With Covid-19 infection rates continuing to flatten, and more of the economy beginning to re-open, attention has now turned to schools and workplaces. How to observe social distancing within the workplace is creating a range of challenges for managers. Office layouts will need to adapt to help reduce the risk of infection and to give employees the confidence that they can return to work safely.
2 metres or 1 metre?
The government has indicated that 2 metre social distancing will be relaxed to 1 metre. This decision is based on the balance of risks, and World Health Organisation advice which initially suggested 1.1metre. The UK was only one of a handful of nations that initially decided on 2 metres.
Many workplaces have already been adapted to take account of the 2 metre social distancing rule, and a judgement call will need to be made about whether 1 metre is acceptable. The risk of transmission is increased when people spend any length of time together indoors. What might be suitable for a pub garden or a shop, where people are coming and going, may not be suitable for an office where people spend large amounts of time in close contact.
Any transmission of the disease within the workplace would result in huge disruption, with staff members being required to self-isolate under the track and trace scheme.
The end of the open-plan?
Over the last couple of decades, more and more workplaces have moved towards open-plan offices to encourage a more interactive, social way of working. While this might have made sense when social distancing wasn’t a consideration, the very habits open-plan offices are meant to encourage are now to be discouraged.
It’s impractical for most workplaces to create individual offices for every member of staff, and the small shared offices of old where two or three colleagues would work alongside one another are potentially higher risk environments.
Whether you decide to adopt the 2 metres or 1 metre rule, or a compromise between the two, you will need to reassess how space in your office is used. Banks of desks squeezed together are out of the question. However, if you use every other desk in a checker-board effect so no two people are sat directly opposite each other, that’s perfectly acceptable. To make a clear statement to your staff we would recommend removing computers and chairs from desks that are not to be used. Where possible, we would also recommend re-configuring desks so they are back to back.
Hot desking and other forms of desk sharing are also to be discouraged at the moment for obvious reasons. If you have a large office space, then it may be easy to redraft the desk layout to allow extra space. In most workplaces, space is limited and must be used as intelligently as possible.
Create a one-way system, and times slots for using shared office facilities such as kitchen facilities.
Continued remote working
An intelligent response to space limitations is to allow a certain number of staff members back into the office while supporting those who wish to continue remote working. This might be a good time to better develop and embed remote workers into your work practices. Those workers who have a lengthy commute or wish to combine work with childcare responsibilities may welcome the opportunity to make remote working a permanent move.
Other mitigation measures may include the installation of protective screens around desks and mask-wearing.
There are office furniture options available that help to maximise space. Used with an intelligent office design you may discover you’re able to allow more staff back to the office than you’d previously thought.
Adapt and develop
With a combination of a blended remote/office working patterns, intelligent design and sympathetic office furniture the shift towards a more socially distanced office can be easily achieved.
For more advice on making your office Covid-19 compliant, contact Flow Office today.