Top Tips For Returning to the Office After Step 4 Restrictions Have Been Lifted

Preparing a workplace for staff returning to the office after step 4 restrictions have been lifted can be daunting. That’s because this final step encourages people back to the office. But, there is no guarantee future outbreaks won’t affect the business. The task in hand is made even more challenging with the pressure of hybrid working arrangements.

Given that Covid-19 has affected almost everyone on the planet, it is no surprise that the workplace has changed significantly since March 2020. Therefore, creating a safe work environment and modifying the office for hybrid workers is a top priority for business owners as restrictions are gradually lifted.

JBH Refurbishments is an experienced London office refurbishment company, and we’d like to offer some expert advise on creating a post-pandemic workplace. In this blog we look at:

  • Mitigating the risks of further outbreaks of Covid-19 on your workplace
  • Creating a safe space for staff
  • How changing your office design and layout can support hybrid working arrangements
  • Preparing anxious staff for their return to the office

Mitigating Future Risks

No one can predict the future of this pandemic, but you can adjust to mitigate the risks on your business should Covid-19 continue to affect the way you work.

If a further outbreak does occur we now know that working from home is possible. However, nothing can replace face-to-face communication. Working with colleagues in-person is important for many reasons:

  • Teamwork
  • Training staff members
  • Business activities
  • Staff communications
  • Working relationships
  • Wellbeing

To help you open your office with confidence, we have created a list of questions for you to address. These will help you mitigate the risk of staff returning to the workplace when restrictions have lifted:

  1. Who is responsible for creating a safe working environment? Is there a taskforce or an individual who will be assigned this responsibility?
  2. What physical safety equipment will you be implementing? Safety screens, wash-stations, hand sanitisers, easy-to-clean surfaces.
  3. How can you adapt the layout of your office to create a safer working environment?
  4. Can workers be spaced apart to meet social distancing measures, or can they be positioned back-to-back if restriction are imposed at a later date?
  5. Can departments be bubbled in their own dedicated space if necessary?
  6. Can the shared facilities be regularly cleaned between use? We’re talking washrooms, kitchens, tea points and meeting spaces.
  7. Have you communicated any changes to the office and safety protocols to your staff?

How To Create a Safe Office Space

Step 4 of the road map out of lockdown promises to lift social distancing measures. However, this step has already been delayed once and who’s to say restrictions will not return. Therefore, creating a safe space for staff returning to the office remains a sensible solution for all businesses.

Each office is different in terms of space and layout, but there are some fundamental solutions that you can explore to provide a safe office space, such as:

  • Review your desk layout. Can workers sit back-to-back, side-by-side, or further apart?
  • Install desk safety screens or dividers where workers can’t be spaced apart.
  • Implement easy-to-clean surfaces where possible. For example, use hygienic cladding in washrooms, tea points and kitchens rather than tiles, and hard, washable flooring instead of carpets in communal areas.
  • Improve the ventilation in your office with UVC air purifiers that kill 99% of bacteria and viruses in the air flow.
  • Service your air conditioning system and clean the filters frequently.
  • Use a rota or booking systems for communal areas, such as meeting rooms, breakout areas and canteens. Anyone using the area must routinely clean the surfaces after use.
  • Display signage to encourage hygiene and social distancing. Signs are a constant reminder of the workplace protocols.
  • Provide cleaning materials to allow workers to easily wipe down equipment after use, such as printers, photocopiers, shared workstations, door handles and surfaces.

Modifying Your Office Layout Ready For Staff Returning To The Office After Restrictions Have Been Lifted

For those businesses making changes to their staff routines, departments or moving offices, here are some of our top tips for changing your office layout as you welcome staff back to the workplace:

  • Increase meeting space and breakout areas for remote workers
  • Provide shared workstations or hot desks
  • Create designated areas for departmental bubbles
  • Install tea points on each floor to reduce contact across departments

How Hybrid Workers Will Change The Office

Over the course of the pandemic, a number of London office design trends have emerged. Influencing these trends is the movement in hybrid and remote working. Yes, many businesses toyed with the notion of flexible working arrangements before Covid-19, but never had it been practised to such an extensive scale.

When we see staff returning to the office after restrictions have been lifted, there will be businesses that continue to implement a hybrid working arrangement. On the other hand, there will be those where working from home will cease entirely. Yet, allowances for remote meetings will still need to be catered for.

Hear From A Company Making Changes To Facilitate Their Return to the Workplace

Meet Hospital Records Limited, a company that has used our office fit out service to make alterations to their workplace ahead of welcoming staff back to the office. Here’s what they had to say:

“The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent work-from-home policy forced us to re-evaluate our office use. After consultation with our team we took the decision to make changes to the space, making it more suitable for flexible working and creative decision making.

JBH refurbishments were brought in to complete the following projects for the company:

  • Installation of a single glazed meeting room
  • Installation of a soundproof double glazed streaming & performance room.
  • Removal of a W/C Area, replacing with more desk space.

Callum (Project Manager) was an excellent communicator, delivering the project on time, within budget and to a very high standard. We are extremely pleased with the results and looking forward to using the new spaces they have created.

We would highly recommend JBH refurbishments and will definitely be using them again.”

How Will Office Design Change in The Future?

We predict the return to the office, after restrictions have been lifted, will inevitably lead to a spike in demand for various office design features and technology.

Video Conferencing and Increased Meeting Space

We will certainly see a surge in workplace tech as we prepare for staff returning to the office after restrictions have been lifted. For a start everyone will need access to video conferencing software to meet others and share screens. At the very least, video conferencing will need to be made available in meeting rooms for multiple users. As a result, businesses are already increasing their meeting spaces and breakout areas to accommodate remote meetings with clients, supplier and colleagues.

With an increased online audience, the meeting room décor will provide the backdrop of the company’s most influential meetings. Therefore, the interior must represent the company’s branding and core values.

When it comes to day-to-day video conferencing between colleagues, with the best intention in the world, no one wants to overhear a room of people on individual video calls. Here are few office design tips that can help you avoid excessive noise:

1. Install acoustic panelling throughout the office to absorb sounds
2. Segregate individual work zones with acoustic panels or pods
3. Provide single-user sound-proof pods for video conferencing. Multiple office pods can be installed

De-personalised Workstations

In the past, each member of staff has had their own workstation, a place they can make their own with personal pictures and trinkets from home. With more demand on businesses to encourage social distancing and accommodate hybrid working, the post pandemic workspace will largely focus on shared workstations and hot-desking facilities for staff as they come and go throughout the working week. This means we’ll see less personalised space and more generic workstations.

Bigger Focus on Company Branding

We’ve already talked about the importance of branding in meeting rooms for video conferences. The same goes for the remaining office space. With staff working in the office only part of the week, their time in the office is their opportunity to immerse themselves in the brand. Therefore, colours, messages, imagery and the company ethos must be reflected throughout the office design.

Divided Spaces

Keeping workers within their department bubbles is a wise approach for any business looking to make changes their office layout. As well as, scheduling work start-times and days of the week, reducing contact with other departments is equally important.

There are many creative ways to divide a space, including:

– Glazed office partitioning offers floor to ceiling division and maintains the natural light within the property
– Shelving offers extras storage and is a great design feature
Planting walls look striking and improve natural air quality
– Wooden or metal slats are subtle and on-trend
Office pods offer acoustic properties

There are many more options and if you’d like some help, our team would be delighted to discuss them with you.

Hygienic Surfaces

Maintaining high levels of hygiene will remain important to businesses as we see staff returning to the office after restrictions have been lifted. To enable easy and effective cleaning, there are a range of hygienic wall surfaces for washrooms and kitchens that come in all colours and a range of patterns. You can even have your own bespoke wall art printed onto this impervious surface.

Hard and durable flooring that can be wiped clean will be equally influential in office design as we see businesses reopen their offices.

Addressing Anxieties About Returning to the Office After Step 4 Restrictions Have Been Lifted

Essentially, the office space needs to provide a safe and inviting environment for staff. It may have been over a year since they have stepped foot in the office. Consequently, anxiety about returning to the workplace after restrictions have been lifted will need to be factored in.

Help your staff to transition from working at home to the office by:

  • Keeping them informed and involved in any changes you are making to the office.
  • Host a virtual tour of the office to showcase any alterations you have made.
  • If you’re refurbishing the office or changing the layout, ask for their input.
  • Suggest they schedule a visit to the office before returning. This is particularly helpful if you have relocated during the pandemic.
  • Ask if they genuinely have any worries and then listen.
  • Give them a personalised gift for the office, such as a mug, locker or storage area.
  • Before returning to the office, suggest a team building day, a picnic or informal drinks on a Friday afternoon, so they can all touch base informally.

For more advice on creating a suitable work environment for your staff returning to the office after restrictions have been lifted, please contact the team at JBH Refurbishments. We can offer office refurbishment and fit out solutions to make your office safe, welcoming and practical.

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