A Guide for making the Journey Back to The Office.

 

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new”. Socrates 

The truth behind those words still lives strong millennia later, in more ways than one. In this instance, the road to achieving normality post-lockdown is one filled with precarious pitfalls that must be navigated with the utmost caution. Employee’s all around the world are placing their trust in business owners and leaders, trusting them to do their due diligence in creating a safe place of work and have protocols in place that facilitate a smooth transition from virtual to office.

Duty of Care

This is the legal obligation placed on business owners to create and put in practice reasonable measures that will ensure that all their stakeholders who placed trust in them, are protected from physical and psychological harm. 

It is crucial for business owners to realize that, in the long run, the health and safety of their employee is paramount. If anything has been made clear to us in the wake of COVID-19, it’s that we live in a global village. Any setbacks or negative attention a business could generate through subpar health and safety policies and procedures won’t just lose them their workforce. It will guarantee a ripple effect that spans the globe. No matter how successful your business is, bad news travels like a forest fire and people remember it for longer. The label of being a company that exposed its people, that neglected its duty, won’t be so easily shaken in the years to come.  

So, don’t rush the process, dot your I’s and cross your t’s, then triple check everything. Because the implications that follow your response to opening back your offices include much more than retaining and attracting talent. The following is a guide to help you along the path to opening your doors again.

Employee Well Being 

We are still in the emphatic phase of this pandemic, which is admirable, but eventually, the show must go on, and the businesses’ bottom line and continued survival will have to supersede anything else. However, businesses have a duty of care to their employees and it must not be business as usual. They must make themselves aware and take into account that in England there are 2.2 million people classified as being at high-risk, including those who have received organ transplants or are on immunosuppression drugs. Not to mention the 47% of the population who have suffered from anxiety due to the pandemic. (According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS)).

According to research by Bupa Health Clinics, 65% of British workers feel anxious about their return to the office, with 42% of respondents saying one of their main concerns was being able to properly socially distance while in the workplace. Other concerns included fears about commuting (38%) and the office not being clean enough (37%). 

The following charts showcase data obtained from research conducted by Brother UK- Global Technology Solutions and Service Provider. They will help you to determine what to focus on when addressing the worries of your employees.

Considerations before bringing staff back into the Office

  • Is it essential? – It is recommended to bring back only those employees that need to be in the office to conduct their work. If they can continue to work from home and be productive, then let them.
  • Is it a sustainable plan? – Bringing staff back in shifts and on rotation may seem like an ideal solution, but can it hold up in the long-term. Take into account that some work or projects may require the sudden shift of workspace assignments, and plan accordingly for such an eventuality.
  • Is it mutually agreed upon? – No matter your preparations and efforts to ensure your staff’s safety and alleviate concerns, there will be people who are simply not comfortable with the idea of returning to an everyday work routine or are concerned about their safety getting to and from work, as that is out of employers control.

The Prime Minister has stressed that it is up to the employers’ discretion to decide whether working from home or the office is a decision that requires the consultation of workers. That said, you cannot force people to do something they don’t want to, and if you can continue to let them work from home, you should. Eventually, they will either respond to other employees’ safeguarded returns to the office, or the organization may have to develop strategies on how to move forward.

Organisational Well-Being 

Start, literally, from the ground up. Hygiene and sanitation are crucial, so the first of your workforce that should be recalled to the office are your facilities managers. The government offers guidance on how to set up workplaces to avoid the spread of COVID-19, it is important to keep yourself updated on any new policies that could affect your plan to reopen workspaces.  

  1. Prepare by conducting a detailed risk assessment of your company and its people. 
  2. Pre-occupancy inspections and regularly maintained cleaning programs are your priority. 
  3. Coach your facilities managers on the desired setup of workspaces, accounting for social distancing measures, and marking touch point areas. 
  4. Second, to the facility managers, will be the return of the IT team to ensure the maintenance of digital hygiene. This refers to both the physical hygiene of office tech and also cleaning the build-up of months of remote working on company devices. 
  5. Set up a sanitation station and temperature check near the entrance of your facility. New technologies are fast developing to quickly screen the temperature of many people at a time via heat-detection cameras while connecting findings to a laptop or a tablet in real-time. 
  6. Identify any touchpoints in the office and provide necessary sanitation stations throughout. If possible, PPE supplies should be on hand. It is a recommended psychological control, rather than a safety need, but it will ease the tension among your workforce.
  7. If possible, direct routes in and out of the office facilities should be communicated and set up.  
  8. If your company offers services that include points of contact, review how you can minimize risk, and establish procedures to protect both employees and customers. 

Remember to continuously inform and keep in contact with your staff about any new safety policies, to reassure them you are doing all you can to ensure their safety.

Conclusion

As much as we all want a return to life as we knew it, it may take a long time and it’s important to remember to not be bitter about all the additional effort needed to get us there. We have to remain positive and optimistic while adapting to the new normal. So please take your time, follow government guidelines, and ensure your health and safety teams and occupational health teams are on stand by as you make the journey back to normal. It’ll be months till we can see the return of a full office and workspace, but in the meantime, we must do what we can so the business can run on as close to usual as we can. The following are some additional sources to help you along your journey.

 

Online hub

An online hub has been set up containing all the advice and guidance which businesses need to know about, set up by Towergate Health & Protection, which is continually updated and is free to access.

 

Return to Work Checklist

Bupa Occupational Health has provided a helpful checklist of things to consider when reopening up offices, to ensure you are creating a safe environment for your staff.

 

Written by Waad Asker

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