The Government is starting to describe its aim to support selected business sectors in a ‘partial return to work’.
Just what can that look like? How should you as a business leader start that process and what should you and your leadership team be considering?
What safety protocols need to be in place? How are you to arrange the physical space – at a reasonable budget – whilst retaining colleague camaraderie and company culture?
Kevin Parker, Managing Director of 20 year old specialist flexible working fit out company Space-Pod, offers some practical ideas.
Arrival/Departure – i.e. safely getting staff into and out of the building
Pop goes the layout! As One Direction take a lead in post-Covid building layout + design!
This will vary depending on the building, however, most importantly one direction of travel must be created, using fire exits if necessary.
If the building size or layout can offer it multiple routes will be ideal – especially if it can result in different departments or teams not having to cross one another’s routes.
Hand sanitisation must be made available at each arrival point and any other appropriate ‘touch’ points along the route, i.e doors, keypads etc.
Get out of the kitchen – it’s too hot to handle.
Whilst suspending general kitchen activity would be a good start – it’s probably not feasible. The supermarkets have done a great job in training us to build on the British skill of queuing – so piggy back on it; a rota system for using the kitchen facilities will ensure one individual from each team is in the space at a time. Build on the community support which has been fostered and get staff to take it in turns to prepare drinks for their colleagues.
Cooking or heating food, at least in this interim period, will lead to another set of challenges. It’s advisable to insist that only cold food can be consumed. Keep it in a suitable container and in the fridge.
Spend a penny… / engaged …. / toilet training….
Once again, less is more. Insist on single access only to the loos. Provide liberal amounts of cleaners – either spray bottles with surface disinfectant or disposable wipes – so people can wipe down taps etc, before and after use. Disposable toilet seat covers may be worth considering, but this is more psychological than practical. Make sure a rigorous programme of checking and cleaning is introduced, if you don’t have such a policy already, and make sure it’s stuck to.
We’re all in this together…
Cleaning is critical. Done properly and visibly then it will keep the area sterilized, give your staff the confidence that the place is clean and, with your, support and training, make sure they play their part too.
Ideally, a full-time cleaner working whilst the office is manned continuously going around and cleaning all areas would be the perfect plan. If that’s not possible introduce another rota for named staff to clean at specific slots through the day. In parallel with either solution make it clear that everyone must play their part; they are responsible for their own workstation cleanliness, tidiness and bin emptying. Look really carefully at your own business circumstances and add to this list as appropriate.
Your nominated / dedicated cleaner must have a clear rota to keep the kitchen, loos and common areas clean.
Very importantly – it will be worth doing a deep clean prior to re-opening especially around workstations and desks which are often excluded from the daily clean.
We’ve touched on this above already – there are a number of ways of approaching workspace cleanliness and hygiene.
In larger offices one person can be seated per 3 spaces on a bench desk and get separation by distance.
In tighter areas distancing may not be possible start by deep cleaning the desk and under desk area prior to re-opening.
Then introduce a clear desk policy – nothing may be left out on desk tops. Install plastic storage bins for temporary use if necessary.
Anything a member of staff needs to use can be kept in their own plastic bin, used when they are in work and returned, covered and stored, at the end of the shift.
Start using the mantra ‘Clear Desks are Clean Desks’. A clean desk top with just IT on it is much easier to keep sterile than a cluttered surface. Disinfectant wipes per desk top will allow the users to keep it sterile, especially if it’s a shared hot desk or similar.
If separation by distance isn’t possible then Perspex screens can be installed in order to restrict the opportunity of air-bourne particles to pass between people from breathing, coughing or sneezing. Again – let’s take the lead from our retailers – these don’t have to be over complicated, so long sas they are sufficiently big and stable they will fulfil their function.
Other points to consider…
Given the common areas are out of bounds, consider allowing people to eat at their desks but be really clear about the hygiene requirements you expect to be followed. Better still encourage your staff to eat when they go out of the building to stretch their legs and to eat then.
Meeting Rooms – take all meeting rooms offline. Use the extra space to house staff to help with distancing.
Supply the staff with headphones and microphones and encourage them to use Zoom, Teams or other online collaboration software – even for meetings in the office!
If a face to face or private meeting is imperative – go into the car park or re-purpose the smoking shelter!
Air-Con & Mechanical fresh air – the ‘jury’s out on this one’ currently. The specialists are working hard to work out whether the filters in the system can hold the virus particles, if they can then great, if not then problematic.
The technology does exist; aeroplanes exchange their air via bleed valves on the engine intakes and the air is fully exchanged every two minutes on average. Also, the particulate size on the filters is small enough to hold the virus particles so a healthy environment for travel is possible, as long as social distancing is in place. That’s why some flights are still running albeit with a much reduced passenger loading to allow physical separation.
Cruise ships on the other hand rely on approximately 80% re-circulation of air through their internal systems and the filter particulate size doesn’t hold the virus particles, so confining passengers to cabins for separation and then maintaining the air-con effectively creates a floating virus-incubator.
Going forward, the bigger issue is how businesses streamline their on-site operations put arrangements in place for slick ‘remote / flexible / home / Smart working’ and then release real estate cost by reducing their physical estates.