With coronavirus restrictions constantly changing, it’s important to have a plan for returning to the office post-Covid.

At the time of writing, current guidance states that anyone who can work from home must do so.

But whether all your employees are working remotely, or you’ve already partially returned, it’s essential to make changes to your workplace to ensure everyone is safe when they’re able to come back.

Here are five things to consider for returning to the office safely.

1. Conduct a Covid-19 risk assessment

Before bringing employees back to the office, the first thing to do is update your risk assessment. This will help you understand what you need to do to manage the risks of coronavirus and keep your employees safe.

Although no employer can completely eliminate the risks associated with Covid-19, all employers have a legal responsibility to protect workers from risk to their health and safety.

This means you need to make sure your risk assessment addresses the risks of Covid-19, and that you do everything you can to minimise them.

It’s a good idea to talk to your employees about your new health and safety measures. Your workers are likely to be the best people to understand the risks associated with their own jobs, and will have views on how they can work safely.

If possible, have individual discussions with your employees to talk about their concerns and how you’ll address them. Involving your employees in this way shows that you are prioritising their health and safety.

Your risk assessment should:

  • Identify situations or activities that could cause virus transmission
  • Consider who might be at risk
  • Assess the likelihood that someone could be exposed to the virus
  • State the action you’ll take to remove the situation or activity, or control the risk if this isn’t possible

For more information on conducting your risk assessment, see the Health and Safety Executive’s guidance.

2. Make sure everyone can socially distance

It’s essential to maintain social distance throughout the office wherever possible. In England, this means staying two metres apart, or one metre apart with risk mitigation if two metres isn’t possible.

Social distancing should be in place in all parts of the building, not just the places where workers spend most of their time.

If possible, introduce a one-way system for entering and leaving the office to reduce congestion. Consider introducing staggered arrival and leaving times to reduce crowding at the entrances and exits.

Workstations should be moved to ensure people can socially distance, and should be assigned to a single person rather than shared.

If it isn’t possible to move workstations further apart, arrange them facing away from each other or side by side rather than face-to-face. You could also introduce screens to separate people from each other.

You should avoid using hot desks wherever possible. If absolutely necessary, they should be thoroughly cleaned and sanitised between different occupants.

If your office is small, these measures may not be possible. If this is the case, you may need to reduce the number of people in the office at any one time. Consider introducing a booking system for desks or rooms, ensuring they’re sanitised between uses.

3. Introduce a thorough cleaning regime

Before bringing employees back to work, you should ensure the entire office has been cleaned and sanitised.

You should also introduce a new, thorough cleaning regime to reduce the risk of transmission. This should include:

  • Frequent cleaning of all work areas and equipment
  • Frequent cleaning of surfaces and objects that are touched frequently, like keyboards and door handles
  • Adequate disposal arrangements for used cleaning products, e.g. antibacterial wipes
  • Restricting or limiting use of high-touch items, like whiteboards or printers
  • Clearing work areas of belongings and waste at the end of the day.

If you need to clean after a suspected or known case of Covid-19, you should refer to the specific government guidance.

4. Encourage good hygiene

It’s vital to encourage good hygiene amongst your staff and visitors when returning to the office post-Covid. Put posters or signs up throughout the office that remind people to:

  • Wash their hands frequently, including information on good handwashing technique
  • Avoid touching their faces
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue and dispose of it safely (or into their arm if they don’t have a tissue)

You should also provide:

  • Hand sanitiser in multiple locations, in addition to bathrooms
  • Hand drying facilities - paper towels, electrical driers or continuous roller towels
  • More waste facilities and more frequent rubbish collection
  • Good ventilation, by keeping doors and windows open or ventilation systems on at all times

5. Reduce face-to-face contact

Wherever possible, you should limit face-to-face contact between people.

If staff need to have meetings with external contacts or colleagues outside of their immediate team, encourage them to do this via Zoom or a phone call instead of in person.

If an in-person meeting is unavoidable, only those who absolutely must be there should participate, and you should ensure they can maintain social distancing. If possible, hold meetings outdoors or in well-ventilated rooms. Make sure hand sanitiser is provided, and avoid sharing items like pens and documents.

If an employee or someone in their household has coronavirus symptoms, they should isolate and not come into work. From 28 September 2020, by law employers cannot require someone who is self-isolating to come to work.

Returning to the office post-Covid

When the time comes for returning to the office post-Covid, it’s absolutely essential to make sure you can do this in a way that cares for your employees and safeguards their health and wellbeing.

Our five steps should set you on the right track, but for more detailed guidance on returning to the office safely see the government’s guidance.

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