Return to the workplace

Darren Brown
As employers face the logistical challenges of returning their workforce to the workplace, we look at cost effective, short-term measures to create a safe and compliant workplace.

Following the Prime Minister’s May 10th message to return to work where necessary but only where safe, this signalled the beginnings of the change in the way we have recently operated and Mike Richardson and Darren Brown share their thoughts on returning to the workplace in Faithful+Gould’s third article in this series.

The Prime Ministers announcement was further clarified noting workplaces “must be safe, must be Covid secure and employers will not be allowed to get away with forcing people to work in conditions that are not Covid secure". The government has now published guidance for making eight different workplace types "Covid secure", including a requirement that employers must carry out COVID-19 risk assessments before reopening.

The message of working from home, where possible and maintaining social distancing remains, and this is being interpreted by most as allowing a phased return of key or critical workers. Many employers are some way off being ready for the return and we’re seeing a scramble to prepare. Where this is carried out inefficiently or incorrectly it will lead to long term issues which will have to be remedied later, with a greater impact on operational delivery and expense.

The Covid-secure workplace

There is much speculation about what a Covid-secure workplace looks like and how the pandemic will permanently change the way we work. Some organisations are taking the opportunity to align the changes with smart working strategies they had intended to implement anyway, perhaps now with renewed commitment and less internal resistance.

As noted in previous articles, employers need to build trust now more than ever, if the workforce is to feel safe, and the workforce needs to be at the heart of everything you do. The Government guidance reinforces that employers have a duty to consult their people on health and safety. They must be involved in the process and employers have to ensure that a health and safety representative from the workforce is part of the workplace team. Full involvement will create a culture of trust and collaboration.

Amid the talk of long-term optimisation of building design for social distancing, the immediate challenge is the current workplace. With some degree of return imminent, and in the face of economic disruption, the budget for retrofit of smart technology solutions is simply not there for many organisations. For the short term, we can expect the focus to be on behavioural change and low-cost, practical measures that make the workplace as safe as possible for staff and visitors.

Preparation of the workplace environment

Throughout lockdown and during periods of no or low occupancy, there remains a requirement, as always, to discharge the building-related responsibilities of the owner/landlord and tenant, including statutory compliance, maintenance and repairs.

Upon lockdown, many buildings were swiftly vacated and there’s likely to be a backlog of checks, inspections, repairs and cleaning, before re-occupation can be considered and where all maintenance activities ceased, this is likely to be quite onerous than where routine maintenance has continued.

The process for reoccupation requires engagement with both maintenance contractors and internal stakeholders and for occupiers of multi-tenanted buildings the challenges increase as they will require further dialogue with all the other tenants, landlord and any facilities management providers. Serviced offices also have many issues to overcome, with their high-density business model disrupted by the required distancing measures, and the likelihood of tenants being reticent about extending any short-term leases.

Comprehensive plans will be required to manage risk and this should incorporate all facets of the building as part of the COVID-19 risk assessments, including:

  • Review of M&E systems
  • Assessment of structure and fabric
  • Security review
  • Hygiene review
  • Reprogramming of proposed refurbishment and maintenance projects

Operational readiness

The workspace will need to operate differently, and this will have to reflect the requirements of each business and any separate operation within, but the primary assessment will be how many people can safely be accommodated and what adjustments should be made to comply with social distancing. Whilst this calculation will determine the occupancy level significant behavioural changes will be required from those using the workspace and this too needs careful planning, both the communication of the changes, and the acknowledgment of their impact upon productivity and welfare.

In an initial assessment employers will need to consider the following:

  • Spatial requirements and workstation layout (appropriately signed, with decommissioned areas clearly identified)
  • Workstation allocation planning and clear desk policies
  • Access, circulation and routing within the building (appropriately signed), including lift capacities
  • Reception and visitor arrangements
  • Meeting rooms, collaboration/touchdown areas, catering/refreshment areas
  • Use of outdoor spaces
  • Cleaning regimes
  • Use of toilets and welfare facilities

Once these have been assessed the plan can be developed and prepared in a way which can be shared in the most appropriate way for staff to engage with.

Professional help in returning to your workplace

Faithful+Gould is supporting organisations with the challenges that are most pressing right now, bringing timely best practice and innovation. Our offering is based on remote consultancy and site based audits that support clients in preparing their COVID-19 risk assessments and in turn manage and mitigate their risk to their employees. The service is tailored to suit a client’s particular needs and the specific challenges of their workplace.

We’re helping our clients consider the key factors around people, property and technology, so they can create safe and compliant environments which allow their people to excel. For further information please contact our Workspace team listed below.

 

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