COVID-19 has changed how a business can operate and has been an eye-opener for us all. The most significant change is the closure of office buildings worldwide and the new working practice of employees working from home.
It has caused massive disruption to all types of businesses, even digitally competent ones. Companies have had to adapt quickly and communicate with customers in a new way while pushing through decisions on new technologies and strategies in a swifter manner than usual.
Some businesses have even had to partner with others to meet customer demands and ensure they survive as the pandemic has taken a considerable toll on UK businesses. In total, a quarter of UK businesses have had to close due to the lockdown.
Many office buildings remain closed and may for some time until COVID-19 is finally eradicated. This includes all styles of office buildings, from open-plan offices to smaller suites, occupied by fewer staff. This has also brought to light more recent working styles, such as hot-desking and coworking spaces and whether they are feasible whilst COVID-19 is still present?
The thought of returning to an office building can be scary for many, and with many scare-mongering stories circulating, stating that offices can be as dangerous as cruise ships in terms of spreading COVID-19, You can see why people are concerned!
Many shops and other businesses across the country have reopened and have done so in a methodical and considered way, implementing additional measures to ensure customers safety as much as they possibly can. Since opening, most of these businesses still remain in operation and allow people to interact socially, at a safe distance, whilst wearing masks. Businesses are able to operate a lot more efficiently than at the beginning of this pandemic. So why should an office buildings be any different?
If measures are put in place to disrupt the spread of the virus and to keep people as safe as possible in other socially busy environments, then these measures, along with others, should be able to be applied to office buildings too.
It is important for both economic and mental health reasons that businesses should start to reopen and get the UK back to normality as much as possible.
The economy has suffered due to COVID-19, and many businesses have felt the strain financially. By reopening, it gives companies a chance to recover and accumulatively rebuild the country’s economy.
For many people, this pandemic has had an impact on their mental health. Even those who never previously suffered are finding this new way of living upsetting and hard to deal with. By businesses opening their doors once again, it allows people who have been alone during this time the opportunity to encounter human interaction once again, which can help lift a person’s mood.
To reopen your office building, there are measures you can take to ensure it is opened safely.
Although the risk can’t be completely eradicated, employers and employees can both play a part by adhering to the guidelines and avoiding contact with others, especially large groups. This cannot be achieved on a cruise ship where people are in close contact throughout the vessel, sharing utensils at buffets, and often being in confined spaces without adequate airflow.
According to Karl Holt, of Offices.co Co-working and flex spaces have been the fastest growing sector within the commercial property market. If these co-working hubs were unable to open, it would not only be catastrophic for the landlords that lease the space, but also the occupants that run their business operations there.
Such scaremongering, comparing offices to cruise ships is nonsensical and unhelpful. Yes of course restrictions need to be put into place, but these will only be until we have more control and more information. The situation is ever evolving. We have actually been noticing increased demand for flexible space and businesses are actually taking this unprecedented time to redefine business strategies, stream line processes and emerge with a more efficient business model, ready to go full steam ahead! ”
There are many steps that businesses can put into place:
How many staff “need” to return to the office? Could you operate with a portion of the employees at home, or perhaps stagger shifts?
Is there enough floor space to reconfigure desks to adhere to social distancing guidelines?
After establishing the above points, you can then start to plan what measures you need to put in place to make the building workable.
Step 1: The Building Needs to Be Inspected
In some cases the office may have been left unoccupied for months. A thorough check would need to be completed to ensure that all health and safety standards are met.
The main issues to look for are:
Has there been any mold growth within the building – This is an important aspect to check as the building wouldn’t have had ventilation or heating during the colder season when the pandemic first occurred and people may well have left food in draws, cupboards and fridges. If any mold is found, it will need to be dealt with immediately.
Is the water supply working correctly? Water is an essential requirement for any building and to ensure health and safety. Flow of water to hand basins should be strong to ensure people can wash their hands properly, plus sufficient hot and cold water, soap and sanitizer products.
Is there any issues with pests – Checks should be completed to ensure the building is sufficiently protected and to eliminate pests if these are found. If your building suffered before the pandemic, a survey must be completed to access the current condition, and the appropriate measures are taken.
Is the ventilation systems working – Systems such as air conditioning and heating should be checked to ensure they are in working order. A good flow of air will be essential to help stop the spread of COVID-19. This can also be achieved by opening windows to allow fresh air in.
Step 2: Establish High-Risk Areas and how you can alleviate the risk.
Identify areas within the building that are possible high-risk issues for spreading COVID-19, mainly where people will be in close contact, high volume, or touching surfaces such as the following:
Building access points – Including from the street and once inside the building. Lifts, corridors, and office entry doors. Ensure sufficient sanitizing products and masks are available and consider staggering start times to avoid bottle necks at entrances and lifts and also allow opportunities for cleaning in between.
Meeting rooms – If adequate distancing cannot be maintained, meetings should be postponed or conducted with minimal staff.
Reception desk – This is mainly if you receive a lot of visitors or contractors to your office. Establish a safe distance for visitors to approach and mark with signage or floor stickers. Avoid unnecessary visitors. Instead conduct phone calls or video conferences where possible.
Communal break areas – Depending on the size, you may need to consider closing or restricting access to these types of areas. Unless you are prepared to provide extra sanitization stations and cleaners regularly to wipe down all areas.
Food facilities – If you previously had a canteen, you may need to restrict its opening and request that staff provide their own food and refreshments.
Toilet facilities – measures will need to be put in place as this area cannot be closed down. Hand sanitizer must be available on entering and encourage staff to use elbows to push doors where possible. Limit the amount of people that can enter at one time.
Step 3: Working Practices and Communication with Employees
- This is a vital step, as employees also need to be mindful when inside the building. It is a good idea to increase communication and change working practices if need be.
- Adapt to a more flexible working schedule – Use different start times or a two-hour window of when employees can start.
- If someone has symptoms, ensure they stay home and disinfect areas they have previously been in contact with.
- Explain new policies to employees and provide regular communication.
- Ask employees to use stair access if possible.
- Reduce the number of hours spent in the office at first.
- Inform employees to wash their hands frequently and before they eat.
- Provide hand sanitizer stations throughout the building.
- Masks to be worn in communal areas.
- Areas that are in frequent use and surfaces that are touched regularly need to be cleaned with disinfectant regularly, including door handles, workstations, toilet facilities, and other areas as required.
Whilst normality seems a long way off, if managers, staff and visitors all make the necessary steps, there is no reason why we can’t transition to more businesses being able to get back to work.
Office buildings are no more unsafe than supermarkets, restaurants, and public transport so we all need to do our bit to get the economy moving again.
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