COVID-19 Office Space Planning Service

Posted by Deborah Wilder on 04/06/2020

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Back to the Office and COVID-19...

How to manage a phased return to the office, plus a free requestable planner and resources...

Let’s face it, 2020 has not been an easy year for most people. The UK is now preparing to exit the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and introduce a phased return to the office. Extra freedom is a welcome announcement, but we can’t let our guard down too much. We must do our best to bring our employees back to the office in a phased manner while ensuring their physical safety and psychological wellbeing.  

Two people social distancing in a meeting booth in a COVID-19 office space

What are the benefits of thorough COVID-19 Return to Office Planning?

  • Ensure employee safety and reduce anxiety
  • Support individuals fairly
  • Boost morale and motivation
  • Achieve business continuity
  • Return to optimum capacity as soon as possible
  • Achieve cost savings

We have created a comprehensive guide with the latest government advice to help you plan a return to your office during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, taking the following 3 important factors into consideration:

  • Responsibility to limit the spread of the virus
  • Safety to you and your employees
  • Confidence that your business can function productively

Safely

Returning to the office after COVID-19 doesn’t need to be complicated. But you do need to be thorough. It starts with following government and HSE guidance, developing policies and communications. Then you need to review your space planning to ensure physical distancing between desks, in meeting rooms, collaboration spaces and breakouts.

Where adequate physical distancing isn’t possible, the introduction of Perspex screens and dividers could help. But we do have reservations about these from an environmental point of view – think about the short-term use of large amounts of acrylic which will then be consigned to landfill for the next several thousand years. And while aesthetics may not be the top priority currently, we still believe it is important to think about how the workplace design makes your employees feel. Therefore our preferred approach is to keep people safe by spreading them out, not by enclosing them in 1990s style cubicles!   

Other safety measures are the affordable, immediate and simple to install signage and wayfinding that will introduce one way systems, and deal with tight passing points around the office. Hygiene measures such as air purification, instant sanitisation, handwashing stations, and more frequent office cleaning will also play a big role. Other physical adaptations could include handsfree products such as foot door openers or anti-bacterial covers for door handles and chair adjustment levels. More permanent measures that reduce touchable surfaces might be to switch to softphones rather than those big, clunky, dust gathering deskphones. Medical measures could range from temperature checks, and offering Covid19 tests and antibody tests.  

Tie all of this together with behavioural measures such as clear protocols for if a staff member falls ill, guidance for team or partner working, staggering start and finish times, and increasing flexible working.  

Our approach is to keep people safe by spreading them out, not by enclosing them in 1990's style cubicles.

The workplace still has to be a place where your staff can feel comfortable and productive not caged in. 

COVID-19 Office Return - How to plan [FREE Planner Download] | Interaction

Confidently

Employee concerns related to the coronavirus are likely to continue for some time. This will vary depending on the location and the level of community transmission still active. Employees, and their family members, may be anxious about returning to shared public spaces, including the workplace.  

The more employees understand about what safety measures are being taken, and why, the more likely there is to be employee buy-in, and the less likely that employees may make complaints internally or externally to other third parties regarding perceived risk in the workplace. Regular communications will reassure. They will also be necessary for reminding your people when social distancing or hygiene behaviours start to slip. 

Additionally, culture may have been diluted somewhat by everyone working at home for months, effectively in micro silos. This is about connecting people again and reassuring them that you have their best interests at heart. Involving your employees in the process will help them feel confident about returning to the workplace and will promote a culture of trust and collaboration. 

COVID-19 Office Return - How to plan [FREE Planner Download] | Interaction

An example of wayfinding signs that can be used throughout your workspace to ensure you staff feel safe in your approach.

Using signage is a great way to be clear about how the office should be used and gives confidence to your staff that the government guidelines are being implemented and their safety is a priority. 

Responsibly

On 11 May 2020 the UK Government published official guidance, in conjunction with the HSE, to help employers get their businesses back up and running and workplaces operating safely. The five steps are key to meeting these requirements and should be implemented as soon as it is practical. Once you have implemented these, make sure you communicate this with your employees and clients, for example via your website.  

Employers have a legal responsibility to assess and manage the risks of COVID-19 and protect workers and others from risk to their health and safety. The current guidance is still that staff should work from home if possible. Businesses have a duty of care for our employees when they are working, wherever that may be. That means they need to be monitoring the health and wellbeing of people working from home at the same time as planning for their return to the workplace. Developing clear policies, in consultation with your employees, will go a long way to reassure them that they are in safe, responsible hands.  

What does returning to the workplace responsibly look like?

We can help you return to the office RESPONSIBLY, SAFELY and CONFIDENTLY

Request your FREE guide to help get you started by emailing charlie.moss@interaction.uk.com

If you'd like to talk more about what you could do to ensure the safe return of your staff to your office then we would love to help, just get in touch