18 May 2020, 09:22

How to safely return to the office during COVID-19

After the government’s announcement last week, employees are likely to start returning to their offices over the next few weeks. Your employees’ health and well-being are a top priority during this transitional time.

This guide will explain how you can prepare your office in advance. It will also detail what safety measures you can implement in the office to lower the potential risk of infection. These best practices will give your employees the confidence to return to work.

Preparing your business for a return to the office

 There are some procedures and safety measures you can put in place, so the office is ready and clean to restart. A COVID-19 risk assessment will highlight areas for your business to concentrate on.

Here are some of the main areas to consider:

Communication and signage for staff

Communication is critical for a safe return to the office. This communication should explain handwashing techniques, PPE use and social distancing.

Use signs and posters to remind employees of the proper handwashing technique. Ensure soap, paper towels and appropriate bins are available in all washrooms and kitchens. You may also consider placing hand sanitising stations throughout the office.

To enforce social distancing. You can use tape on the floor or barriers to mark out 2m distances. You can also create a procedure and guidance pack for staff and visitors.

Building maintenance and adapting to covid-19

 Following a period of lockdown, it is important to check that all building systems are functioning, and certification is up-to-date. Check that any water systems on site are bacteria-free and clean. Test the fire alarm systems, emergency lighting, and lifts.

Disable any air recirculation in the office. Set ventilation systems on full fresh air. Set rest area ventilation on 24 hrs. You could also look into optimising the air quality using the WELL standard.  (A05 Enhanced Air Quality, A06 Enhanced Ventilation, A08 Air Quality Monitoring, and Awareness, A09 Pollution Infiltration Management, A12 Air Filtration, A13 Active VOC Control).

Instigating new cleaning procedures

 You should clean and sanitise the office before opening it. An office cleaning contractor can provide this service for you. As well as normal cleaning procedures, there are extra measures you can adopt.

-       Check that hand washing and sanitising consumables are available and replenished.

-       Service ventilation systems and adjust them to their highest level.

-       Open doors and windows to encourage ventilation in the office.

-       Clean and sanitise corporate vehicles.

-       Sanitise or quarantine for 3 days any goods that are entering the office.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) survives on some surfaces for up to three days. Any effective infection control strategy therefore requires not just cleaning, but also sanitising.

It is important to understand that regular touch points will need to be sanitised regularly. We therefore recommend a daytime housekeeping regime to clean touch points regularly (railings, door handles, push plates, lift buttons etc.) and reduce the chances of infection.

Common touchpoints to be sanitised in the office include:- Chair armrests, Doors (entry, exit, and security), door handles, finger plates, glass, keyboards, lift buttons, meeting room tables, mice, phones, power leads, printers, and swipe card readers.

Frequent touchpoints in rest areas:- coffee machine buttons, door handles on cupboards, fridge door handle, kitchen counters, kitchen tables, taps, milk cartons, sofa armrests, and tv remote controls

Social distancing at work

Social distancing is one of the key requirements to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The government recommends maintaining 2 metres between staff in the office. As well as using the signage on the floor you can also do the following:

 -       Stagger all arrival, departure, and break times.

-       Arrange extra parking spaces or bike racks for staff.

-       Limit passengers in any corporate vehicles.

-       Arrange more storage areas for employees. (Place social distancing tape on the floor).

-       Stop any non-business deliveries to the office.

-       Use markings to introduce one-way flow at all entry and exit points.

-       Lifts - reduce occupancy and ask people to use the stairs if possible. (NB Disabled staff should have access to the lifts).

-       Give guidance to visitors on hygiene and social distancing.

Workplaces and work activities

Once you have arranged workstations according to distancing protocol, you can use barriers or screens to separate the staff. It is preferable to use back-to-back or side-to-side working, as opposed to face-to-face. Where possible, employees should not share desks.

Make sure that employees use their own computer, keyboard and mouse and do not share stationary or other items.

Protecting employee health and well-being during covid-19

By taking preventative measures at work, you can create a safe environment. These measures help to protect the health and well-being of your staff. You can follow the government’s recent instructions for offices and contact centres. Here are some key points:

●     Designated person to support staff

So that you can manage the workforce, decide on a designated person to help employees. This designated person can address any concerns from the employees. They can also take any action if needed. They will help to reassure employees to build their confidence working in the office.

●     Face masks

It is an employee’s choice to wear a mask. Employers should help staff use the coverings if they decide to wear one. You can advise the following for safe use:

-       Use hand sanitiser or soap to wash hands before and after using the face covering.

-       Try not to touch it, or your face, when you wear it.

-       If the face covering is damp, change it.

-       Wash your hands often.

-       Change and wash the covering daily.

Maintaining a COVID-19 cleaning schedule

 You can add this list of procedures to your cleaning schedule.

-       Increase the frequency of handwashing for all staff.

-       Increase the frequency of surface cleaning. 

-       Stop the use of touch-based security devices. (e.g. keypads).

-       There should be frequent cleaning of areas between uses, such as doors and keyboards.

-       All workspaces cleared after a shift (e.g. belongings and waste).

-       Restrict or limit the use of printers and whiteboards.

-       Use new cleaning materials and technologies to stop contaminants.

-       Replenish hand wash stations and touchpoint areas with sanitiser.

-       Start cleaning high-risk areas more often, such as changing areas, lifts, reception, restaurants, and restrooms.

Suspected cases of COVID-19

If you have a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 in the office, follow the government decontamination procedure to clean the premises or better still, get a professional cleaning contractor to perform a deep clean of the premises.

If an area can be kept closed and secure for 72 hours, do so before cleaning, as the amount of virus contamination will have decreased significantly. The area can then be cleaned.

NuServe has the expertise and specialist equipment to handle these scenarios. Additionally, we use advanced electrostatic spraying equipment to ensure a thorough clean and sanitisation.​