Coronavirus: What will workplaces look like post-lockdown?

The Post-Lockdown Workplace

In March, the spread of COVID-19 required the UK Government to impose a lockdown, forcing thousands of businesses to close their offices and have their staff work remotely. Recently, Britain has been able to return to some level of normality though. Shops, salons, cinemas, restaurants and many more businesses have re-opened their doors. Furthermore, as of the beginning of August, the Government has suggested that workers should also be able to return to their places of work. When they do, however, employees will be going back to an office which is very different from how they left it.

Businesses will need to implement a number of new measures in order to enforce hygiene, safety and social distancing. It will also require them to entirely re-think whole areas of their office, including break areas, toilets and meeting rooms. Changes they will need to make range from small tweaks to the office layout through to the use of innovative new technologies which can help to both identify coronavirus and kill its spread.

To prepare businesses and their employees for the ways in which the workplace might change, Citation has spoken with experts across the business landscape, analysed a wealth of new research and interviewed leading futurologist Dr. Ian Pearson. Using all of their collective insights, Citation has created a series of 3D visuals which illustrate what offices could look like in the near future.

Workspaces

Workspaces

1Each desk will require its own hygiene station with anti-bacterial wipes for the PC and keyboard, as well as hand sanitiser, disposable gloves and face masks.
2All employees’ computers should have a camera for video conferencing, which limits the use of meeting rooms where social distancing can be difficult.
3Desks will need to be divided by plexiglass to ensure each employee is protected from particles distributed through conversation.
4Sharing stationary will be discouraged in a post-lockdown office to ensure there is no cross-contamination.
5Motion sensor hand sanitiser dispensers should be installed throughout the office environment to enable good hygiene practices.
6Some workspaces will need to replace their current desks with ones made from materials that do not harvest bacteria such as silver.

“The notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past,” Jes Staley of Barclays said. After all, social distancing requirements will force office spaces to be less populated and more spacious. Most employees, in fact, will continue to work from home to help achieve this. They may only come into the office to complete tasks that cannot be done remotely.

In instances where staff will be required in the office, they should expect substantial changes to their workspace. Hygiene stations may be available on every desk, for instance, and workstations could be pushed apart. There may even be plexiglass separating you from your colleagues. Every effort will be made to keep you apart from your colleagues post-lockdown, which will mean that face-to-face interaction is replaced by video conferencing, phone calls and instant messaging. Furthermore, meetings will have to take place digitally or, as futurologist Dr. Ian Pearson suggests, outside.

“If it’s a nice day, have your meeting outside on the grass,” he says. “That is an awful lot safer than having it inside, because the wind is going to blow the viruses away and the sunlight is going to keep things pretty sterile. Beer gardens and sitting outside of a coffee shop are reasonably safe too, but you do need to use an element of common sense.”

Toilets

Toilets

1Traditional soap dispensers and hand dryers will need to be replaced by modern, motion activated alternatives to avoid touching.
2To make sure all employees aren’t touching the same handle, toilet doors may need to become automatic, using Bluetooth technology to open when someone approaches—unless it is in use and locked.
3Motion sensors, similar to those sometimes used for soap and hand dryers, may also need to be installed for toilet roll as well.
4Reminders of company hygiene policy will also be commonplace in toilets.
5Staff will need to sanitise the toilet before and after each use to ensure the environment remains cleanly.

Toilets are usually the least hygienic areas of a workplace. Therefore, they are going to present a myriad of challenges for companies once lockdown is eased and it is safe for staff to return to the office. These facilities may, in fact, be the one area of the workplace that requires the most attention.

“Toilets are very dangerous places; you are going to catch something quite easily there,” said Dr. Pearson. “If you are sitting on a toilet seat, you are going to leave it covered in viruses if you have Covid-19. You are also handling the toilet roll and the bar as you are pulling it out too. There is all sorts of ways of contaminating people in a toilet, so really we should be putting in systems whereby it gets cleaned ideally in between each use.”

Even getting in and out of the toilets will present a health and safety conundrum, so some businesses may need to look at installing automatic alternatives that can lock and unlock touch-free. This will also need to extend to water, soap and toilet roll dispensation. Businesses will need to heavily invest in cleaning products too which will allow staff to sanitise the facilities before and after use.

Kitchen and break areas

Kitchen and break areas

1Mugs, cutlery and plates will be kept on individual desks or labelled with its owner’s name in shared storage areas.
2In small kitchen and break areas, employees will need to take lunch breaks at staggered times to ensure safe social distancing.
3Reminders of company hygiene policy will be commonplace in kitchen and break areas.
4Some kitchens and break areas will need to replace their current materials with sideboards and table tops made from materials that do not harvest bacteria such as silver.
5Shared food will disappear from office kitchens unless it is wrapped.

Good hygiene will be especially important in a workplace’s kitchen and break areas, and a number of important changes will need to be made in order to facilitate this. Kitchen and break areas should only be used by a small number of people at a time to maintain social distancing. Both spaces should also be easy to disinfect after each use too, which may require workplaces to replace their worktops with a material such as silver.

HSE guidance says: “Stagger break times so that people are not using break rooms, canteens or rest areas at the same time. Use outside areas for breaks and encourage staff to stay on-site during working hours to help workers with social distancing on their breaks. Providing packaged meals could help to avoid fully opening canteens. Reconfigure seating and tables in welfare areas to maintain spacing and reduce face to face interactions.”

Employees may need to temporarily say goodbye to the traditional office tea round and “fika” as well, according to Dr. Pearson. He said: “A lot of office rituals like the office tea round might die out for quite a while. It’s about not sharing contact on the same spaces. What we have to do for the time being is be super hygienic in the office and much more aware of our personal hygiene. You should be thinking all the time: ‘Is someone else going to be touching this same surface?’”

Reception

Reception

1Push and pull doors may need to be removed to prevent employees and visitors from contaminating the workplace with bacteria carried in from elsewhere. These should be replaced by automatic doors that don’t require physical contact.
2Reminders of company hygiene policy will be commonplace in reception areas.
3Cleaning will need to take place throughout the day, not just once in the morning or evening. Technologies such as robot vacuum cleaners can help to facilitate this and staff should expect to see these utilised in the post-lockdown office.
4Reception desks will need to be guarded by plexiglass to ensure employees are protected from particles distributed through conversation.
5UV lighting can be relatively cheap and in some cases already exists within the office space, using this technology when no one else is in the room for around 20 to 30 minutes will eliminate all bacteria.

The reception area tends to be the first point of entry for staff, customers, clients and partners. This means the reception will be any office’s first line of defence, so to speak, when it comes to preventing your workplace from coronavirus contamination. However, because receptions can also be the most risk-averse with a high amount of footfall, special precautions will need to be taken in regards to disinfecting this area.

Some of the forward-thinking technology available to assist businesses in this area include face and image recognition. Dr. Pearson said: “Face recognition can recognise people, look up their personnel records and decide what their risk is. If the company database knows they have diabetes, for instance, you can assign risk factors using face recognition. Image recognition also works; it can pick up if somebody has a temperature meaning there’s a risk factor.” There are cheaper options available to businesses that will also do the job. UV lighting, for instance, is said to eradicate 96% of the coronavirus in as little as half an hour.

Small businesses should also take precautions to ensure people using the reception remain socially distant and refrain from touching the environment. Punching in and out of the office should no longer be required, for instance, and businesses looking to maintain this should find new, digital ways of monitoring attendance. Furthermore, reception desks should be fitted with plexiglass, doors should be automatic, and workplaces where visitors are expected to sign in and wear ID badges will need to find a new approach.

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