Workplace Expert – Top Five Things for Businesses to Consider Ahead of Reopening

Career Climbers / 11th May 2020

Chris Moriarty, director of insight at the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management comments:

Health and safety concerns have arguably never been higher on the public’s agenda – and as several industries – from manufacturing sites to schools – consider reopening their doors, many employees across the country will be feeling anxious about the health implications of going back to their regular working routines. Indeed, according to our latest research, over half (59%) of office-based employees are concerned about maintaining social distancing, and 44% about hygiene and other cleaning standards when returning to work.  COVID 19 standards of enhanced cleaning and social distance between colleagues could become metrics by which we judge the quality of our workspace – and businesses will also need to prepare to manage the implications of a workforce coming out of lockdown under increased levels of stress and anxiety.  

Organising the nation’s workforce back into the office will require the same mammoth efforts from workplace and facilities managers as we saw in the transition of thousands of employees to a home-working set-up.  Indeed, it will require a collaborative effort across businesses – from HR to internal comms – to ensure workers not only return to a safe physical office space but are also appropriately assured, supported, and updated throughout the transition.

Here are our top five things for businesses to consider ahead of reopening: 

  1. Social distancing 

Organisations will need to carefully consider their approach to a form of social distancing within the office. With so many offices not designed to allow for colleagues to remain 2m apart, we expect to see banning of shared desks, removal of seating to maintain distance, and a rotation of staff members in the building at any one time.  Some virtual practices which have recently become the norm will have to be maintained, such as shifting large meetings and events online.  It’s also important to consider employees’ ability to socially distance on the way to and from work – for example, by offering flexible working hours to allow for travel outside of peak hours. 

  1. Cleaning, hygiene 

It goes without saying that cleanliness will be high on the agenda – and all businesses should ensure they check the latest health guidance from the Government and make appropriate provisions. They must also be prepared to deal with a far more discerning workforce – who will expect and demand regular assurances that their workplace is safe. Consider placing clear displays of health and safety information, and regular communication on measures being taken throughout the building. Increasing cleaning operations during the day will also help maintain a visible presence so employees can see the efforts of the organisation to keep them safe. 

  1. Preparing the physical building 

Physical buildings that have been largely dormant for weeks will require a number of checks ahead of the return of staff. Employers should consider the level of cleaning required, particularly if a building occupant or visitor contracted the coronavirus, as well as ensuring buildings are appropriately aired ahead of reopening. 

Statutory and mandatory maintenance requirements should be met, including full checks on fire safety, electrical, lift, water and security systems, as well as ensuring all HVAC and environmental systems are safe and fit for purpose.  

  1. Understanding staff needs and concerns

Health fears will not end when the lockdown does – and the workforce will be returning to offices under increased levels of stress and anxiety. Make sure to regularly touch base with your employees so you understand their needs and concerns about returning to work – and review where you can meet their physical and mental wellbeing.  Along with employee engagement, open and transparent communications about what the business is doing will be important to retain trust in the leadership.  In addition, the ongoing review of best practices, alongside the engagement and communication will demonstrate a commitment to creating a safe and healthy workplace. 

  1. Be flexible, and prepared for plans to change 

If the past few months have taught us anything, it is the importance of being flexible, and the ability to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. Employers should ensure they have solid business continuity plans in place to manage a sudden return to home-working in the case of a second lockdown. It is important that organisations not revert to business as usual without taking on board learnings from how they managed the change.


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