By Hugo Tilmouth, CleanedUp
Whether your business occupies an office or commercial property in the UK or own these kinds of properties, you’re bound to be feeling a mixture of emotions right now. On one hand, emerging from lockdown is exciting — you can finally get back to on site.
At the same time, though, you need to approach these next few months with due caution. We aren’t out of the woods just yet. You still need to keep a close eye on your bottom line, while also investing in all the necessary health and safety measures to keep you, your staff and your clients safe.
It can be a little nerve-racking, but with good preparation, and a solid understanding of ever-changing government regulations, there’s no reason your business can’t bounce back to pre-corona levels.
In this guide, we’ll break down ten of the most important steps that all offices and commercial property owners should be taking today. If you want to reopen quickly and safely, this is the stuff you need to know.
A quick note on the legal requirements of reopening during a pandemic
Before we go any further, it’s worth saying that what follows is simply our advice on getting back to business the best you can. And while we will be referencing government guidelines throughout, it is important to read these guidelines in full yourself, before reopening your site — particularly with regards to the status of lockdown, which could quickly change.
Whether you’re able to open your commercial space today, or you’re simply putting plans in place for when you can, let’s go ahead and dive right in. Here’s how you prepare for business as (un)usual, in the rest of 2020 and beyond…
1. Review all government guidelines, and take the necessary actions
When it comes to getting your office up and running post lockdown, your absolute first priority is to review and follow all government guidelines. This is vital to both comply with the law, and protect the safety of yourself, your staff and your clients.
For businesses like yours (including offices and contact centres), the government has released official guidelines that cover eight key sections, ranging from social distancing rules to potential PPE requirements. You can click here to access this document in its entirety — it’s the best place to start, when drawing up your coronavirus action plan.
2. Conduct a COVID-19 risk assessment
As an employer, it is your legal responsibility to protect the wellbeing of staff, suppliers and clients. Of course, this has always been the case — that’s why we do health and safety assessments each year.
But we’ve never seen anything like COVID-19 before. A pandemic requires totally new health and safety precautions and, as such, a more laser-focused way of assessing risk.
That’s why the HSE (the government agency responsible for Health & Safety regulation in the UK) have issued new guidelines that require businesses to carry out new risk assessments in regards to COVID-19.
You can read through their official guide for more information on what this needs to cover specifically, and you can frame your assessment with this recommended template. But, generally speaking, your coronavirus risk assessment should highlight all the things you’re going to do to limit the risks of COVID-19 within your space.
This should include enforcing social distancing rules, setting up precise cleaning procedures, providing the necessary PPE, and keeping your staff up to date with how you’re going to protect them.
Once you’ve ticked those boxes, it’s worth displaying the government’s risk assessment certificate somewhere visible — to help put both your staff and your clients’ minds at ease.
3. Offer hand sanitising
Government guidelines advise that frequent handwashing is the most effective way of preventing the spread of coronavirus. But frequent bathroom trips aren’t always practical in a busy office — and that’s where hand sanitisers come in.
Hand sanitisers are a quick and easy alternative to handwashing, and provide an unbeatable solution for minimising the spread, and protecting staff and guests from COVID-19.
When picking a hand sanitiser, it’s important to be sure that it contains a WHO approved formula and is at least 60% alcohol-based. You’ll also need to think about how the hand sanitiser is presented within your office.
Dispensing stations, for example, are a great idea, as they make it clear that hand sanitiser is available. Placing sanitiser dispensers near your front door, in kitchens, and around desk spaces, shows staff and clients how seriously you are taking the fight against coronavirus — you can even get dispenser units customised with your own corporate branding!
For more information on providing NHS standard hand sanitiser for your commercial space, click here to find out how we can help.
4. Cleaning & disinfecting
In any workplace, cleanliness has always been important. But now, it’s life-saving.
Keeping your surfaces COVID-secure is going to be a team effort. So, create a clear and focused rota, outlining everything that needs doing.
First, you’ll need to focus on the key surfaces that pose the most risk, computer desks, keyboards, kitchen worktops and any communal office equipment (like pens and notebooks). Ideally, these should be cleaned after every use. That’s why a rota is so important — it’ll help to organise whose responsibility that is throughout the day.
Next, you should create procedures that encourage cleanliness more generally. Really ramp up your toilet cleaning schedule. And ask your staff to wipe down their desks as much as possible — especially if they’re working a shift, picking up from someone else, or preparing to hand over to a colleague.
Government guidelines advise that your ‘usual cleaning products’ will be sufficient for this, so don’t worry about buying any specific formulas. So long as you stick to bleach or alcohol-based solutions, your efforts will be effective.
“Hot desking” or sharing of workstations should be avoided for the time being if at all possible. And if your office has a cafeteria, be extra vigilant that it follows all government guidelines for food hygiene before resuming service.
5. Provide PPE
Government guidelines stipulate that PPE is only essential in medical environments(other than the new rules for face masks in shops coming in from 24th July 2020). But your staff (and clients) might feel more comfortable if they are wearing a face covering while at work. Talk to your staff about how they’re feeling and make face masks available should they need them.
Depending on the size of your commercial space, you could also consider installing plexiglass screens around reception desks where social distancing might be difficult to maintain.
6. Offer flexible work arrangements
Government rules state that all businesses must provide flexible work arrangements whenever possible. This, most importantly, means allowing your staff to continue working from home if they can.
It’s also important to retain a degree of flexibility in general, too — especially for those at higher risk. Try to be understanding of people’s home-lives and responsibilities; if they need to care for a friend, or home-school their child, you should support them in this.
And, of course, grant immediate time off if anyone reports coronavirus symptoms. Remember, it’s still mandatory for those with a fever or new, persistent cough to self-isolate under government guidelines.
7. Enforce social distancing rules
Official government guidelines state that all staff and guests must keep a 1m (in England) or 2m (elsewhere) distance at all times. This is the best and most effective way of preventing the spread of coronavirus, as it decreases person-to-person transmission.
To enforce social distancing measures in your space, you should:
● Provide 1m / 2m markers that remind staff, clients and guests what proper social distancing looks like
● Be mindful of the amount of staff working each day/shift
● Space out desks as much as possible
● Consider alternate ‘work from home’ days if office space is tight
Break areas should be reassessed, too. If it’s difficult for staff to maintain social distancing while on break, you should consider closing small communal areas, and staggering break times as much as you can.
8. Provide clear guidelines and signage throughout your premises
While we’re surrounded by coronavirus news most of the time, it’s still wise to leave a few health and hygiene reminders around your office.
We’ve already mentioned 1m / 2m markings, but there are a number of other visual cues you can lean on during this time. Posters are a great way of reminding people to wash or sanitise their hands, always cover their mouth when they cough, and sneeze either into a tissue or their arm if necessary.
Additionally, if you choose to implement any new procedures — like staggered breaks, or closure of communal kitchen areas — do all you can to make this as clear as possible, to avoid any confusion or frustration.
9. Manage the risk of transmission
When, or if, 1m / 2m distancing isn’t possible, you should do all you can to manage the risk of transmission. This means providing alternative and new ways of working that put the safety of your staff and guests first.
If, for example, your office space gets easily crowded, you should definitely encourage your staff to work from home as much as they can and/or take client meetings off-site, in an outdoor area of a local cafe, if they can.
And again, plexiglass screens are a great way of avoiding staff-to-client contact at reception desks when welcoming any new or returning clients into your premises.
10. Consistently monitor employee health (and general circumstances)
Monitoring the health of your employees is an extremely important part of protecting them, you and your business.
Each day, you should check in with your staff and ask about their health and general circumstances. If a member of your team is unwell, or if someone in their household has symptoms, you should take immediate action and grant them sick leave — as advised by the government.
You should also encourage your staff to be open and honest with you about their situations. This means showing understanding, and making it easy for your team to request time off if they need it.
Remember, when we finally defeat the virus, we’ll have done so collectively. We all need to do what we can in our businesses and support each other.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hugo Tilmouth is founder of CleanedUp, a spin-off of ChargedUp, Europe’s largest phone charging network. CleanedUp is focused on stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus by providing a network of hand sanitising dispensing stations in key locations across the country. https://www.cleanedup.green/