Australia hasn’t just flattened the curve, we’ve crushed it. This means we’re starting to see restrictions easing, but in a way that keeps everyone safe from further coronavirus outbreaks. While every state is at a different stage of the 3-step COVID safe framework, it’s time to start thinking about how you can keep your team safe at work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s what you need to think about when it comes to making your office COVID safe.

Is your building COVID-19 ready?

This might not be entirely in your hands, but it’s important to keep in touch with your building manager and landlord. You’ll want to know what they have in place for:
  • Worker safety: Are the people preparing the building to be re-opened provided appropriate PPE and training in procedures and risk management? (Including any regulatory requirements.)
  • Cleaning supplies: Has there been an inventory on cleaning and disinfecting supplies? Are cleaners trained in proper disinfecting guidelines? Which areas will require heavy use cleaning? Will some amenities remain closed (like communal showers) or are there plans in place to keep them clean? How will PPE and cleaning waste be disposed of?
  • Core infrastructure inspection: Are things damaged or in need of maintenance? (Especially if your office was shut down quickly, without much preparation.) You’ll need to consider things like Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC), fire safety systems and water systems.

What will your workplace access look like?

Controlling access to the workplace will be an important consideration when it comes to limiting the risk of contamination and exposure from external parties such as customers and contractors. Some things to consider include:
  • What are the health and safety checks for people who enter the building?
  • Will the entry points for all people, including deliveries, be controlled?
  • Do any lobby and reception areas need to be reconfigured to account for social distancing requirements? Consider the use of plexiglass or marking spaces on the floor.
  • Will there be temperature screening and sanitiser available at all entrances?
  • What is access like to your office? Will lifts have limits on how many people can travel at any one time? Will you have stairwell access? Will some stairwells be up or down traveling only?
  • If your building has touchscreens will they be disabled? If not, how will you keep them clean?
  • How will these changes be communicated with staff?

Is your office layout and design COVID safe?

An office re-design may not have been on the agenda, but it might be necessary to ensure social distancing can be maintained. Things you’ll need to look at include:
  • What is your office floor plan? Is there enough space for everyone on your team to maintain social distancing? If not, will you move to a larger space, or split your team to work partly from home and partly from the office?
  • Do you need to change design features to make it safer, such as adding plexiglass to workstations? Do you need to fit out more office spaces or office cubicles?
  • When is your office the busiest? Will you be staggering employee start times or even alternating work weeks, so some staff work from home, while some work from the office.
  • What changes need to happen to common spaces? Will you be removing communal items from your kitchen area? Will you be switching from the shared cookie jar to single served (and wrapped) snacks? If you have a coffee machine who gets to use it?

Do you have a social distance plan ready?

Before you get your team back to the office you’ll need a social distance plan. Space planning solutions are important in reducing transmission risks associated with COVID-19, and your plan will depend on how many people you have returning to work versus how many will continue working from home, and the size of your office space. Things you should include in your plan include:
  • How can you keep track of space use? Do you use sensors to keep count of occupants per floor?
  • How will you designate and signpost the direction of foot-traffic in various areas? Will they be one-way only? Will you mark the floor to indicate what is socially safe?
  • Will you be using an alternate desk system or removing desks altogether?
  • Do you need to add panels between desks, including height adjustable panels for sit/stand desks?
  • Do you currently hot desk at your office? Will you start assigning specific seats to staff to limit transmission risks?
  • How will you keep track of who is in the office and when? (This is especially important in terms of contact tracing, should there be a diagnosed case of COVID-19.)

How will you conduct team meetings?

If your meeting spaces are small, perhaps you’ll need to encourage your team to keep meeting virtually (even if they’re back in the office). Does your office have the technical tools to do this? How can you help your team to meet virtually — whether it’s via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or messaging apps. Does your internet need an upgrade? Do you need better mics or video equipment? Other things you’ll need to think about include:
  • Decommissioning or re-purposing meeting spaces
  • Reducing the capacity of spaces by removing some chairs and spacing the remaining ones apart
  • Prohibiting the shared use of small rooms by groups and converting those spaces to single occupant use only.

How will you deal with frequently touched surfaces?

We know that coronavirus can stay active on surfaces. With regular cleaning and by reducing the frequency of physical contact with items in the workplace, which are also touched by others, you can help keep your team safe. Things you’ll need to consider include:
  • How will you promote hygiene practices, including hand washing and disinfecting of items? Will you be providing hand sanitiser to all employees? Or only at entrances and individual desks or rooms?
  • Will you have wall-mounted disinfectant dispensers at high touch objects?
  • Will you have signs around the office to remind staff about good hand hygiene?
  • Installing movement detectors to activate light switches, to limit the need to touch light switches.
  • Consider voice-activated controls to frequently touched surfaces.
  • Do you need to remove non-essential doors and handles? Would it be better to fix doors in the open position?
  • Do you need to remove conference phones, while encouraging the use of personal mobiles instead?
  • Should you provide all staff with their own individual whiteboard pens, printers and handsets etc.
  • Where will you store any unnecessary fabric upholstered chairs? Or would it make sense to plastic wrap upholstered furniture to make it easier to clean?
  • If your office supplies are normally open to all, do you now have someone designated to distribute office items?

How will you communicate with your team?

It’s very likely your staff are feeling anxious about returning to work and what a COVID safe office will look like. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open, as this will go a long way to making the transition back to the office as smooth as possible. Things you can do to help your staff transition back to the office include:
  • Emotional and psychological care: Acknowledge their anxieties and proving access to confidential counselling services via Employee Assistance Programs.
  • Physical care: Let your team know about your COVID safe plans, including how they’ll be able to access hand sanitiser, what changes will be happening in the office space and how you’ll be managing social distancing requirements.
  • Change management: How will you re-engage your team as they transition back into the office? Start early and maybe consider virtual training and support.
  • Make it a team effort: Ask your staff for their input and invite them to share their concerns. Importantly, remind staff to stay home if they feel sick or show any COVID-19 symptoms.

A friendly reminder

As with anything related to COVID-19, things are changing rapidly so it’s important to keep up to date with the latest rules as they relate to your state and industry. Some useful websites include:

How can we help you?

We’re a full-service office fit out company in Sydney with expert planners, designers, project managers and builders. We can help you redesign your office to meet social distancing requirements and conduct any refurbishments, such as supplying you with plexiglass or office partitioning. Request a project proposal or an obligation-free chat about what you might need in your space.