Author: Richard Guy, Country Sales Manager, Ergotron UK & Ireland

Many office-based workers who have been forced to work from home over the past three months will probably welcome the return to a more structured workplace environment. But it will certainly not be in the same circumstances as it was pre-lockdown. Organisations the world over are either planning, or already implementing, an entirely new set of practices to orchestrate the successful return of the workforce to safe and healthy workspaces.

The main priority for leaders in every industry as they initiate new workplace models will be on keeping employees healthy, enthusiastic, and productive. For some this can be achieved via staggered returns, flexible hours, and shift work possibly spread over a seven-day week, while for others, the need to limit the number of people in office spaces and preserve social distancing guidelines mean that many workers will have to alternate between office and home for the foreseeable future. In this regard companies like social media giant Twitter are leading the way, with the company announcing on 12th May that changes to its work policies will include additional support for remote working and increased flexibility for office-based work time.

Focus on the practical

Ensuring that staff can work safely at an appropriate distance from one another has needed a major rethink, particularly for businesses that use standard cube configurations or benching systems. To safely accommodate personnel, initiating flexible working and hot-desking systems that will ensure they are able to stay two metres apart and limit how many people can work in the building at any one time. This of course means that each desk and its accessories – handsets, workstations – will need to be regularly disinfected.

Shared resources, such as printers and filing cabinets will also need regular, thorough cleaning. As will public facilities like bathrooms. Making provision for cleaning products, sanitisers and personal protective equipment (PPE) that make it possible for employees to safely use all these facilities will be another top priority.

How employees access buildings, floors and meeting rooms will also need careful consideration. Remote or sensor-driven access entry systems will certainly become more commonplace, but it should still be good workplace protocol to regularly wipe down security entry system buttons or door handles. Businesses will also need to consider whether they recommend that people use the stairs, rather than the lift if at all practical. It may also be safer to limit access to common shared facilities such as the cafeteria or coffee stations unless appropriate cleansing and PPE equipment can be provided at all times. Similarly, group meetings in conference rooms or spaces that compromise social distancing rules will now be a thing of the past.

Wherever possible, implementing partitions that raise cubicle walls or create physical barriers between employees will help limit the risk of office spaces becoming incubators of mass infection. As will ensuring that personnel use alternate desks that can be ‘back to backed’ to limit the risk of people facing one another unnecessarily.

Finally, displaying information notices everywhere serve as simple but efficient reminders for staff of the importance of maintaining safe distances from colleagues, the need for regular hand washing, and any specific hygiene protocols that apply to the work areas they are entering.

Adapt office fixtures

A post-pandemic office environment will look very different indeed. But while the immediate focus may be on initiating back-to-work plans and protocols, business leaders should also factor in the fact that adaptability will be the key for coping with any unexpected future changes, such as a potential second wave of COVID-19 infections.

The good news is that today’s kinetic and mobile office furnishings allow firms to repeatedly flex and reconfigure their office spaces, enabling them to make the most of their existing spaces and accommodate the appropriate number of staff safely.

Additionally, these furnishings also offer employees the flexibility they need to adapt their immediate working environment to suit their individual physiques or work tasks. This means that desks, seating, and workstations are always comfortable and ergonomically matched to their needs for comfortable, productive working that doesn’t leave a crick in the neck!

Prioritise the health and wellbeing of staff

To support people as they return to work, organisations should become familiar with the social distancing recommendations that are outlined in the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s recent technical report.

Providing temperature checks before they enter the building will help protect employees and minimise the risk of disease transmission, and here’s where thermal imaging carts offer a great way to do instant temperature checks for both employees and visitors. Other options include the provision of Perspex screens or masks or stipulating that everyone wear a face mask during office hours.

Minimising the number of unnecessary visits to offices, including customers and contractors, may also be in order; that includes requesting that ‘non-key’ staff remain working remotely for as long as possible.

Out of sight does not mean out of mind

Many employees may continue to work from home for the foreseeable future, either due to restricted office space capacity, personal health concerns, or the nature of their role meaning that they don’t need to be in an office to do their job.

However, working from home on a semi-permanent basis means that these employees benefit from the same duty of care as office-based workers. Couches, dining room tables, kitchen benches and beds were not designed for comfortable or safe working, so employees who are being asked to stay away from the office for the long term will need help to utilise their work technology in a safe and appropriate way.

Employees are the cogs that drive any organisation, therefore it’s crucial that they are onboard with the return-to-work changes. The fact is that the world has moved towards a work environment that is neither completely remote nor exclusively office-based. And whether they are returning to the office or continuing to work remotely, it is important from a social and professional perspective that the adaptations and changes introduced continue to uphold the company’s sense of team cohesion, and ultimately, maintaining consistent, high-quality work.