Planning the Return to the Workplace

This is a blog about what you need to do when you are ready to open your office. We have used this information to inform our approach and hope that it is useful for others.

This is a blog about what you need to do when you are ready to open your office. We have used this information to inform our approach and hope that it is useful for others.

We are not experts in this field so questions about the content need to be directed elsewhere. However, any accountancy questions please do get in touch as we are experts in this field.

  1. Inspect the premises

If the property has been left completely unattended, you may find unexpected pests, damage or breakages — all of which need to be addressed before employees begin to return.

Tests to run before the premises is reoccupied might include:

  • checking the fire alarm systems, extinguishers and escape routes
  • inspecting lifts or pressure systems
  • making sure your water systems avoid legionella risks
  • ensuring any asbestos-containing materials have not deteriorated or been damaged.
  1. Undertake the necessary risk assessments

These will help you identify the additional control measures and adjustments that will need to be implemented. The Government has said that: “If possible, employers should publish the results of their risk assessments on their website and we expect all businesses with over 50 employees to do so.”

  1. Decide who will return

Will you stagger the return to work? The priority will be those employees who can't do their job fully from home. Are there others who could continue working from home for the foreseeable future? Don't forget to continue to support homeworkers.

  1. Redesign the workplace for social distancing

Review workplaces, procedures and work patterns. For example, you could consider the following.

  • Can you adjust work patterns and arrival/departure times to reduce the number of employees in the premises at the same time?
  • How can you reduce bottlenecks at access points and lifts?
  • Do you need screens or barriers for employees?
  • Would investing in equipment for card payments prevent contact through handing over cash?
  • What actions should be taken to mitigate the risks of shared equipment or hot-desking?
  • How will you maintain distancing and hygiene with regards to bathroom use?
  • Can you improve ventilation?
  • Could you implement one-way corridors?
  • To what degree do employees need to change how they use break times, and access kitchens, canteens and refreshments on-site?
  • What will be the procedure for visitors and contractors?
  • Would signs or other visual aids assist in changing behaviour?
  • How will the organisation evacuate for a fire or other emergency?
  1. Establish your cleaning and hygiene needs

The risk assessment should show whether a deep clean is required before the premises reopen. Until a vaccine is available, the organisation will need to maintain a high level of hygiene. Government guidance says employers should provide handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points.

Identify your cleaning needs (eg more frequent cleaning, regular disinfecting of surfaces, handles, keyboards, bannisters, lift buttons, photocopiers, etc) and confirm whether your existing cleaning contractor can fulfil them. Do you need to bring in additional help or order supplies?

  1. Consider issues around work equipment

Plant and machinery will need to be inspected for deterioration, etc. If employees have taken IT equipment, office furniture or other assets home with them you will need a plan to get them back to the workplace, sanitised and checked. If the risk assessment identifies the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent COVID-19 infection, ensure you purchase appropriate PPE that will not deplete NHS and care workers supplies.

  1. Amend your HS and HR policies accordingly

Obviously, there are lots of variables depending on the organisation, its size and activities. Issues to look at might include the following.

  • What working hours, shift patterns, and locations need to change?
  • How will you reintegrate furloughed employees?
  • Will work processes change, eg should all meetings be video calls?
  • What training is needed to adjust to the new procedures?
  • What symptoms will you require employees to report? What will be your procedures if there is a suspected case of coronavirus?
  • How will you manage high-risk employees?
  • Will you require work-related travel? How will this be managed?
  • What will be the procedure if a nervous employee refuses to return to work when the Government allows it?
  • Does your supply chain or procurement process need support or adjustments?
  1. Devise a communications strategy

It is worth involving staff in the planning process and you should keep communications channels open with staff, unions, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. Once you have a plan, it needs to be communicated carefully to all employees on the understanding that it will likely need to be adjusted as you go. Aim to give employees reasonable notice of a return to the workplace so that they can arrange childcare, investigate commuting options, etc. Your employees must be confident that you are not putting them at risk by asking them to return to work, so let them know the measures you are taking to keep them safe.