Home>FACILITIES MANAGEMENT>Health, Safety & Workwear>How to prepare for a safe return to the office
Home>FACILITIES MANAGEMENT>Infection Control & Prevention>How to prepare for a safe return to the office

How to prepare for a safe return to the office

28 June 2021

After 15 months of remote working and countless video calls, the UK office workforce is finally looking forward to getting back to working life in the office. Jean-Patrick Judson discusses how we can aid a safe return to the workplace through an effective cleaning strategy.

AS SOCIAL distancing protocols and other health measures shape the workplace, complying closely with strict government guidelines is essential. Employers must provide a clean and safe working environment to reassure, nurture, and welcome employees back. As employers prepare for a phased re-entry of employees, facilities managers are devising return-to-work strategies to support workplace hygiene goals. The demand for greater emphasis on hygiene will likely change how workplaces operate in a post-pandemic climate.

Creating a healthy and safe place of work
COVID-19 has had a fundamental impact on the way we work and live. Health, safety, and cleanliness is high on the agenda for the return-to-work process. Surveying the facility for risks will allow employers to plan the best means of promoting hygiene.

A thorough assessment, combined with employee surveys, are the best means to capture this. The assessment should cover cleaning schedules, touchpoint areas, chemicals used, areas of responsibility and frequency. Cleaning regimes should be delivered with minimal interference with other activities on site. This process also helps to address some of the questions every business should be considering, ahead of their return to the office:

  • What are your post COVID return to work guidelines and policies? 
  • Will your employees be hot-desking? 
  • What rules will be in place in your dining and breakout areas?
  • How well are your guidelines communicated and promoted to your employees and visitors to your workplace? 

These guidelines and communication should explain appropriate handwashing techniques, PPE use and any expected social distancing measures. It is also vital to provide hand sanitising stations around the office. Maintaining levels of soap and hand sanitiser in washrooms and kitchens is a must. This is something that you can include in your facilities management contract so the workplace will never be left short of these essential consumables.

Another factor to consider, as revealed by research from TUC, is how workplace cleanliness and hygiene might not meet the expectations of your employees and visitors to your workplace.

Employers will need to enhance and provide visible cleaning regimes during working hours. People now want to see their cleaning teams in action and a key element of return-to-work procedures should centre around cleaning protocols and communicating these to employees to improve peace of mind.

If hot-desking is in place, you should create a policy of cleaning the spaces before and after every use, with high-quality cleaning products to effectively sanitise the area. This is an essential way of allowing your employees to feel safe and it will challenge what was previously acceptable for cleaning routines that were delivered out of hours.

Food safety has always been a top priority for facilities managers, but hygiene procedures will be heightened once we make a return to the workplace in high numbers. It will be essential for us to directly follow government guidance when it comes to preparing and maintaining the hygiene and cleanliness of eating spaces.

Deep cleans will also provide reassurance to staff if there is the presence of anyone with possible COVID-19 symptoms in the workplace. By utilising specialist cleaning systems such as electrostatics technology and sanitising products to kill the bacteria on work surfaces, we reduce the chances of the illness spreading amongst employees whilst also reassuring them their working environment is a clean and hygienic space.

Leveraging smart technology in a post-COVID world
The implications of COVID-19 have undoubtedly accelerated technology adoption. Whether for business or personal purposes, people have turned to digital channels for many aspects of their lives. As a result, consumers have developed much higher digital expectations. 

Sensor technology in the office can improve efficiency and wellbeing by giving facilities managers access to powerful, real-time data. They provide factual data that can help to plan and make the office as safe as possible, minimising the risk of the virus spreading.

Data driven technology that monitors footfall in washrooms, or the use of hot desks synced with desk booking software, means that cleaning can be more focused. It helps facilities managers to direct cleaning staff to the high traffic areas to make sure the necessary cleaning and disinfecting is achieved on an appropriate schedule. 

Motion detectors can also be installed for things such as entrance and meeting room doors, and lights to help keep surfaces cleaner for longer and to mitigate the spread of the virus. Implementing touchless technology such as visitor management software and the use of stylus pens to operate lifts, will also alleviate repetitive touchpoint cleaning.

Involve your employees in maintaining cleanliness in the workplace 
One of the major takeaways from the UK government’s response to COVID-19 in the workplace has centred on this idea of public health being a shared responsibility. Everyone shares in the same goal – to create a clean working environment. That means employees need some level of responsibility for hygiene goals in the office. ‘Active’ cleaning provides a sense of involvement for employees; implementing a clear desk policy, for example, has proven to aid an effective cleaning service in many corporate workplaces. 

The months ahead will be a learning curve for most of us, and at times may be challenging. Workplace leaders and facilities managers will need to consider the best action to take to create a safe environment in the workplace and ensure, eventually, an easy transition back to the office, for those currently working remotely. 

Jean-Patrick Judson is account manager and cleaning SME at corporate office FM specialist, Anabas.

For more information visit www.anabas.co.uk