It’s coming up to a year since the UK was plunged into our first lockdown to halt the spread of coronavirus. Practically overnight, businesses and employees had to adapt to a new way of working. Colleagues across the country learnt to connect via video calls as kitchen tables and living rooms became new workspaces. Though remote working has its benefits, up to to 95% of workers are now ready to return to the office once the vaccine has been rolled out.
However, there is still likely to be ongoing anxiety around workplace safety, however. CIPD research suggests 32% of employees are anxious about catching COVID-19 while at work. It’s more important than ever that employers consult staff and promote a transparent workplace culture where health and wellbeing is at the top of the agenda.
Employers are advised to put measures in place to ease anxieties around returning to work. Following official coronavirus advice and going above and beyond to help colleagues will no doubt enhance employee confidence when heading back to the workplace.
Promote good respiratory hygiene in the workplace
COVID-19 is a respiratory virus passed on through the transmission of water droplets. For some time now, we’ve been instructed by the government and medical experts to wear face coverings in public spaces to prevent the risk of inhaling contaminated droplets.
Employees may find it uncomfortable to wear a mask for long periods of time. Similarly, others may feel uncomfortable if colleagues choose not to wear a mask, potentially jeopardising the air quality.
Ensuring good airflow within the workplace is key. This is particularly important during these colder months, as radiators heating the air may increase the spread of contaminated particles.
You may wish to consider installing an air sterilizer to help limit the spread of infection. An air sterilizer ensures the continuous filtration and purification of the air, trapping and killing harmful contaminants such as viruses. Ensuring air is changed frequently, particularly in spaces without windows or other ventilation systems, is a great way to improve the environment and bring colleagues peace of mind that they’re breathing in clean, uncontaminated air.
Keep desks socially distanced and consider office bubbles
Many workers across the UK are now used to lone working. Whilst we’re all looking forward to connecting with colleagues in person again, there’s likely to be some trepidation when returning to a full office. One way to mitigate this is to introduce a bubble system to gradually introduce employees back to the physical workspace.
Employees could return to the office for two or three days a week in small bubbles with no overlap, and work from home for the remaining days. COVID-19 aside, this system has been shown to increase employee productivity and overall wellbeing.
It also reduces the risk of transmission as there are fewer people in the office at any given time. Establishing work bubbles helps to ensure that, if an outbreak did occur, only a small portion of employees would fall ill.
A sparse office also allows for socially distanced desks in line with the government’s ‘two metre rule’ advice, further reducing the risk of transmission.
Routinely clean and disinfect surfaces
Conducting a coronavirus risk assessment will identify key risks, and help employers put control measures in place. All workplaces should have a cleaning routine in place, though this may now need to be enhanced to include additional and more thorough cleaning practices. To limit the risk of coronavirus, all surfaces must be frequently disinfected.
Employers should consider arranging for the office to be professionally cleaned at the end of each day. Colleagues should also be encouraged to wipe their desks, keyboards and anything else they are in contact with during the day, with an antibacterial wipe. Instilling a sense of teamwork should bring colleagues together and inspire them to help ensure the workplace is kept clean.
Hand sanitizers should also be readily available. This is particularly important at locations employees tend to pass through. Consider sanitizing stations at entrances and exits, break out rooms, and in corridors.
Finally, put advice posters around the office, in bathrooms and in communal areas. These will remind employees to wash their hands regularly and engage in additional safety practices.
It is thought that disinfecting surfaces regularly will reduce the transmission of COVID-19, but employees could also consider the impact of disinfecting air within the workplace. Using air sterilizers to trap and deactivate contaminants will ensure the air employees breathe in is clean and sanitized.
Advise unwell employees to stay at home
We all know the rules. If you’re feeling ill or are presenting any of the recognised symptoms of coronavirus, then you should self-isolate. The NHS Test and Trace app also lets people know if they’ve been in contact with someone who’s tested positive for COVID-19 and offers an isolation countdown.
However, some employees may still be reluctant to take sick days. They could fear financial repercussions or simply don’t want to be away from the office.
Employees should encourage open lines of communication. They should do all they can to ensure employees can work from home if they need to self-isolate. This is, for many, preferable to taking time off). It’s always better to nurture an understanding workplace culture, putting the health and wellbeing of staff first.
Encourage safe travel habits
Many people mixing within an enclosed space can increase the risk of coronavirus transmission, leading to concerns around the safety of public transport. Pre COVID-19, just under 20% of Brits travelled to work by rail or bus. Employees are understandably now looking for new ways to commute into the office.
Employers could encourage their team to join the government cycling initiative. This saves money, increases health and wellbeing, is great for the environment and could also reduce the risk of infection. Consider staggering starts and end times to the working day or introducing flexible working. This will help colleagues to avoid peak travel times when public transport may be busier.
The benefits of a COVID-secure environment
Providing a COVID-secure workplace environment lends itself to increased productivity and wellbeing amongst employees. When employees feel happy at work, they’re more likely to be motivated, engaged and to perform at their best. Most workplaces aim to cultivate a positive, hardworking company culture. Looking after employees is one of the best ways to do this.