Lee Hatwell, director of Munday + Cramer, addresses some of the most frequently asked questions regarding what simple measures can be taken to meet new Government safety standards and ease employee anxieties towards returning to work
National Safety Month could not have come at a more pertinent time, as employers turn their attention this month to how they can ensure the safety and wellbeing of their staff in the phased return to the office.
Understandably, there have been huge anxieties for many people surrounding returning to work. With many having worked from home for over two months, staff need complete reassurance that their safety is being taken into account and all potential risks have been minimised.
The government has released a list of new safety measures to help offices and other facilities adhere to social distancing, hygiene and safety measures. However, this is all new for everyone so it can be hard to know if you’re meeting the right standards.
Review Office Layouts
One of the biggest priorities to cover before encouraging staff to return to work is to review the office layout and seating plans. Often spaces are quite cramped with minimal deskspace and colleagues work quite closely to one another. This is where your staff with be spending most of their time and therefore will likely be the place with the highest risk of transmission. Utilise the space you have carefully, separating the desks by two metres where possible. In instances where it may not be possible to have work stations spaced two metres apart, installing Perspex screens can act as a barrier to any harmful germs.
Implement one-way systems
The impact of changing the office layout will be diminished if the two metre distancing is not recognised in other areas of the office. There can be a lot of traffic coming in and out, as well as milling around the office, which offers the risk of virus transmission too. The best way to combat this is to implement a one-way system that flows seamlessly throughout the office. This ensures that everyone, including those coming into the office can distance at all times as well as giving reassurance to staff that others will respect the flow of movement.
Staggering shift patterns
Another simple way to ensure distance between employees is to reduce the number of people in the office at one time. One of the best ways to achieve this is to revise shift patterns. For example, allowing staff to work from home a couple of days a week. If this is not possible, addressing the schedule of the working day could also work. Staggering break times and start/end times could reduce the volume of people in one place and ease congested areas such as the kitchen at lunch time.
Install cleaning stations
General hygiene should be prioritised at all times within the workplace but putting some compulsory rules in place will encourage staff to maintain hygiene to the highest standards during this time. Some simple rules to implement would be that everyone must wash their hands every time they enter the office and that all surfaces must be wiped down after use. This particularly applies to high-touch areas such as printers and kitchen areas.
In order to encourage staff to maintain this level of hygiene, companies must do their part in providing the right equipment and PPE where needed. A simple way to achieve this would be to install cleaning stations throughout your office which act as a reminder of the rules but is also stocked with cleaning essentials including hand gel, antibacterial wipes and gloves.
Ban equipment sharing
There is typically a lot of shared equipment throughout the office that is passed between colleagues, whether it’s a communal stapler or just borrowing a pen from a neighbouring desk. You need to discourage staff from sharing equipment, which also includes kitchen items such as cutlery and mugs. Asking employees to take their own items in to work each day is an easy solution but, for bigger kitchen items such as a kettle, this just isn’t practical so make sure they are wiped down thoroughly after every use.
These are new and uncertain times for employers and staff alike, so this may take time to adjust and learn along the way. Opening the floor for communication and feedback on these new regulations will be key for making them successful. Employees need know they are being listened to and that businesses are prioritising not only their physical health but mental health too.
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