Covid-19: The role offices can play in preparing for the new normal
Niki Fuchs, Managing Director at Office Space in Town
After several months of enforced remote working and government guidance to stay at home to protect ourselves and the NHS from COVID-19, it’s hardly surprising that much of the UK workforce is feeling nervous about a return to the office. In fact, recent research from CIPD has reported that as many as two in five workers are feeling anxious about returning to work.
So, as many businesses prepare to return to the office, employers, landlords and workplace operators have to ensure that they can offer workers safety and reassurance about being in the workplace. From empowering news styles of commuting, adapting the office environment and facilitating socialisation, there are basic steps we can take that will prepare our workforce for the new normal.
High-ho, High-ho, it’s off to work we go
Among the most significant concerns about the return to work is the commute, with the government encouraging greater reliance on cycling or walking, rather than more densely filled public transport. With this in mind, employers and office space operators can prepare themselves for the increased demand for new styles of commuting, providing bike racks in the offices, shower rooms and even a more spaces to store spare clothing for those who combine daily exercise with the commute.
Of course, avoiding public transport is simply not an option for many workers and workplaces should be as flexible as possible to support this. With reduced capacity on trains and buses, travelling at peak time is likely to be arduous for workers. Facilitating flexible working hours and commuting times will be an important step in helping the UK workforce back into the office safely.
Safe distance, healthy practices
Within the office environment itself, there are further important changes that employers, landlords and office providers should enforce. From basic steps, such as introducing hand sanistising posts and workstation partitions, to more ambitious measures, such as adopting contactless tech, embedding stringent safety procedures will be vital to minimising the spread of the disease.
Thinking about the physical parameters of a workspace and how the office layout can cater to a two metre distance between workers should also be a priority. For example, offices that are fitted with signage and one-way footfall routes can provide a foundation for social-distancing practice at work, making people feel comfortable to move about the office safely.
Of course, respecting these strict precautions can be daunting and unfamiliar for workers. Consider providing information packs, with ‘how to’ guides on wearing PPE, handwashing and signage as well as information about mental health services, to help people adjust to this new normal with confidence.
Socialisation while social distancing
Among the most challenging aspects of lockdown for workers has been isolation from family, friends and colleagues. In fact, a survey of UK adults which took place during lockdown found that one in four (24%) said they had feelings of loneliness, a large increase compared to just one in ten people (10%) before lockdown.
As the Mental Health Foundation rightly says, interaction with friends and colleagues during and after lockdown is going to be important to combatting this and the office can play a key role in fostering contact, while keeping people safe. Social areas demarcated with safe distancing guidelines, as well as transparent partitions are just a few ways that workplaces can foster a sense of community, without compromising on health and safety.
With remote and flexible working likely to continue to some degree for many months, ensuring that these workers remain connected with colleagues is also important. For employers, landlords and operators, providing the tech for workers to stay connected will be vital, from offering enhanced video conferencing services calls to introducing team social events online, such as quizzes or virtual pub gatherings.
There is no doubt that a return to the office will be challenging, but the fact remains that the ability to promote productivity and wellbeing and the sense of community the physical workplace provides makes the office indispensable. Furthermore, if we are to combat the economic strain exerted on the economy by COVID-19, we must all do our part to ensure that businesses can return to normal safely and quickly. By supporting the workforce on their commute, instilling safe office practices and fostering social interaction with colleagues, we can get the British workforce back to the new normal.