How to prepare your office for social distancing at work
Covid-19 has changed the way we work as businesses, as well as our day to day lives. As a manager or business owner, it’s important that you carefully consider and implement the right measures to protect your staff, as and when you decide that it’s time to open the office again.
We need to be flexible when it comes to new Government regulations and guidelines but here are some basic steps to take when it comes to preparing your office for that return to work.
Making your office Covid secure – The risk assessment
It’s your duty as an employer to ensure the workplace is safe and the first step to take is to carry out a coronavirus focused risk assessment.
You can employ an external company to do this, or if you are a smaller business you can do this yourself. The HSE has guidance here, about what to consider in a coronavirus risk assessment including:
● Identifying which workstations or activities in the workplace may increase the risk of transmission of the virus.
● The likelihood of someone being exposed to the virus in the workplace.
● Which employees are most at risk.
Once these three key areas are identified, that is when you can go ahead and put plans in place to alleviate the risk. Here are some examples of hazards in the workplace that you must factor for:
Employees not practising appropriate hand hygiene
The onus is on your staff to wash their hands and sanitise regularly throughout the day. This is a risk if not carried out correctly.
How to fix it: Provide better sanitisation offerings
As an employer, you need to encourage employees to care for themselves and look out for others and this is helped by providing everything they need to stay safe. Hand sanitising stations around the office, with handsfree dispensers, are ideal while signs encouraging hand washing and instructions on the correct method are necessary for bathrooms.
Coronavirus being spread in communal areas and exits/entrances
When staff aren’t sitting at their desks, they may wish to socialise during their breaks but there need to be measures put in place to reduce any risk.
How to fix it: You may need to close common areas
This means tea and coffee making facilities may not be available and staff cannot share mugs, cutlery and dinnerware even if it is washed beforehand. This also applies to meeting rooms. Chairs may need to be cordoned off to ensure social distancing is maintained outside of employee’s workstations.
Coronavirus spreading on contaminated surfaces
If an infected person in the office touches surfaces, door handles and shared equipment, this can increase the risk of the virus spreading.
How to fix it: Put in a cleaning schedule
Provide cleaning supplies and sanitising equipment for staff to use alongside hand sanitiser. Ask that surfaces they’ve come into contact with are wiped down when they have finished using them, to ensure the virus doesn’t get left behind and allowed to spread. You should also arrange for professional cleaners to visit your office at the end of the day to clean the working area and remove any potential traces of the virus.
Coronavirus spreading between workers travelling to work together
Your employees may be friends outside of work or have made arrangements to travel into work together to save money on commuting costs. This can increase the spread of the virus, especially if one employee has come into contact with an infected person then sat in an enclosed space with another.
How to fix it: Encourage working from home or schemes to encourage safer travel
Ask employees to avoid public transport and to not life share. Put plans in place for those who cannot get into work that allows them to work from home. If your employees can’t work from home, look into schemes that encourage alternative forms of travel such as the cycle to work scheme.
Social distancing at work – What you need to consider
Before your workforce returns, it’s important that you take the time to check that your office is ready for their return. Here are some considerations:
Implement the 2m rule
This applies from workstations to corridors to bathrooms. Ensure there is enough space for employees to navigate your office without putting themselves at risk.
Make space with a storage unit
You may need to move furniture and equipment out of your office, in order to find the room to implement social distancing requirements. Consider moving bulkier items or unneeded desks into a storage unit, to keep them safe, ready for the future when things return to normal.
Put marker tape on the floor
This is a visual aid for people, marking out 2-metre areas, to encourage them to adhere to social distancing when moving around the workplace.
Stagger start and finish times
To avoid having all your staff in the office at once and increasing the risk of individuals not socially distancing, introduce staggered start and finish times or a rota system. With offices that have larger workforces, rota systems can encourage people to still get back to the office space and into a normal working environment again but not at full capacity.
Install perspex screens
One way to encourage social distancing in shared workspaces is to install perspex screens. These offer another barrier of protection while ensuring people don’t get too close but can still communicate. You can feature these on long banks of desks and they shouldn’t hinder communication or socialising between colleagues.
Create cohort teams
You are likely to have different teams within your business and when implementing social distancing, you could set up teams that only work together. Almost like a bubble. While they should still maintain social distancing, this ensures that if someone does test positive, you can ask those most likely affected to self-isolate.
While these tips are the first step to implementing social distancing at work, it’s important you look to official sources for guidance before encouraging your employees to return to the office. Look to the HSE and official Government advice and ensure your office is as safe as possible for your workforce.