After an arduous year where it was vital for many businesses to shut their doors, there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. Hospitality is overflowing with community spirit and celebration, however, many of us still hold some uncertainties. Most of these feelings of dubiety are surrounding the safety and logistics of returning to work after such a troublesome time.
The thought of returning to a place so familiar where procedures are suddenly so contrasting can be unnerving for everyone involved. However, with sufficient communication amongst staff, and implementation of the correct hygiene and safety procedures, comes reassurance. The trick to reopening a business successfully lies in preparing and executing a strict plan of action.
As the popular saying goes: ‘Communication is key’. This is especially relevant when finding your feet as a business after the pandemic. The single most important factor to successfully reopening your doors is ensuring everyone knows the ropes when it comes to health and safety, and the repercussions for the business if the steps are not correctly maintained.
It’s essential that staff are aware of the procedures before returning to the office. Some easy steps to add to your return to work plan are:
- Sending an informational email
- Uploading the new guidelines to your company intranet
- Writing directly to employees
- Hosting a Teams meeting to discuss the changes
- Create visual training, such as, a training video
- Share the new policies on your company social media platforms
- Creating a staff handbook
During the planning phase, there is a great opportunity to consider feedback from your employees and trial the new policies in your return to work program, before they go live. Encourage staff to ask questions and have input into ideas which could make the workplace safer and more efficient for everyone. A phased return to work is an ideal plan, to prevent overcrowding and keep employees safe.
Sanitisation is the most important step for keeping the workspace clean and safe. Hand sanitiser has become the daily norm, which will continue in workplaces, along with tools and guidelines to keep desks and surroundings risk-free.
Some quality deep clean protocols which you can implement into your workplace are:
- Frequent use of hand sanitiser and sanitising stations at entrants, exits and around the space
- Identify and frequently disinfect objects and surfaces that are used regularly
- Make sure you provide running water, soap and paper towels at all times
- Empty bins frequently
- Keep surfaces clean and tidy so they are easier to clean
- Clean surfaces, workspaces and equipment between use
- Limit equipment to one person, or disinfect shared equipment before and after each use
- Invest in third-party fog, mist, vapour or ultraviolet disinfection systems regularly
- The use of masks when necessary
Before your team returns to work after furlough or home working, you may want to take a look at your current workplace design. Although we are essentially in the last phases of the Government protocol, it’s still important to plan for prevention. It’s understood that Covid-19 has changed the way we work, whether this is just for an extended period of time or a permanent development, only time will tell.
What are the most prominent changes we will notice in the workplace on returning to work post-pandemic?
Over the years, office desks have gradually shrunk from an average of two square metres, to one. But this could see a speedy reversal. With social distancing measures in place, companies are calling for larger desks to keep in line with the 6-metre rule. Larger desks with greater spaces between people, may also mean larger office areas and business relocations.
We’re already familiar with the transparent Covid screens present in supermarkets and shops, but these are also becoming increasingly observable in the workplace. Due to open-plan office desks situating staff adjacent and directly opposite to each other, screens have become a necessary method to prevent the spread of infection from a cough or a sneeze.
Although the idea of this in everyday life seems overwhelming, they’ve proven to be very effective at stopping the spread of infection through the height of the pandemic.
One-way systems can be difficult to enforce due to the need of appropriate signage to maintain the rule. We’ve seen signage being missed and ignored in busy shops and supermarkets, where people are too distracted or impatient to notice.
However, in an office environment, one way systems seem to be a little less troubling. The idea behind one-way systems is to decrease the close-proximity interaction between staff as much as possible when maneuvering around the space.
According to researchers, humidity can greatly affect the spread of viruses. When air humidity is below 40%, infectious droplets can float for longer, travel further and are more likely to infect surfaces.
According to Tim Duffy, director of technical services at Leo A Daly suggests that “the sweet spot for infection control is between 40 and 60% relative humidity.” Dry air creates a prime environment for diseases such as Covid to spread, especially in crowded areas.
However, adding humidifiers to the interior of a building can increase the risk of rot and mould growth, which can also significantly affect people’s health. When working to increase humidity in your premises, it’s important to carry out the full process. This could include adding extra layers of insulation, or installing equipment to reheat the air, to avoid deterioration of the building’s materials.
We are all familiar with the regular social spot that is the workplace canteen. Usually, these crowded spaces come with a plethora of seating arrangements for staff to eat, socialise, and focus on work. Seating and spacing in canteens have seen a huge adjustment to limit close physical interaction when returning to the workplace.
To ensure that this traditionally popular area is less occupied, it’s important to ensure that:
- Hand washing facilities or hand sanitiser is available at the entrance to canteens
- Break times are staggered so that staff can adhere to social distancing rules
- Queue points on the floor are clearly marked to ensure social distancing is maintained
- No food or drink is shared amongst staff
- Food served should be individually wrapped to minimise contact and avoid spread of infection
‘Return-to-work’ thoughts following the height of a pandemic can be a huge weight to carry for all employers and staff involved – but it doesn’t have to be stressful. As long as the return to work policy is followed with sufficient communication and staff support, teams can work together to make the workplace safe for everyone involved.
Staff support and training are vital to keep stress-levels down when going back to work after furlough or working from home, to ensure everyone is aware of the rules and regulations both before and during. With time, the workplace will become familiar with these changes, and they’ll be second nature. Time will only tell how long these guidelines will be in place.