The UK government has shared rules that will allow offices to reopen under new coronavirus guidelines. Will they work?

The new world of work will look very different post-Covid-19, with the ‘social’ and collaborative aspects of the office environment much harder to achieve naturally, an area businesses will have to seriously consider before the great return to work as they juggle the necessary regulatory demands with staff wellbeing and productivity considerations.

Government guidelines shared with businesses and unions gave a glimpse of what is yet to come. Hot desking will be curtailed and employees *must* stay two meters away from each other, highlighted by copious amounts of sticky tape on the floor; lifts will remain half empty and face-to-face meetings will be reduced, if not curbed entirely. Working hours will be staggered to reduce the number of people in the office at any given time, and office cafes, social aspects and community spaces will be closed.

The open-plan layout was designed for collaboration, not isolation. Rising to prominence in the early 2000s and spurred on by young tech firms like Google, the open office signalled an end to the ‘cubicle farm’ era.

In April, the British Council of Offices released a briefing note on office design and operation after Covid-19. Its suggestions include automatic doors, reception screens, reconfigured meeting rooms, enhanced fresh air and touch-free devices. “Touchless devices do require investment,” explains Richard Kauntze, chief executive of BCO. “However, many of the immediate measures our paper suggests can be delivered for relatively little cost. Good hygiene practices are vitally important, however these can be enforced without significant cost – they’re more a question of effort and discipline.”

So, how do you as a business encourage and facilitate social distancing in your office environment? Here are our tips on the best way to protect you, and your team:

  1. Consider your office layout – you may require protective screens or a redesign of your current office space, or you may simply need to readjust the capacity and educate your employees on new etiquette across the workplace. There isn’t a one size fits all solution, so you need to use common sense and implement the processes that fit you, your business and your team
  2. Think of new ways to allow for collaboration within and across teams – the old ways of socialising and nipping down the pub after work may be a thing of the past, but building engagement and a work culture is more important now than ever. How can you facilitate safe social and ‘water filter’ moments in your business safely?
  3. Reduce capacity and implement a no-visitor policy. Allow only authorized employees into the office during this time as well as shift staff meetings into virtual ones.
  4. Think about different staged returns – for example pooling tasks. If multiple roles perform similar tasks that must be performed on-site, consider pooling and rotating those tasks so some employees can work remotely while one person takes on-site responsibility. Combine pooling with flexible hours to further increase social distancing and reduce the risk of an employee becoming ill.
  5. Speak to your office provider about the measures and steps they are taking in their risk assessments and how you can tap into their value for your employees, for example, hand sanitiser stations, PPE or enhanced virtual technology to drive better home/ office communications.

This article demonstrates (vey well) how social distancing will look in the future office taking into account data analysis of behaviours in the office – well worth you having a look here.

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