The office after lockdown
As Hasson Associates Operations Manager I have been mapping out the pros and cons along with the possible risks if the team were to return to work in our London office. Since the office is situated in a shared building with communal areas, it means we are not able to have full control over the movement within the premises. Most of our team relying on various means of public transport to get into central London and so with those 2 major factors alone, we concluded the safest option was to continue to work remotely, for the foreseeable. Thankfully, we are able to do so, with minimal disruption to our business, but this is not the case for everyone.
The health and safety of the team is our the number one priority, as I’m sure it is with all businesses. Here are some tips for you to consider when reviewing your risk assessment before allowing your team back into the office:
- Is it really is essential for your team to be in the office/ workspace? If so, investigate whether you have appropriate insurance in place to cover the risk of claims and whether plans for re-opening should be checked with your insurers.
- People entering the workplace are a significant risk – consider what hygiene facilities will be available and how physical distancing can be maintained. Is the building suitable for most to use the stairs instead of the lift? Should there be a one-person-per-lift rule? Where security and safety allow, can doors be left open so there is less touching of handles? Another possibility might be to implement a one-way system of moving around the building. Staggering start and end times may also take pressure off peak entry/exit to building, as may introducing rules minimising exit and re-entry by staff during the day.
- The general workspace. In an office environment, desks should be at least two metres apart and not face-to-face. This will require an assessment of how it impacts the maximum number of people that the workplace can accommodate – one option might be to divide the workforce into groups and rotate attendance in the office.
- Toilets and kitchens. Limits should be imposed on the number of people allowed to enter these spaces at the same time, e.g. by staggering lunch times. Consider prohibiting the use of company crockery and cutlery and encouraging employees to bring their own. Should the use of coffee machines, fridges, etc be allowed?
- Meetings. Consider the risks around time spent in more confined spaces. Do meetings really need to be held in person rather than by video conference? If so, how should the room be arranged? Another possibility is to prohibit travel for non-critical business meetings.
- Third parties/customers. Assess the risks around third parties entering the workplace, and remember you have an obligation to ensure their health and safety too. In the office environment, are third-party in-person meetings really needed? Will there be agreed protocols around this (e.g. hygiene requirements, travel suggestions, no hand-shaking)? Consider appropriate protocols for deliveries and collections.
- First aiders/fire marshals. If your building is to reopen, is there a requirement for appropriately trained first-aid and fire marshals to be present? It might be advisable to arrange online training for staff now, to ensure adequate cover and thereby compliance. Does the building or facilities manager always need to be there?
- Personal hygiene. Clearly, there may be many different people touching the same equipment, handles, buttons, etc. Can adequate volumes of hand sanitiser for your workplace be sourced? Should disinfectant wipes for keyboards and phones be provided, or should you implement a rule that employees should only use their own keyboard or laptop and phone. Workspaces should be regularly deep cleaned, particularly hard surfaces that are regularly touched.
It’s vital that that we all continue to follow relevant national and global guidance, from the government, NHS and the World Health Organisation (WHO). We must also regularly audit the effectiveness of the policies and procedures, and check they are being adhered to. Don’t forget to re-assure your workers that if they return-to-work, all measures will continue to be reviewed and adapted to evolving government guidance.
Until it is totally safe for Team Hasson to be reunited in the office space, we will continue our daily Zoom meetings, and weekly virtual social gatherings from the safety of our homes.