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  • Rhona Jamieson

Getting Back To The Office – But What Will That Mean?

Later this week, the government will set out its thinking on getting people who work in offices back to their place of work.

It’s a huge undertaking, for companies and for individuals, many of whom are very anxious about how they can work safely.

First and foremost, it is about keeping colleagues safe. But if, in doing so, they have to create a hospital-style environment which is either impractical, or causes mental health issues for people and impacts upon their performance, is it worth it, or should the majority of office workers carry on working from home, for the moment anyway?

All of our clients are already thinking about what this looks like, and here’s five things that regularly come up as issues they are addressing, and possible solutions to those issues.

1.     The Commute

How do our colleagues get to and from the office in the first place? It’s suggested in London, for example, that if the public transport network climbs back up to even 15% of capacity, it could grind to a halt under the current social distancing rules.

Just one of the reasons why organisations are having to think about reducing the number of staff in the office at the same time, and staggering working hours. Providing the means for people to walk, cycle and even drive to work is another area of focus here.

2.     The Office

An office which is observing social distancing and safety rules could look almost unrecognisable to colleagues walking into reception for the first time.

Everything from getting to your desk, to using the canteen, toilets, printer and water cooler, will be disorientating. It’s a massive challenge which requires clear communication.

So companies need to look at what signage and induction processes are in place to reduce that sense of bewilderment. Design firm Ltd is already seeing a surge in demand for acrylic décor as companies look to adapt their workplaces. For example, helping staff find safe routes around the building like in the image on the left from a project they are working on.

3.       The Colleague

How do we know that colleagues are healthy when they come into work?

Until testing becomes more readily available, and the results come back quicker, organisations are looking at temperature checks as one option, both at home before people come into the office, and also in reception.

4.     The Desk

The 2m rule will have a significant impact upon the open-plan offices that most of us are now used to. Many of our clients are trying to establish whether there is enough space for everyone to work in the office, at the same time, safely. Those which have rightly encouraged active working across different sit and stand workstations will also face challenges around people sharing workstations.

Some are looking to take their lead from supermarkets, and there are, for example, transparent screens available for individual workstations.

There are questions about whether hot desking, or “hoteling”, will be banned, but for some, this may be the only way existing offices will be able to function. People won’t share keyboards and other stationery and keeping these areas clean is paramount.

5.     The Clean

How organisations and individuals keep their working environment clean will be key to keeping people safe in the office.

Disinfecting workstations, before and after each person has used them, will become part of our normal routine. Alternating the use of particular working areas, from day to day, or team to team, is also being explored. And the practicalities of wearing masks, and even gloves, are also being considered here.

All of these factors are about safety, first and foremost.

There is so much to learn, in so little time, and we would like to hear your experiences of what might work for you and your team, as well as some of the other challenges you are facing as you contemplate the return to the office.

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