Returning to work after lockdown

Coronavirus has affected our working lives but life is returning to normal with many employees gradually returning to work and businesses opening up to the public once again. We’ve come up with some key points to consider when re-opening your workplace after the lockdown.

Identify and manage risks

Employers have a duty of care to their staff and risks should be identified and managed so that the workplace is made safe to return to. It is a good idea to phase staff returns to test the safety measures in place, see what works and what doesn’t, before accepting larger numbers into the workplace. As moving back to working in offices is likely to be a gradual process to start with, it’s important to take the time to check the latest medical and government advice on how to make your workplace safe for employees and customers, and think through the various scenarios you may face and possible solutions. Pay specific attention to re-configuring spaces to allow for social distancing and introducing hand hygiene stations.

Good hand hygiene is a must

Germs are transferred to surfaces through touch, and they can survive there for several hours or even days until they have found a new human host. Just one infected employee can easily spread the infection in this way throughout the work environment, especially considering that pathogens can spread more easily in closed spaces than in the open air. This is why good hand hygiene is so important. All the key hygiene measures will continue to apply to minimise the spread of infection, such as reminding staff about regular and effective hand washing. And by introducing easily accessible hand hygiene systems you make it easy for people to disinfect their hands, thus effectively breaking the chain of infection.

Prepare the workplace

How will social distancing work in practice? Should desks be moved? What is the implication on IT connections of moving desks around? Should furniture be removed from communal spaces to allow people to maintain a 2m distance between each other? How will meetings be managed? What happens if there is a fire or some other kind of alarm? A building left empty for a few months needs to be prepared for the return of the staff, even if it was clean before thelockdown and everything was properly functioning. Go round and check the electrics, plumbing, machinery and equipment function as they should. Arrange a good deep clean! Commercial cleaning companies are seeing increased demand for their services and booking early will avoid delays in re-opening. Good ongoing cleaning becomes even more important as it will help minimise the spread of germs, by for example assiduously wiping down desk surfaces, phones and keyboards with anti-viral cleaner. Open windows and let some fresh air into the building. It’ll re-fresh the atmosphere and help get rid of any stale smells. Try to leave the taps running for several minutes to flush the system and have fresh water – morning tea will taste much better.

Clear communication is key

Communicate the practical measures you are taking to staff on a regular basis, as well as to customers when they visit, to help reassure them that their health and well-being is a top priority. Make sure employees are clear about what rules and procedures they should follow both in the workplace and at home, especially if they begin to feel unwell.

Be flexible with employees

Although some of your employees may have started to return to the workplace, it may not be safe for all your staff members. To protect your employees, consider having a conversation with each member of your staff before they return to work to understand each person’s specific circumstances, and whether any pre-existing health conditions might place them in a higher risk category. Or whether perhaps they are sharing a household with a vulnerable person. Discuss workarounds and flexible work solutions to accommodate people who should perhaps not be returning to the work place just yet. The current government advice is that people who can work from home should continue to do so. Remote meeting facilities and video-conferencing should be encouraged wherever possible to minimise the need for staff to travel and/or use public transport. Some people might feel unsure or worried about discussing their personal circumstances so this process has to be done in a sensitive and cooperative manner. And letting your employees know there is flexibility and the willingness to reach alternative arrangements will ease a lot of strain in this already stressful time.

It will take time

Don’t expect your staff or the workplace in general to return to the pre Coronavirus level of activity and mindset immediately. Take the time to re-consider some past working practices that can perhaps be improved and made more efficient, and to plan for the future. It will take time for things to return to a level of activity that even mildly resembles pre lockdown levels and this is to be expected.

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