Why now?

The key question is why would you ask people to return to the workplace now? Government advice is to continue to work from home if you can – and so for most of us, we should continue to stay at home as this is the easiest way to stay safe.

In a recent survey we conducted with our people:

87% scored their effectiveness whilst working from home as 8 out of 10 or above.

So it might be that you should focus your initial efforts on increasing the effectiveness of home workers – especially the 13 % who felt less effective. Online workplace assessments wouldn’t be a bad start. As you will see below, keeping people safe in an office environment presents a lot of challenges – so maybe continuing as you are is the best move if you can?

Engage with your people 

Asking people before you make decisions is a great way to understand how they are feeling and also make sure you understand the challenges you will face when you decide the time is right to make this move. Using a short survey is a great way to do this. One of the questions we asked is whether people wanted to work from home, the office or a mixture of both after CV-19 is over.

39% said they would prefer to work from home full time, 7% said they wanted to return to full-time office working, with the remaining 54% wanting a mixture of home and office working.

On the face of it, this shows a desire in the majority for some kind of office working. Our next step is to ask each group what were the key drivers for their responses so we can work out how this might work if 40% of people don’t want to be in the office to participate.

Can your workplace accommodate social distancing? 

Social distancing will mean you have less space to work with and it will need to be managed well to keep people safe. It is hard to see how you would simply be able to allow 60% of your people to come and go as they please. Some kind of control is going to need to be applied. Marking areas with tape might not be pretty but as supermarkets have shown, it can be effective. Limiting and distancing people in reception areas will also be required, especially the process of handling post and deliveries and keeping reception people safe. Common areas such as stairs, lifts, water coolers, post rooms, kitchens, and meeting rooms all need individual plans and managing carefully. If like us, you are largely office-based, there is some good advice in the guide working safely during CV-19 in offices and contact centres published recently by the UK Government. 

Keeping track of the 'coming and going' 

Controlling access to your offices is key and the best place to start is at the front door. Hard limits on the number of people being allowed in will need to be imposed. Given the potential for cross-infection, keeping track of who was where and when will most likely be a sensible step to take. That way if someone presents symptoms or is diagnosed with CV-19 you can make sure anyone who came into contact with them can be notified and self-isolate if necessary. 

Cleaning, PPE and Equipment 

Cleaning and having access to the right PPE will be key to keeping people safe. Hot desking is being discouraged in principle – however, given the challenges for space it is hard to see how this can be avoided. 

The latest statistics indicate you are more likely to become infected by contact with a hard surface than by contact with an infected person so a cleaning regime will need to be in place to ensure the cleanliness of all hard surfaces, door entry pads, photocopiers, etc., regularly throughout the day and reduce the number of hard surfaces by removing any clutter around the workplace, additionally:

- Sanitisation points on entry into the building.
- Handwash stations around the workplace
- Cleaning of desk areas when people start work or leave work.

Also, you may want to look into providing people with personal equipment so they don’t have to share, think about laptops rather than desktops, softphones rather than desk phones, individual rather than shared headsets.

Training 

There are many things to think about, plan, and agree before you can safely return to office working. We are working through these now ourselves and certainly don’t have all the answers yet. However, it is better to have a plan than not, and, personally, I think we all would be well advised to take our time and make sure we think this through. Once people are back it will be harder to manage if your planning was poor at this stage. I have included a link to the UK Government website working safely during CV-19 where you can find 8 different guides to suit a range of workplace settings.

Finally, whatever you decide it is important that people understand thoroughly what their responsibilities are BEFORE they return to work. Passing a mandatory training course on our learning portal will be a requirement before people are allowed back in our offices.