Workspace adaptations to Covid-19

Paul McEldon North East BIC
Paul McEldon, Chief Executive

When it’s safe to do so, businesses will be returning to a changed environment. Covid-19 has certainly altered life everywhere and each business will need to take steps to mitigate the risk of transmission and make their own adjustments for the return of workers back into their premises.

The recent YouGov poll, commissioned by IWFM reports that many UK office workers are concerned about going back to the office – with worries over maintaining social distance (59%) and appropriate hygiene and cleaning standards (44%).

We know that many of our client businesses are keen to get back to doing what they love but need to be reassured they can do so safely. Ensuring cleanliness and distance between colleagues will be high on the agenda as owners plan a return.

With business centres in Sunderland, Darlington and Washington, the BIC team have been working hard to adapt our own workspaces to accommodate the return of more staff and businesses.

Like most, we have spent the last couple of weeks reviewing the government guidance and have prepared over 20 detailed risk assessments for our onsite facilities, the communal spaces and the offices that we occupy.

The risk assessments guided our actions and we have now put a number of simple cost-effective measures in place to provide a safe working environment.

For starters, at the Sunderland site alone we have purchased 160 hand sanitiser dispensers and pump bottles; 100 washable face covers & visors; 1000’s of gloves; installed signage in 25 communal areas/entrances along with a new full height screen at the reception desk!

Steps to get people back to the workplace

Here are some other cost-effective measures that we have taken, which may guide you with your own planning, and reassure your colleagues that you are doing all you can to safeguard their health and well-being.

Social distancing

Reducing Density: In recent years a ‘high density’ approach to workstations in the office has been the strategy to make the best use of space. But dense environments could pose a problem and so for the foreseeable future, we must continue social distancing. That means moving desks at least 2 metres apart or spreading workers at safe distance by leaving some desks empty. We’ve spread out workers at existing desks and separated some with partitions and desk dividers. Our onsite client, Posture Team, offer a suite of products and services to help minimise virus transmission. We‘re also incorporating remote working with some staff working from home but popping into the office by arrangement or on shift.

More space: Interestingly we are noting a rise in demand for office space with some companies requesting more space in the short term to spread out their workers. We’ve also helped those customers with dense layouts to remove desks.

Shifts: Other businesses are talking about staggered returns, shift work and flexible hours, with offices only half occupied.

Technology: Lockdown has forced radical change in the way we worked. And many employers had to abruptly adapt to operating remotely. It highlighted the true value of robust technologies that enable us to communicate reliably, rapidly and flexibly. Last year we invested heavily across all our sites in upgrading to a new IT infrastructure – primarily to strengthen resilience and increase bandwidth for our clients – but it also enabled us to map our full IT infrastructure to the cloud, allowing us to manage servers, cloud services, business applications and telephony remotely which meant our clients could easily transition to remote working. Managed cloud services is a cost effective way to provide employees with the best equipment and tools, stability and security with anytime, anywhere access.

Staff health & wellbeing: We have introduced non-contact infrared forehead thermometer temperature checks in each of our staff offices, to be used on a daily basis as BIC staff arrive as a further precautionary measure. Staff are provided with face masks and gloves if they are not able to be at least 2 metres apart and keeping an on-site supply in the event someone forgets theirs or for visitors. Induction in the Covid-new-ways-of-working is mandatory for all staff and our onsite café is currently only providing deliveries direct to offices to encourage an ‘eat at desk’ policy. This is a stressful time for everyone, business owners and employees alike, so it’s important to check on how colleagues are coping and to offer resources and support. There’s lots out there and we’ve included some useful links here.

Signage: Plenty of signs reminding employees, clients, and customers to wash their hands frequently and of social distancing practices.

Communal areas: We’ve changed our circulation routes to allow for social distancing and ensured that our main reception area limits the number of visitors at any one time. We’ve installed clear signage and floor markings and our existing communal spaces have been reorganised and furniture removed where possible. Hand sanitizer stations are set up at various points.

Cleaning: Within our teams we make office cleaning a communal responsibility. We have encouraged everyone, including the Directors, to pitch in. We have alcohol wipes on each desk and around the office, and remind everyone to rub down surfaces and heavy touchpoints like the photocopier door handles etc… once an hour.

Office space

OPEN SPACE Co-working:  We assessed a number of options to redesign the co-working space in line with government guidelines to minimise hot desking and in the short term, we have capped the maximum number of users in the co-working area to 5. Each user is allocated a dedicated desk and will need to pre-book. Cleaning materials are provided at each desk and if demand for this facility is high we will utilise other office spaces to arrange dedicated desks for our co-working tenants.

Keeping in touch with customers: Whatever is changing, it’s is vital to maintain conversations with your customers. We take pride in reaching out to our clients regularly and keeping them updated on any new initiatives, especially grants or loans, to help them weather the storm and access new opportunities.

Some of the BIC team are still currently working from home and others are office based to continue to manage and maintain our business centres and respond quickly to the IT, Telecom and other support needs that our customers require on a daily basis.

I am mostly work from home at present which has worked well. But I do miss the daily interaction, the ideas that spark from casual conversations in the office and kitchen and of course the friendships with my ‘work family’. The reduced contact and isolation from our colleagues, as well as family and friends, has led many of us to recognise the value of community that comes from being at work.

As a social enterprise, serving our communities is what we are about … so keep in touch and seek out our help if you need it, we’d love to hear from you.

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