As lockdown measures continue to ease and businesses look to reopen, employers must plan the return to the workplace in a way that safeguards the health and wellbeing of their people.
On 17th July the Prime Minister announced that the Government’s advice for England on going to work was changing; ‘Instead of government telling people to work from home, we are going to give employers more discretion, and ask them to make decisions about how their staff can work safely.’ This could still mean continuing to work from home, or it could mean making workplaces safe by following COVID-secure guidelines. ‘Whatever employers decide, they should consult closely with their employees, and only ask people to return to their place of work if it is safe,’ said the Prime Minister.
To help with this we have compiled a comprehensive guide on how businesses should plan for and implement their return to work strategy.
Planning and preparing for the return to work
Taking the time to properly plan for the return to the workplace of your staff is essential to ensuring that this is done safely and smoothly. Below are some things you might consider before your employees return.
Deep cleaning the office
While staff are working from home, this is the perfect time to prepare the office for the return of some or all staff by ensuring that it is cleaned thoroughly. If your regular office cleaners do not provide it, you can easily find a deep cleaning service online.
- Typically, an office deep clean will include…
- Dusting and cleaning of all vents and light fixtures, walls, light switches, doors and doorknobs, baseboards, and all desk surfaces.
- Vacuum all blinds, drapes, windowsills, tracks, etc.
- Move all furniture and thoroughly vacuum all carpets or scrub all floors. Make sure to clean all baseboards behind furniture that is usually not cleaned on a regular basis.
- Clean and sanitize all computer keyboards and screens.
- Clean all kitchen cabinets, appliances, refrigerator, etc.
- Clean all restroom walls, toilets, urinals, sinks and do a machine scrub on restrooms floors.
- Redo the caulk around the toilets and sinks.
- You might also invest in a deep clean for carpeted areas, especially as this can be difficult to schedule usually as it will need time to dry properly before the area can be occupied.
Develop a hybrid work schedule
Due to on-going restrictions and recommendations on distancing, it is important to ensure you do not overpopulate your offices to make sure that all staff members have ample space to work without the need for proximity.
- Ask yourself “Who needs to work from the office and who can remain working from home?”
Where possible it is advisable to either phase the return to work of your staff or possibly to only have those staff members whose roles require them to be office-based return at all.
- Hybrid workplans
You might create a schedule for staff, rotating those who will work from home and those who will work from the office periodically. Again, you should err on the side of caution and only populate the office to the extent it is necessary for the smooth running of the business.
- Location planning
Your usual seating plans may not be suitable to comply with distancing requirements, so it is advisable to review your existing seating plan and to revise it to give every worker at least 2 meters clearance from others.
Send a “Return to Work” form
You should create a “return to work” form for all staff to complete and submit for review, prior to their return to the office. This will ask them questions relating to their health to ensure that no-one with a risk of infection returns prematurely.
- Here is an example of a Return to Work form provided by the UK Health & Safety Authority that you can use as a guide or edit to your needs – https://www.hsa.ie/eng/topics/covid-19/return_to_work_safely_templates_checklists_and_posters/return_to_work_form.pdf
Develop a COVID-19 response
You should develop a COVID-19 response plan/process and send it to all staff, so that they are aware of what they should do if they suspect that they or someone else might be infected and who has responsibility for actions.
- Here is an example of a COVID-19 Response Plan, provided by the UK Health & Safety Authority, that you can use as a guide or edit to your needs – https://www.hsa.ie/eng/topics/covid-19/return_to_work_safely_templates_checklists_and_posters/covid19-response-plan-template1.pdf
- Nominate a “Lead Worker” responsible for handling COVID-19 related enquiries and incidents and ensure that they are fluent in their responsibilities and your response plan
- Provide advice for staff on the Response Plan and on the role of the COVID-19 Lead Worker including a poster that can be easily found by staff seeking advice. Here is an example of a Lead Worker/Manager advice poster, provided by the UK Health & Safety Authority – https://www.hsa.ie/eng/topics/covid-19/return_to_work_safely_templates_checklists_and_posters/lead_worker_representative_poster_a3_.pdf
New strategies for the workplace
We have all heard the phrase “the new normal” recently, but many companies have yet to define exactly what that looks like for themselves. Once all preparations for the return to work are complete the next step is to define new workplace procedures and strategies that will enable your business to operate efficiently while prioritising the safety and wellbeing of your staff, your suppliers, and your customers.
Create and distribute guidance on new workplace procedures
You should not take for granted that employees are aware of all the latest guidance and advice for safe office working in the current situation. Therefore, it is advisable to create guidance and to distribute this to your staff.
- Advice might include…
- General instructions such as, only 1 person at a time to use Kitchen facilities.
- When to use PPE such as masks and gloves, and guidance on how to dispose of equipment after use.
- Reminders to wash hands regularly and to sanitise devices, especially shared devices.
- Staff should not prepare drinks or food for other staff members.
- Employees should use virtual meeting facilities wherever possible and only participate in face-to-face meetings when necessary.
Provide hygiene facilities and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Probably the most obvious thing on this checklist, you should ensure that you have relevant PPE for the use of your staff, and potentially visitors. Typically, this PPE will consist of…
- Masks, covering the mouth and nose
- Antibacterial wipes and sprays, for sanitising surfaces and equipment
- Protective gloves
- Hand-cleaning facilities, including alcohol sanitiser and even purpose designed dispensers such as this countertop touchless unit.
Revise your strategy for IT
It will come as no surprise that your IT systems will have a large role to play in how your business can adapt to the current circumstances and remain efficient while minimising risk. Here are some ideas you might want to adopt.
- When refreshing your PC workstations, it makes sense to equip your staff with laptops rather than desktops, so that each employee can take their device with them, no matter where they are going to be working.
- Many people like to have a large monitor to work from, so installing laptop docks that can have monitors and full-sized keyboards attached gives laptop users the best of both worlds when desk based.
- Provide headsets for use in virtual meetings and with desktop phone applications.
- Most laptops have webcams installed as standard, but it makes sense to have some handy in case they are needed since virtual meetings should become the default way that people collaborate.
- Avoid face-to-face meetings unless absolutely necessary and instead make use of video-calling and web-conferencing platforms, such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom.
- Document sharing and online messaging and collaboration tools allow staff to work together without requiring physical contact. Microsoft Teams and SharePoint (both components of Microsoft 365) are excellent for this.
- Decide on common platforms and make sure all staff have the latest version of these applications installed and know how to use them, to ensure a hassle-free experience.
- VOIP telephone systems with desktop and smartphone app’s give staff the ability to make and take calls via your company telephone number(s) no matter where they are based.
- Implementing a good Wi-Fi network will enable staff to work from anywhere in your office, so they can spread out and make use of spaces not traditionally used for desk space, such as boardrooms, helping greatly with distancing requirements.
- Managed print solutions, using RFID fobs can reduce, or even eliminate the need for people to touch printers to generate paper copies of documents.
- Locally deployed web-filtering, installed on user devices, rather than via the company firewall, can be used to protect your organisation’s IT from malicious websites even when staff are working outside the office
- Using shared calendars, accessible online, are a great way to schedule staff and even allocate desk-space and keep both office based, and home workers synchronised and informed.
- Online applications, such as Breathe HR for human resources and Wrike for project planning, are an excellent way for staff to fulfil administrative functions while minimising physical interaction and are accessible from anywhere with an internet connection.
Investigate new technologies
It is no surprise that technology will be a key factor in how we get back to the office post-sheltering in place. And while human behaviours will be the most important short-term elements in minimizing a new surge in COVID-19 infections, technology will again be the great enabler of “the new normal” supporting things like density planning and behavioural goals.
- Contact tracing
By assigning devices to a specific user and then collating and analysing locational data transmitted by those devices, new technologies are being introduced to help track who an employee has been in contact with. It is then possible to notify the system of anyone who becomes infected and to identify everyone at risk as a result, so that they can be quarantined.
- Location mapping
Another technology that uses a similar basis, location mapping examines the layout of your offices and alerts users if they breach distancing guidelines that you can define.
Want more advice?
If you want advice on how IT can help your business transition to “the new normal” get in touch…
- Visit https://www.supremesystems.co.uk/
- Call Supreme Systems on 0121 309 0126
- Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Follow Supreme Systems at https://www.linkedin.com/company/supremesystems/
- Follow Julian at https://www.linkedin.com/in/julianbrettle/
Special thanks to…
- The Health & Safety Authority
- The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CPID)
Supreme Systems is an information technology company established since 2008.
Leading IT Services provider and Cloud solutions for businesses in West Midlands.