This might not be down to fearing the virus itself, but more a fear of the unknown and the potential mental upheaval associated with change. This is where clarity of guidance comes into play. Make sure that staff are clear about procedures and expectations, and be understanding that for some, office return comes with apprehension.
For most organisations, returning to the office will not be a sudden and all encompassing event. Remote working has proven many benefits over the last year. And now that businesses have invested in the systems to facilitate productive remote working, for many this can become a permanent part of the working week. So it makes sense that any plan for going back to the office after lockdown should include flexibility.
Facilitate Social Interaction
When office colleagues haven’t seen each other in person for up to a year, it’s natural that many will want to catch up. So as part of a plan for going back to the office, why not include structured opportunities for social exchanges.
Assess the layout of the workplace, and the proximity of desks and seating. Stagger arrival and departure times, days of office attendance and regular meetings to avoid crowding at specific times or days. It may be that meetings need to be a mix of in person and remote attendance in the first instance. This is going to require some serious joined up thinking between departments.
Ongoing Building Hygiene
Office cleaning was always an ongoing process, and it is set to be even more so as people begin going back into the office after lockdown. Most businesses will need to reevaluate their office cleaning schedules to focus on touch points and increase regularity.
These places are touched by multiple people and are key transmission sites. Things like door handles, elevator buttons, handrails, meeting room facilities, office kitchen equipment and communal tech like photocopiers. You should either plan for regular sanitising of these places during the office day or provide facilities for staff to wipe down these things after use.
There really is no substitute for regular cleaning. Instruct your office cleaners to undertake a daily work station clean. This will not only maintain office hygiene in the wake of the pandemic, but it will also make your office environment a more pleasant place to work.
It’s vital to facilitate the levels of hygiene that are expected. This means placing sanitising stations around the building and maintaining levels of soap, sanitiser and other products. This is something that you can include in a commercial cleaning contract so the workplace will never be left short.
Office Hygiene Practice
You’ll be surprised at how quickly a workforce gets used to new procedures. Ongoing hygiene practices should include health reporting aswell as hand washing and social distancing. By maintaining the flow of information through your business, you can prevent transmission trails that would impact your workforce.
If your business has survived thus far, we have high hopes that it has a long future ahead of it. So don’t rush to get back to exactly how things were before. With the increased flexibility offered by remote working, many businesses have discovered positives that they want to keep. The months ahead will be a learning curve for most of us, but by maintaining your office hygiene and structuring the work environment correctly, you could evolve your business to a super productive way of working.