As remote workers up and down the country tried to keep cool at their home desks during the recent heatwave, many would have pined for the air conditioned spaces of their actual offices. Remember those? It seems almost like a different lifetime when we would go to work every day, mix freely with our colleagues, have face to face meetings, socialise in busy bars and restaurants and then return home on crowded tubes, buses and trains.
It may be many months if not years before that level of normality returns, but many businesses are now starting to bring staff back in a limited capacity, and preparing for the time when more workers will return, possibly when the furlough scheme ends this autumn. Earlier this summer we wondered what the post-lockdown office would look like
, and now from Rapid's own experience, we can start to see that in practice. What are we learning about new products, procedures and routines?
Divide and prosper
Since the middle of March, when the company rolled out its business continuity plan in response to the coronavirus pandemic, key operational staff within our warehouse remained on site, to ensure that orders could still be despatched. Administrative and office staff, meanwhile, almost immediately vacated the building to work from home, due to the remote working procedures that Rapid's IT department had put in place for just such an eventuality. Home working has been the norm for five months now, with only the occasional visit by individuals to the office in Colchester.
Rapid's distribution centre is far from unique in that its site includes a combination of warehousing and office space. This brings challenges but also benefits when it comes to re-integrating staff onto the site. Because the warehouse is located on the opposite side of the site to the offices, which are also on the first floor, staff in each could exist in self-contained 'bubbles' for most of their working day. That was the thinking behind the idea of dividing the site in half. Effectively there are two one-way systems in operation. Warehouse staff enter through two entrances at the east and south of the building, and office staff use the main guest entrance at the west. Car parking is similarly demarcated. The warehouse workers use the main restroom, toilets and lockers on the ground floor, while office staff use the toilets upstairs and use meeting rooms for break periods. Hazard tape
in the atrium clearly shows the dividing lines. If individuals from either warehouse or office need to leave their bubble, they have to wear a face mask and gloves.
In the office area there is still very limited numbers of staff - no more than 10 currently, in an open plan space that would normally seat up to 70 staff, so there is plenty of space to be socially distanced. No one is sitting directly opposite anyone else, and there are hand sanitising
stations at several points around the office. At least twice a day a trained member of staff will clean surfaces and regular touch points with disinfectant and use an anemometer
to measure the quality of air flow around the building. Higher levels of ventilation are regarded as an efficient tool against the transmission of Covid-19.
'You miss the interaction with your colleagues'
"I am very proud of the way our staff reacted and rallied together to work through the extreme circumstances of the pandemic; everyone played their part and found new ways to operate safely and efficiently, " James Bates, Rapid's Managing Director, said. "We immediately put our Emergency Contingency plan into action, but working from home doesn't suit all of our staff. We therefore planned for a return to something approaching normality when the local risk had reduced. We have operated throughout the pandemic without a single transmission and we are looking to gradually increase the use of our offices where our employees and our customers benefit from their teams operating on site. We will combine on site and home working for the foreseeable future. The pandemic has certainly changed the way we work and created a clearer view of what’s possible."
Michael Hathaway-Howell (pictured below left) is one of the members of staff who has been back in the office. "After working from home, I was certainly keen to come back as soon as it was safe to do so. You really do miss the interaction with your colleagues. It is a bit like sport at the moment - it's still sport, but not the same without a crowd. Although there is certainly nothing like a crowd here! Rapid has prepared well, arranging site safety precautions ensuring we are working apart while in the same space. We all sanitise our hands regularly and clean our workstations with disinfectant wipes at the start and end of the day. We also take turns disinfecting all the common touch points around the offices so it feels like we are all taking care of each other."
The company has published a Covid-19 Health and Safety policy which includes clear guidance for employees on how to work safely when they are on site. This includes setting a limit to the number of people allowed in rest and meeting rooms, reducing warehouse capacity by half and ensuring manned workstations are at least 3 metres apart. The warehouse is sanitised every working day at 11am and 3pm, perspex screens have been installed between packing areas and totes moving around the business are disinfected before restarting their journey to complete a customer order.
Rapid stock a comprehensive range of workplace safety products
and equipment, including PPE, hand hygiene, cleaning and site safety products. Follow the links below to find out more and place your order:
Masks & Eye Protection
Gloves & PPE Clothing