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return to office after coronavirusWhilst Britons have been advised to continue working from home during the coronavirus pandemic, the Prime Minister has detailed a 50-page plan to get Britain back on track.

This includes a plan to action to get people working in their offices again. 

However, new procedures and practices are expected for those working in congregating offices, including transport to work, how people sit and also conduct meetings. 


More bike space

From a transport perspective, office agents and landlords have been advised to allow for more bike space on their premises, with some places already add bike racks and changing car spaces to bike spaces. This is intended to encourage cycling to work, which should be feasible during the British summertime and avoid congregating on busy trains and platforms. 

Where possible, workers are also encouraged to go to work by foot, whether it is walking, jogging or running.


Staggered start times

The idea of staggering start times and end times for employees has been discussed in great detail. Rather than everyone starting at 8am or 9am, workers could be given different start and finish times such as 9am to 5pm, 10am to 6pm or 11am to 7pm. 

This is designed to limit the number of people in the office and also to massively reduce congestion on public transport, provided that all companies conform to it. 

Other ideas proposed include creating morning shifts and afternoon shifts to reduce crowding in the office. However, further guidance from the government would be welcomed to ensure consistency across all UK employers.


Continue remote working

With over 5 million people working remotely in the last two months, the government has urged those who are working remotely to continue doing so if they can. 

Many companies across the country have adapted well to working from home, with staff using their home desktops and laptops. For many firms, remote working is something that is likely to be more common and integrated into their business to minimise costs.


Avoid face-to-face meetings

Employees are still encouraged to avoid face-to-face meetings, which should also limit the need to journey to other parts or locations for the meeting to take place.

Britons have become accustomed to using video conferencing and screen-sharing platforms such as Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Business and the Prime Minister has endorsed his continued use of this.


Adjustments to desk spaces 

To maintain the rules surrounding social distancing, landlords and employers have been asked to make adjustments to their staff’s desk spaces, creating gaps of 2 metres or more, where possible.

In some locations, screens and barriers between staff members has been proposed and actioned, especially when dealing with the general public. This was quickly adopted by supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco who now have protective screens at the checkout area.


Using correct PPE

In busy office spaces, staff members are encouraged to wear PPE or basic gloves or face masks if possible. Those coming into contact with members of the public such as retail shops and clinics, should be using PPE as mandatory. However, this is also recommended to people who share an office to reduce the spread of infection.


Temperature testing

In some workplaces, there is a conversation about whether to introduce temperature testing for every customer and employee that walks into an office or retail space. This is something that was adopted very early in parts of China and South Korea.

Beyond this, a company in Amsterdam has installed temperature cameras that are able to track body heat and the temperature of their staff members – whereby anyone showing symptoms of a high temperature will asked to go home and self-isolate.

Similarly, any member of staff that is showing any symptoms of flu or cold should notify their employer and volunteer to work from home or self-isolate. 


Bring your own food or get meals delivered

In an attempt to avoid workers going out of the office and buying lunch from supermarkets or shops, the 50-page plan encouraged people to bring their own meals to work or get food delivered to the office.

This aims to avoid unnecessary congregating, queuing up and putting different households in contact with others, whilst allowing small restaurant owners to continue to trade and remain profitable.


Negotiations with landlords and tenants

Office landlords should anticipate much tougher negotiations from their tenants, who are now likely to see smaller teams and less people in their organisations.

Whether it is contractual terms, monthly fees or leasing contracts, landlords will need to be prepared to offer incentives to their tenants – many of whom will be cost sensitive and potentially seeking alternatives.


What the government has said

Business secretary Alok Sharma said: “This guidance provides a framework to get the UK back to work in a way that is safe for everyone.

“These are practical steps to enable employers to identify risks that Covid-19 creates and to take pragmatic measures to mitigate them.

“And as we are able to reopen new sectors of the economy, we will continue our collaborative approach working with a wide range of stakeholders, to provide guidance for additional workplaces.”

Mr Johnson said on Monday: “We are going to insist that businesses across this country look after their workers, are Covid secure, Covid compliant.”

“The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will be enforcing it and we will be having spot inspections to make sure employees are keeping their employees safe.”

“It is up to workers to raise it with their employers and the HSE too.”


Your rights as an employee

With many employees feeling pressure to get back to the office and resume work, the Government says that employees could take legal action if their boss has not put adequate measures in place. This includes making sure that workers are two metres apart from one another, there are staggered start times and workplaces are well ventilated. 

The responsibility is largely down to the employer to ensure that safety measures are in place and that the office is a safe place for people to work and limits the spread of infection.


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