‘Back to the Office’: Our Return to Work Guide
As parts of Australia begin to return to the office, many managers and workers are unsure of what to expect and how to ensure the safety of their team. Just like in public life, there is a new standard for hygiene when in close contact with others; and this translates to new ways of working and interacting with your team. Of course, each business is unique, and has its own set of challenges, including from reimagining or reorganising hot desking and meeting spaces, to socially distancing employees and considering the cleanliness of shared surfaces. Yet, every business in Australia needs to begin to consider these challenges. When it comes to returning to the office - where should you begin?
Using our expertise in the office space industry, Christie Spaces has complied a quick ‘Return to Work’ strategy guide to help your business plan your return to the office safely and effectively.
Creating your ‘Back to Work’ strategy:
Firstly, there are certain questions to consider when creating your return to work strategy:
- Do you need to reopen your workspaces all at once or could you gradually invite your team back in groups or teams?
- Could your workspace adopt the A team/B team staggered schedule?
- Is it possible to increase the frequency and thoroughness of your workspace cleaning procedures?
- Will your team have access to supplies to clean their common touchpoints/areas after use?
- Does your workspace have the technological capabilities to allow for Zoom meetings and virtual collaborations in place of in-person interactions?
- Does your workspace have enough space to follow the 1 worker per 4sqm rule or will you need to find new workspaces to keep everyone spread out?
For most workspaces, a ‘Return to Work’ strategy can be broken down into four main points: physical distancing, hand hygiene, frequent & thorough cleaning and maintaining health standards in the office.
Most experts also recommend creating a 'business continuity plan' and readily sharing it with your team and/or customers. If circumstances suddenly change and your office space will be remaining closed for the undisclosed future; having a continuity plan in place can provide guidance and a step-by-step plan for adjusting to a more permanent work from home model. Creating this plan ahead of time can maintain the flow and prosperity of your business as well as providing a level of assurance to your team members.
1. Physical Distancing
The expert recommendation for physical distancing in Australia is 1.5m apart. You can ensure this 1.5m distance between your team and visitors by designating desks spaced far apart, as well as having strict capacity limits on lunch or break out areas, elevators, meeting rooms and communal spaces.
Safely managing the flow of people in and out of the workspace can be accomplished by designating certain walkways as one direction only or by placing capacity and time limits on more constricted areas. Christie Spaces has implemented signage in our meeting rooms, elevators and common spaces to enforce the 1.5m distance between our staff and members.
Try to postpone non-essential gatherings, meetings or training while social distancing measures are still in effect. If these gatherings, meetings or training are essential:
- Use non-face-to-face options to conduct – e.g. video conferencing or Zoom.
- If this is not possible, ensure face-to-face time is limited, making sure the gathering, meeting or training goes for no longer than it needs to.
- Hold the gathering, meeting or training in a space that enables attendees to keep at least 1.5 metres apart and with 4 square metres of space per person – e.g. outdoors or in large conference rooms.
- Limit the number of attendees in a gathering, meeting or training. This may require multiple training sessions to be held and ensuring adequate ventilation if held indoors.
2. Handwashing & Hand Sanitiser Stations with Signage
Clear signage can make sure everyone is aware of correct handwashing and hygiene practices. Displaying informative signage in common spaces, bathrooms and kitchens can help encourage effective hygienic behaviour. Available sanitiser and cleaning equipment should be visible and accessible to everyone.
Hand sanitiser stations (either as dispensers or simple bottles) should be present at entry, exit and high touchpoints. The most effective and recommended spaces to place your dispensers or hand sanitiser bottles are reception areas, elevator foyers and office entry points.
Here at Christie Spaces, we have installed hand sanitiser stations in our main entrances and in all communal spaces. These stations are regularly serviced by our building management and cleaning staff and are accessible to everyone in the property.
Below are some great examples of handwashing and hygiene signage to display in your workspace:
3. Cleaning Standards and Frequency
Increasing the frequency of your cleaning services is something most businesses should consider in the wake of COVID-19. However, due to the financial uncertainty the pandemic has also created – a more affordable alternative may be the encouragement of workers to sanitise their own workspaces and touchpoints after use with company supplied cleaning materials.
Christie Spaces has enacted these changes with sanitiser wipes placed throughout our properties in the common kitchen areas and printing facilities. For general cleaning, disposable wipes and single-use paper towels are recommended as they will have minimal contact with only one person.
While we have increased our cleaning measures throughout all our properties, as an extra step we have also introduced environmentally friendly single-use cutlery and cups as an alternative for any our members who choose to use them. This provides a safe alternative for anyone in your team who may have concerns with using communal cutlery and kitchen utensils.
If you think single-use kitchen utensils may be a good idea for your return to work strategy, find out more here.
4. Enforcing Health Standards for Attending the Office
This one may seem like an obvious point, but this is apparently not so obvious to most of the Australian workforce. Australians have a bad reputation for “soldiering on” while sick and heading into the office – inevitability passing on their illness to others in their team. In a post-COVID-19 workspace, this culture is obviously something which will need to end.
Enforcing strict ‘stay at home’ or ‘work from home’ policies when a team member is sick should be a top-down enforced culture. Actively encourage your team to speak up and use their allocated sick days if they have concerns about the state of their own health and returning to the office. Christie Spaces has displayed this policy to make sure all our members and staff remain safe, happy and healthy in our buildings!
Creating a Business Continuity Plan
Much like a fire evacuation plan is required for office buildings or a bushfire evacuation plan for homes in high-risk areas, every business should be returning to work with a thought-out business continuity plan. A business continuity plan can help you pivot your business and organise your team quickly if the COVID-19 situation changes suddenly and affects your ways of working.
Things to consider when creating your business continuity plan:
1. Prioritising the safety of your teams and establishing strong communication channels
If harsher social distancing regulations are imposed in your state, be prepared for your team to shift back to working from home or regulate their physical contact with each other and clients. This means considering strict face-to-face meeting hygiene standards, providing cleaning materials, safe meetings spaces and functional communication software being readily available.
For the well-being of your team, also try to minimise the disruption this shift can have to their daily lives and interactions. You can do this by encouraging social catch-ups and interactions and allowing for more flexibility in their work schedules.
2. Tweaking the strategy of your business and reshaping goals/plans
Should your business be severely effected, be aware of the short-term liquidity potential of your business and how you can effectively maximise this for financial security.
Make an assessment of the financial and operational risks of your business, and how you can potentially minimise this in a long and short-term plan. Also make sure to acknowledge the long-term effects that COVID-19 could have on your business, and construct a brief plan for the most likely scenarios.
3. Open communication with relevant stakeholders
Be sure to keep lines of communication open and accessible not only between your team; but also to your clients, managers, investors, suppliers and regulating bodies.
Businesses should plan to transparently communicate the consequences of COVID-19 onto whomever it may affect. Regular updates should be scheduled in with whatever stakeholders your business may have, so that future planning can account for all the parties involved in your business.
4. Know your entitlements
With Government support available across a variety of industries, take the time to research what you, your business and team are entitled to - both for your current situation and if COVID-19 will continue to affect your business further.
You can find the Government support services guide available here.
For more tips on how to create your business continuity plan, explore the resources below:
Creating a healthy and COVIDSafe workplace is the duty of every team member in the office.
Wash your hands regularly, use hand sanitiser, keep a physical distance and if you feel unwell – stay at home!
Download our own Work Place Recovery Guide for more information and helpful tips. Or, if you are unsure whether your current workspace is safe enough for your team to return, contact Christie Spaces about our flexible, safe and affordable workspace solutions.
For more information on how to create a return to work safely strategy for your business, follow the link below to available Government resources: