As the world continues to battle with Covid-19, employers across the globe are taking steps to prepare their offices for workers to return. Some employers are even requiring their workers to return now. Despite the safety measures employers implement, employees will still at some point ask themselves, “Is it safe to return to the office?” To help answer that question, below are the major aspects of office life employees need to make sure are as safe as possible before they return.
1. The commute
There are numerous considerations to take into account when preparing to step outside the confines of your lockdown haven, the first one being getting to work. For many office workers, the daily commute involves the use of public transport, but the prospect of riding the train or bus shoulder to shoulder with other people in the current climate requires vigilance when it comes to personal hygiene.
The good news is governments are enacting measures such as enhanced cleaning and sanitizing of public transport vehicles and facilities. The use of PPE like face masks and gloves worn by staff and offering hand sanitizer at entry and exit points are also helping keep public transport as safe as possible. On a personal level, you need to be aware of the potential risks, taking appropriate measures to disinfect your hands after touching surfaces, wearing a face mask, and minimizing close contact with others.
The other option is to consider whether it’s viable and possibly safer to drive or bike to work. Of course, this may require a conversation with your employer regarding parking facilities and bike lockups, as well as the associated costs of paying for fuel.
2. The open-plan layout
Open-plan office designs have become mainstays of modern workplaces, aiding interdepartmental communications and the free-flow of ideas. However, with long-term social distancing required to keep the risk of contamination down, this could be a concern for returning employees who would ordinarily sit close to colleagues on shared desk pods.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that the confined cubicles of the ‘80s and ‘90s will make a comeback, but when returning to work you should inquire about what measures are being taken to carry out daily deep cleans of open-plan areas, as well as how your employer intends to implement a six-feet distancing rule.
It’s likely we’ll be saying goodbye to hot-desking, so it goes without saying that you should maintain a tidy and clean desk by regularly disinfecting high-touch surfaces, as this will be paramount to minimizing the risks of contamination.
With regards to team meetings, utilizing open areas rather than small, enclosed meeting rooms will help you and your colleagues to keep your distance. When close contact is unavoidable, you should take extra precautions on a personal level such as regularly washing or disinfecting your hands and wearing a face mask.
If your office uses elevators, this could also be a concern for when you return. For some people, a feasible option would be to take the stairs instead of opting for the elevator, but this may not always be physically possible. In those instances, elevators should have hand sanitizer stations at entry and exit points. But if that’s not provided, be sure to keep some with you at all times, taking extra care not to touch your face after pressing lift buttons. You could also use a paper towel or inanimate object to press buttons to avoid direct contact with surfaces.
In terms of managing elevator traffic, your employer should ideally be limiting the number of people riding elevators at any one time, but opting to wait for the next one if it’s crowded should also be considered as another line of defense.
4. Restrooms and communal areas
When it comes to “the new norm” in offices, communal areas and public restrooms will be significantly affected and will need to adapt to ensure that best practices are upheld in terms of hygiene and usage. Employers should be taking the lead from facilities like hospitals, implementing stringent safety protocols for personal and facility hygiene, so these types of spaces can still be used safely. Of course, the key is to lower the amount of traffic flowing in and out of these areas, so you should look to choose quieter times and stagger coffee and lunch breaks.
For bathrooms, there should be a strong emphasis on minimizing the number of occupants at one time and practicing good hygiene at all times. If you see several people going to the bathroom at once, use your common sense and wait until the rush has calmed down. Also, be vigilante about washing your hands and avoiding high-touch surfaces when possible.
5. Storage areas
Even in the age of paperless working environments, there’s still the need for office storage, and it plays an important part in keeping offices clean, clutter free, and organized. However, shared use of storage for office documentation has the potential to undermine social distancing measures.
If this is a scenario you’re liking to encounter in your office, raising concerns with your employer will afford them the opportunity to reassess their approach to office storage without it impeding on productivity and day-to-day operations.
This could be introducing open shelving units with antibacterial properties that not only allow workers to gain access to the necessary files, stationery, and equipment from any angle, but will also prevent the buildup of bacteria with an easy-to-clean surface. This all goes towards upholding social distancing and hygiene measures.
From an individual point of view, if these areas are busy, wait until they’re clear before you use them and always sanitize your hands after touching shared surfaces.
A final note
As with most concerns around returning to work, the key is to be aware of the potential risks and use your own personal discretion to avoid them—and, when, necessary, raise these issues with your employer.
There’s no doubt that we’ll all need time to adapt to “the new norm” where stringent hygiene and long-term social distancing will be necessary, but as proven with lockdown, even these abnormal practices can eventually become second nature, as long as we’re all doing our bit to protect ourselves and others around us.
Tom Brialey is the founder and director of Action Storage, which adopts his philosophy that, in addition to the highest quality products, you must also provide the highest standard of service to your customers in order to succeed. That’s why it’s Tom’s mission to provide expert support 100 percent of the way.