3 Considerations for Safely Returning to your Office during the Covid-19 Pandemic
As the government has released the latest easing of the lockdown restrictions on 10 May, many business leaders are further debating the best way to safely return to their workplace. This creates considerable challenges for all different types of businesses, including those working in the many office spaces across the UK that are designed for maximizing space and surely designed without social distancing in mind.
Guidelines on how to navigate these uncertain decisions will continue to emerge, but in the meantime, we have outlined three stages that you should be considering now as you prepare for the eventual return to offices.
- Cleaning and sanitation: With most offices being fully or mostly left inhabited for over two months, it’s important to ‘reset’ your space so you know the baseline of any additional construction or moves you make are safe. For example, you are required to do a test of your water to confirm that you are not at the risk for legionella that is sometimes caused by stagnant water within the pipe. Further, to eliminate any dust, debris or potential germs that could be remaining on surfaces, it’s advisable to work with a professional cleaning company to full sanitize your office. Before offices were closed, many had already added additional sanitation regulations with additional hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes readily available and this type of precautionary cleaning should also be part of your post-lockdown return plan.
- Investigating options: Most business owners we speak to are still debating how their workforce will shift when returning to the office, with trends indicating that remote work will continue to increase. However, given the existing financial and legal commitment to many office spaces, many are already looking towards the return with at least a partial number of employees or rotating schedule for their employees. The government recommendation is that employees can return if there is sufficient space to work with at least 2m apart (4 m2 per employee). Here is more historic guidance from the HSE on space required at work. To evaluate your options, assess your existing space based on your existing capacity and square meterage data. For context, many builders had previously been using a rule of thumb for open concept offices to provide approximately 5 m2 per person. Depending on your office space, you may have a layout that provides enough space, or have to consider changing the design or adding partitions to encourage meetings with only smaller groups and screens to ensure safe working practices. At this stage, it’s also critical to speak to your lease holder to identify the responsibility and options you have to make any structural changes or add partitions to your space that would alter the current setup. What are the terms at the end of your lease to require to return the space back to its current state? This should also be considered as you outline your options.
- Planning your approach: Having made list of the parameters that you need to consider (space allowance, contractual terms, etc.) it’s time to create an initial plan that gives you flexibility to grow and change as the situation continues to stay dynamic. What’s your priority? How will the usage of your space change from pre-covid times? The most likely scenarios are to create more isolated desks and shift the usage of existing meeting space and board rooms that are intended for much larger group meetings to be used for smaller group gatherings or individual offices. When planning your approach, it’s important to think about the impact on the office environment as well. Making the shift from an open concept to adding more divisions that are intended for safety and not part of your initial design, can also have an impact on your office environment and culture. If you had designed your office to be open, consider clear partitions or removable walls so you continue to have flexibility. There are also options to have more semi-permanent spaces created to help reshape your space quickly without making last structural changes but give the look of more permanent walls.
The situation will continue to evolve, but safety will remain at the forefront as we stay alert to contain the virus and protect ourselves, our neighbors, and our NHS.
If you have questions, the team at CIP is offering free consultations to those navigating covid-related building scenarios. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions to set up a time to discuss.