office interior with working people

A simple checklist for going back to the office post-COVID

The last eighteen months have been turbulent for the world as a whole, but for many businesses the transition back to normality is proving just as difficult.

Returning to the office isn’t as simple as announcing a date to your staff and going back to business as usual. From ensuring that your office is COVID-secure, to a shift in workplace culture due to an extended period of remote working, there are a number of hurdles that you’ll have to overcome.

As daunting as it may seem, we’ve got some tips to help your transition back into office life go as smoothly as possible.

Make sure you have enough space & equipment

Your first step in your return process should be to carry out a thorough risk assessment of your office and ensure that it’s fully COVID-secure. While we may now be transitioning out of the height of the pandemic, there are still a number of steps that should be taken to make sure that your workplace is safe for your returning employees.

First and foremost, although social distancing is no longer being mandated by the government, it’s still being advised that social contact between workers should be kept to a minimum to mitigate the risk of another COVID outbreak. There are a couple of ways this can be done in a way that impacts productivity as little as possible.

You may decide to restructure the office space and move desks so that people are kept as distanced as possible. Obviously, depending on how much space you have available to you, this may not be realistic, so you may consider investing in screens or barriers to create separation between employees without the need for physical distancing. Alternatively, if you’re looking to move towards hybrid working, you may find that reducing the number of desks altogether could be a simple way to create the necessary space.

The key thing to remember is that good ventilation can help to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, so making sure your office is well ventilated is imperative. If possible, ensuring a constant supply of fresh air through either windows or an air conditioning system is ideal. However, make sure that the air conditioning system uses fresh air rather than recirculated air.

Finally, while it’s not required by law, you may want to consider allowing people to check in to your workspace by creating an NHS QR code poster so that any potential coronavirus spread is caught early and managed.

 

Determine who needs to come back

Throughout the lockdown, there has been a marked shift in workplace culture and attitudes towards working in the office full time. In fact, the potential benefits of a flexible hybrid work model are clear with increased productivity and staff wellbeing being paramount among them. So, this may leave you wondering, does everyone need to be in the office full time? Furthermore, who needs to come back at all?

Obviously, anyone who is immuno-compromised or with a medical condition which makes them vulnerable should ideally have the option of working remotely for the foreseeable future. Although the peak of the pandemic may have passed, there is still a huge risk for a great number of people.

You may also consider certain job roles and whether being in the office is completely necessary. If someone’s work doesn’t necessarily require them to meet face to face with other team members on a regular basis, does it make sense for them to be occupying desk space? You may find that a flexible work model could be a good fit for your business, allowing you to make the most of the office space you have available, to make it safer for those that do need to be there full time.

Check your office insurance policy is fit for purpose

Amongst other things, the return to the office is a great chance to get your affairs in order and make sure that every aspect of your business is up to snuff. Near the top of this list is checking that your office insurance policy is fit for purpose.

As you’ll know, owning an office comes with a number of unique risks which you’ll want to make sure are covered by your office insurance policy. From everyday cover to extreme events like building damage or break-ins, you’ll want to be sure that you’re not going to have to fork out for replacements or repairs. More pertinent under the current circumstances, you’ll want to ensure that you’re covered should an employee get injured or develop an illness in your workplace.

There are plenty of options which cover a wide range of risks, so make sure that you take the time to look into which is best for you and get a quote from a specialist office insurance provider.

Set up a desk-booking system

The significant interest in moving towards more flexible working models, such as hybrid working, has meant that a lot of businesses are now looking into how such a model could be implemented. With this, ‘hoteling’ (booking a desk in advance) and ‘hot-desking’ (being allocated a desk upon arrival) have become strategies being increasingly implemented in many offices, allowing for employees to work more flexibly and book desk space only when necessary. Under this model, no employee has an allocated desk space. Instead, each desk becomes communal and can be booked as and when needed by whoever is in the office that day.

 

While this may sound like an organisational and logistical nightmare, there are actually a number of different systems available which automate the desk-booking process, making it easy for employees to book space and manageable for you to oversee who’s coming into the office when.

But which desk-booking software should you go with? Look for features such as:

  • Separate options for advanced booking and on the day allocation
  • Ability to upload an office floor plan to personalise the system to your workplace
  • Ability to check into a desk through a QR code or touch-based display
  • The option for desk bookings to be approved by a manager to ensure that certain employees are able to get a space when needed or to ensure that social distancing is maintained
  • Integration with other workplace software, such as Google Workplace, Microsoft Teams or Slack

You may find that your current scheduling software includes a booking option, but if not there are a number of cost-effective options out there. However, make sure that you also have a back-up in case the system doesn’t work as planned. Perhaps consider having a few dedicated ‘hot desks’ in the event that an employee needs to come in at the last minute, but all the desk spaces have been pre-booked.

Keep an open and honest dialogue with your employees

The pandemic has undoubtedly been a stressful time for you and your staff. To help mitigate the anxiety around the return to the office, keeping your employees in the loop is essential. No one likes surprises when it comes to their job, and you’ll likely find that your staff will be more understanding and cooperative if they know what the plan is.

How you do this is up to you. If you run a small team, one-to-one calls could be a great way to get any worries out in the open and find a way over the hurdles. In a bigger team, surveys or open group calls will allow you to highlight potential problems and work together to find the best solution. You may also find that by keeping an open dialogue and allowing feedback from your employees could prompt some great ideas for changes to your work model or how things are run.

Remember, honesty is the best policy and by being open with your staff, they’ll feel confident that you’re doing your best by them. New systems and ways of working will take time to learn and your staff will take time to adjust, but provided there is open and honest communication, this process will go smoothly.

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