July 4th looks set to be independence day for many people in England, as pubs, restaurants, cafés, museums, hairdressers and cinemas reopen with reduced 1 metre social distancing guidelines.
But what about offices? When will the 9-to-5, as we knew it, return for people who have been working from home since March?
Businesses able to support remote working are obviously not as precariously placed as theatres or concert venues, because people do not have to be present in the same building for the business to operate. But firms with office space are still in a kind of lockdown limbo. There is no huge pressure for people to return to their desks, because of the increased risk in virus transmission that this will bring. Home working has its benefits, but also its challenges. Most workers would appreciate the personal contact of the office environment, even if combined with home working, and businesses would prefer operating in a more traditional way.
But with social distancing likely to remain in place until a vaccine for Covid-19 can be found, offices, like shops, pubs and every other space where the general public interact, will need to make many adjustments to the way they function. Every business that is considering bringing employees back will need to undertake a risk assessment and put control measures in place. The following are just some of the things that companies are considering to comply with government guidelines on workplace safety. They will make your office look very different from when you last saw it:
- Reduced workstations. Do not be surprised to see one in every two taped off. In an area with four workstations set up as a square, it is likely that only two will be able to be occupied, with a back-to-back or side by side configuration preferred
- Hand sanitising stations at busy touch points and floor entry points.
- Social distancing signage and markings throughout the premises
- Fitting door handles with touch-free opening mechanisms
- Implementing one-way systems
- Work stations fitted with hygiene screens
- Temperature checks on staff before they enter the building
- 'Safe zones' around each workstation
- Greater ventilation throughout, especially in meeting rooms. Increased circulation of fresh air and mechanical systems to improve air flow. Reduction in face to face meetings
- Staggered start and end times to each working day
Obviously not every office will implement all of these measures, and even if they do most businesses will not be in a position to welcome their entire work forces back at the same time. Rota working, to keep on-site staff as safe as possible, is likely in the intial phase, when the virus is still in general circulation. In an article published on the BBC's Worklife site
last month, Albert De Plazaola, global strategy director at design company Unispace, said: "Organisations are working out who most needs to be at the office, and capping staff numbers off at about 30%, which is probably the sweet spot for social distancing.”
Obviously these changes are directly related to the threat from Covid-19. However, architects and designers are already considering the impact of the pandemic on the way offices are designed in the future, with perhaps less emphasis on open plan and communal spaces. "We may have lived with the flu for many years, but this is the first time our generation has experienced a pandemic", said Plazaola. "We're now hyperaware of health risks, whether real or imagined. And employers are hypersensitive about the potential for liability if people get sick at work.”
If you are looking to make changes to your office environment our workplace safety
pages include a wide range of products, including hand hygiene, PPE and site safety equipment. This includes specialist equipment such as hands-free door opening handles
and acrylic safety screens
UK government guidance on working safely in offices during Covid-19
How offices will change after coronavirus
HSE advice on air conditioning and ventilation during Covid-19 outbreak