Ensuring employee safety and reappraising space utilisation will be key considerations as organisations prepare for the return to work.
Businesses, schools and offices are slowly reopening after more than two months in lockdown owing to the coronavirus outbreak. The government’s ‘Covid-19 secure’ guidelines, issued in early May, explained how eight workplace settings including construction, offices and contact centres, factories, plants and warehouses and shops, can operate again.
FMs are at the heart of instigating sudden organisational change. Adaptations include more employees routinely working from home; the impact on space of a more decentralised approach to employee location; the logistical conundrums surrounding social distancing; more frequent and thorough cleaning regimes; touch-less washrooms; voice-activated lifts; and the use of biometrics to scan a worker’s state of health.
Longer-term shifts to more working from home are likely, putting an emphasis on rethinking how space is used. Barclays Bank CEO Jes Staley said the bank is considering a more decentralised approach to staff location.
The office as optional
“I think the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past,” said Staley. “We will find ways to operate with more distancing over a much longer period of time. You’re going to find we use much more significantly our branches as alternative sites for investment bankers and call centre workers and people in the corporate bank.”
Mark Read, CEO of WPP, a global marketing firm with 106,000 staff, agreed. “We are fortunate that we can work from home. I think, through the other side of this [office] capacity will be somewhat lower. It will be important to maintain social distancing.”
Chris Richards, regional president UK and Ireland at software company Unit4, added: “Although lockdown has been the largest experiment of working patterns in history, proving incontrovertibly that permanent remote working can be done, people don’t want to work that way all the time.
“This is an opportunity for businesses to rethink how work gets done and offer more flexibility,” added Richards. “Shared spaces will be the default. It is vital that teams can come together to collaborate, and nothing beats the energy and dynamism that comes with real interactions.
“This isn’t the end of the office, but it is the end of the ways of old.”
The decentralised dynamic
Jonathan Ratcliffe, senior broker at serviced office firm Offices.co.uk, said: “We are witnessing the biggest shift for a generation – huge centralised HQ buildings are the new dinosaur; we are entering a new culture of flexible working and the regionalisation of office space. When a key player like Barclays in the City announces that their office strategy is to downsize to smaller office spaces in the regions it is a very positive signal for regional centres.”
But he warned: “There is a good supply of office space in our regional cities, but if the predicted trend happens there might not be enough of the right type of grade-A space available at short notice. The potential shift is huge – and for the regions it is great news.”
Interiors in alert mode
Accountancy and business advisory firm BDO says FMs will be ‘first responders’ in ensuring that workers feel secure going back to work. In its report, The Impact of Covid-19 on the Facilities Management M&A Market, Satvir Bungar, managing director and head of facilities at BDO, spoke of “a heightened awareness around hygiene, food safety, HVAC, and need for new maintenance strategies to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission”.
Ravi Bhatnagar, account director at FM provider Anabas, proposed “a three-step approach” to reoccupation. “The first step is preparing the building itself through social distancing, office traffic/density plans, cleaning plans, maintenance inspections, reducing touchpoints by opening doors and increasing cleaning, and installing new signage and barriers. The second is training the facilities team to support people when they return to the building, and the third is preparing the workforce in advance through clear communication about what to expect, training them on policies and protocols for social distancing, clear desks and what to do in the event of an emergency.”
Government guidelines: 5 steps to working safely
1 Carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment
Before restarting work, ensure the safety of the workplace by:
- carrying out a risk assessment in line with the HSE guidance;
- consulting with your workers or trade unions; and
- sharing the results of the risk assessment with your workforce and on your website.
2 Develop cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures
You should increase the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning by:
- encouraging people to follow the guidance on handwashing and hygiene;
- providing hand sanitiser around the workplace, in addition to washrooms;
- frequently cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces that are touched regularly;
- enhancing cleaning for busy areas;
- setting clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets; and
- providing hand-drying facilities – either paper towels or electrical dryers.
3 Help people to work from home
You should take all reasonable steps to help people work from home by:
- discussing homeworking arrangements;
- ensuring that they have the right equipment, for example, remote access to work systems;
- including them in all necessary communications; and
- looking after their physical and mental wellbeing.
4 Maintain two-metre social distancing where possible
Remind people of the need to do this using these methods:
- putting up signs to remind workers and visitors of social distancing guidance;
- avoiding sharing workstations;
- using floor tape or paint to mark areas to help people keep to a 2m distance;
- arranging one-way traffic through the workplace if possible; and
- switching to seeing visitors by appointment only if possible.
5 Where people cannot be 2m apart, manage transmission risk
Where it’s not possible for people to be 2m apart, you should do everything practical to manage the transmission risk by:
- considering whether an activity needs to continue for the business to operate;
- keeping the activity time involved as short as possible;
- using screens or barriers to separate people from each other;
- using back-to-back or side-to-side working wherever possible;
- staggering arrival and departure times; and
- reducing the number of people each person has contact with by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’.