With the various lockdowns over and the pandemic now a part of life rather than something that stops it, what happens next? How can you prepare your office for people returning to work? How can you help your workforce handle coming back into the office after so long at home?
It isn’t going to be easy for any of us.
We have all had over a year at home, a year of a new routine, better work-life balance and more time with the kids, in the garden, with the dog or just away from the daily commute.
How do we transition back to the new normal?
We see this as having two parts. Preparing your office and preparing your staff.
Preparing your office for life after COVID
Preparing your office for life after COVID is going to take some adapting. Fortunately, much of that can happen before staff return from furlough or working from home.
Social distancing is still a requirement and is likely to be for a long time yet. Where space allows, distributing workspaces so there is more space between desks or pods is a good start.
It will make the workplace safe and help staff feel more protected. Two essentials for the big return to work.
If you cannot distribute workspaces, using dividers between desks could help instead. It’s less social and can interrupt collaboration but it’s a safe way to work and that trumps everything else.
Office deep clean
Most workers know their offices are cleaned while they are at home and that used to be enough. Now you may need a more overt clean to show, not just tell, your staff that the office is clean.
We would recommend an office deep clean before you open your doors again to set a hygienic benchmark. We would then recommend a regular weekly or monthly deep clean to keep things safe and to keep staff feeling safe.
Adding hand wash stations around the office, making sure there is always a means to dry hands in the bathroom and encouraging hand washing can all be low key ways to reassure staff and provide physical aids to the return to work.
Being able to sanitise hands regularly reassures workers and helps keep areas clean. Providing antibacterial keyboard, mouse and phone wipes will also help.
Having an office cleaner that can help you keep everything replenished as part of their daily duties can also make life easier for everyone.
Canteens and vending
If you have a staff canteen or vending area, enforcing distancing and hand washing before touching anything is another practical measure you can take that doesn’t cost much.
Spacing between staff, minimal opportunities to touch or breathe on food, plates or cutlery, more space to sit and eat and the same for vending machines are a small but important step towards a safe return.
Most people are in the habit of washing hands more, using sanitiser, wearing masks and keeping their distance, but it doesn’t hurt to go over it all again.
Training will help ingrain the new normal, show staff what’s expected and set their mind at ease that you’re taking their health and wellbeing seriously.
It’s that last that could make the biggest difference to coming back to work. Knowing your employer is taking your safety and wellbeing seriously. If anything will help the transition, it’s that.
Set up an alert system for refills
If you don’t already have a facilities manager or onsite cleaner, delegate someone with the responsibility of either monitoring levels of sanitiser, toilet paper, soap and hand dryers.
Have them check periodically during the day and respond quickly to alerts for stations that have run out of sanitiser. Habits can quickly deteriorate so the ability to move quickly and refill, means a higher likelihood of people retaining good habits.
Office cleaning is one of those activities that is usually invisible to most staff. Unless you come in particularly early or work late, you will never see an office cleaner.
Changing that so staff see cleaners and see how meticulous they are cleaning the office can do a lot for their confidence. It’s one thing to be told your office and workspace is being cleaned thoroughly, it’s another to see it with your own eyes.
It would need careful timing but we would recommend having your cleaner visible occasionally to give staff confidence that you’re backing up your words with action.