Whether it’s returning to an existing office or searching for the perfect new space for your business, creating a safe working environment for your employees is going to be key in post-pandemic times. The last year has changed the priorities of companies, who’ve had to adapt to a rapidly changing environment, but it’s also had an impact on the demands of employees.
Now, as restrictions lift, businesses need to look forward and create the workspaces of the future, considering health, safety and wellbeing as essential to success.
Creating a safe workspace will be crucial in getting back to ‘normal’ for businesses. As the office returns to its former position as a central foundation for teams, a lot of businesses won’t necessarily use a full-time workspace. It’s been proven in a lot of cases that remote working has allowed operations to continue fairly smoothly, without a negative impact on output.
So, many organisations are now moving to a more flexible, hybrid approach that embraces the role of the physical office alongside employee-centred flexible working policies.
The office has more purpose than ever – to be a place where employees meet, collaborate, and bond with each other. But this is reliant on it being a safe place, where employee wellbeing is at the forefront of design and decision-making. Businesses have a big responsibility!
At some point, we’ll stop being surprised that it’s been a whole year since all this started. In just over 12 months, a lot has shifted. Most of us have had to be creative with workspace: stacking the heaviest books for a laptop to perch on, locating some kind of office chair to avoid cracks and creaks a couple of weeks in, plus activewear, turned comfortable clothes… turned shirt and pyjama bottoms. Our work life has shifted, and although there are many benefits, the prospect of returning to an office is a big deal for employees.
There’s so much to miss about the office: the collaboration, the social interaction, the pre-work coffee run or the after-work drink, but returning also presents challenges – both practical and emotional. For employees, the priority is entering back into a secure working environment; a clean, well-organised space with a safe amount of people, and processes to maintain this.
Having worked from home for much of this past year, employees will need a clear agenda and plan in place that recognises any concerns they have. In a time of hybrid and flexible working, it may be that the physical office becomes the heart of a company – but to justify its role, it will have to become a destination with a clear purpose.
What Is A Safe Work Environment?
Last year, the government published detailed guidelines designed to help businesses make sure their offices could be COVID-19 secure. From updated risk assessments to improved cleaning schedules, these offer a step-by-step guide to the practicalities of making sure an office is safe. Work.Life and TWO also created our own Guide to Returning to the Office, which includes how to reconfigure your office space to ensure it is safe for your staff.
Many aspects of ensuring a safe workplace will reflect our new normal of everyday practices, from wearing face coverings and extra hand washing or sanitising, to maintaining social distance.
It’s also worth noting that if employees have been out of a traditional workplace for close to a year, there might be tendencies to let measures slip and embrace ‘normality’. This is understandable, but leading from the front and making sure expectations are set and maintained will be the responsibility of business leaders!
Ensure all the steps you take are visible to employees and any visitors, and set aside time to review changes with your team. Including employees in decision-making and being open to feedback will be key. If you can create an open, honest forum where employees can speak freely and offer suggestions, their ideas for a safe return to work might surprise you.
What Makes A Safe Work Environment?
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone in different ways. In a practical sense, aspects of our day-to-day lives have completely shifted. We’ve had to face concerns over the health of ourselves and our families, as well as balancing the economic impact of the pandemic on our jobs and finances. As employees return to offices, with all things considered, protecting their mental health will be a priority.
Wellbeing support should be front and center as business leaders create a safe workspace. From 1:1 support through existing line management frameworks to additional opportunities for feedback and advice, measures to establish a culture of trust and psychological safety in light of COVID-19 are essential. Consider the office routine, and ensure there is time and space for safe social interaction for employees. Too many people too soon may be overwhelming, but presenting options for small groups to socialise in and around work hours can positively impact wellbeing.
Making the most of any outdoor space you have to conduct meetings outdoors, or walking catch-ups in the local area offer a return to work for those that feel less comfortable being back in the physical office.
Creating A Safe Workplace Culture
In what’s been a very challenging past year, supporting employees in both a professional and personal sense has become part of the role of an employer. Happy employees perform at a higher level. According to Gartner’s 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey, you’ll find a 21% increase in the number of high performers in companies that provide a strong degree of support to their employees. Gartner also found increases in mental and physical health when employees are supported with their wider life experience.
As COVID-19 accelerated remote working, it also revealed limitations in terms of face-to-face communication and collaborative working. As hybrid and flexible working continues, the office can become an anchor for the business. A safe office environment can offer huge opportunities for training, skill development and social interaction, as well as establish the external perception of a business to customers, stakeholders and future talent. Health, safety and wellbeing at work is the future!
Health and Safety Checklist for Work
If you aren’t tied into an existing contract and are in the market for a new workspace, it’s worth considering health and safety when you’re on the search for office space.
Can you find a workspace already set up with health and safety measures in place, such as a serviced office in a coworking space? Or, could you use a workspace provider that is knowledgeable about creating safe workplaces? It’s a good idea to do your research and utilise the experts!
If you already have an office space from pre-pandemic, there are steps you’ll need to take to return to the office safely. Below is a health and safety checklist for work:
- Complete a risk assessment
Take a risk assessment of your existing office before you re-open it to your employees.
- Keep your distance
Staying 1-2 metres apart will help employees feel more comfortable. Try using tape to mark out distances, putting up posters to remind staff and working side by side rather than face to face.
- Use your space effectively
Make use of one-way systems and arrange office areas by department to limit movement of people. Use a team calendar to record who will be using office spaces when to allow employees to stagger use.
- Step up cleaning protocols
Upping your everyday cleaning and having regular deep cleaning will keep workspace germs to a minimum.
- Wash your hands
Make sure you have plenty of facilities for employees to wash their hands, plus reminders to do so. You might also want to provide hand sanitiser and wipes for high touchpoint areas.
- Improve ventilation
Keep workspaces well ventilated by opening doors and windows and using air conditioning.
- Keep employees informed
Processes are only effective when they’re put into regular use, so take time to review changes and set expectations with your team, and make sure they feel safe and happy at work.
- Make wellbeing a priority
Put time aside to check in with employees and update processes as necessary to make sure they feel safe and happy, on a 1:1 basis or group drop-in sessions.
Need more information on safe work environments? Book a free workspace consultation call with our expert team to discuss returning to the office safely.