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The realities of returning to the office

Written by  Guest Contributor - Stefan Miles SME Expert Jul 20, 2020

As Covid-19 started to hit the headlines, virtually overnight UK companies rushed to accommodate remote working to ensure business continuity.

Many appeared to transition seamlessly but the true cost to productivity has yet to be measured.

As lockdown restrictions begin to ease in response to a falling number of coronavirus cases, most businesses have started to plan how to return to the office safely. They need to balance respecting the current restrictions in place over social distancing and the need to track and trace any local outbreaks in their organisations.

Social distancing rules place unprecedented pressure on businesses returning to work. In almost all cases, their office space and therefore monthly rents will remain the same, while the number of people who’ll be able to safely occupy it will be drastically reduced.

From here on in, employers will need to effectively manage the reduced workspace available, making sure the correct social distance measures are not just in place, but followed. They need to ensure rigorous cleaning schedules are met and the office is able to meet its workers’ requirements, bearing in mind their varying health needs under the new normal. It’s important employees know exactly when they can make use of the office safely so they don’t turn up to work when it’s unsafe. Returning home from a fruitless commute is the ultimate productivity drain.

Studies have shown there are a number of people who prefer working remotely. However, the reality is many companies are unable to work permanently from home at maximum efficiency. Humans are sociable animals and in some professions face-to-face working is important for competitiveness. So while many have been able to temporarily comply with lockdown rules, they need to return back to the office to sustain business growth, particularly important with an expected UK economic downturn.

social distancing
Social-distancing rules

As businesses follow the lead of retail shops which recently opened under strict social distancing rules, they need to ensure they have robust, autonomous systems in place to intelligently use expensive offices and maximise efficiency.

Desk space will become a much more prized resource. Adequate distances between employees will need to be set and verified to ensure the correct social distance is maintained. For greater safety, schedules need to be put in place to allow different teams to rotate desks day-to-day. These rotas need to take into account deep cleaning schedules to remove any possible contamination in the workplace. For this reason, organisations may also want to make sure desks receive ‘rest times’ of up to 48 hours between uses, to keep them safe and allow for cleaning.

It is not just work desks and pods, monitoring conference rooms is also important to make sure room capacity is accurately judged to maximise efficient use and ensure ample spacing between meetings for cleaning. This will require more complex facilities management than ever, with cleaners and workers synchronising with each other like never before.


Responsible employers will also want to keep an automated record of employee desk and meeting room use. This will prove vital in the unfortunate case a worker falls ill with Covid-19. Businesses can then quickly refer to this record and see who may have come into contact with their employee while unwell, immediately notify them and take action quickly by asking colleagues to self-isolate and conduct additional cleaning to prevent further spread.

Over time, social distancing rules will change and eventually revert back to a ‘new normal’ existence. However, as the rules shift, whether they relax or remain increasingly tough, offices will need to be highly adaptive to meet the new working rules. These of course could change again overnight in the event of localised outbreaks of this, or new virus strains. Offices need to feel safe now and well into the future.

Half soaked is no good

Of course, many organisations will attempt to adapt with an approach of ‘make do’, deploying spreadsheets and ‘winging it’ with a mixture of overworked people and facilities staff. In a world where every other aspect to building management is highly-regulated, this could be a risky strategy in the event of a second wave of infections.

Senior management teams should look to use products which are ISO compliant. The relevant standards are ISO9001 for quality business processes, products and delivery and ISO27001 for security certification, which makes sure personal employee data stays safe.

shopping localAlso see:  A recovery plan for small UK business owners

We were also extremely aware of the sensitive nature of the data today’s smarter buildings now generate. From access keys, to CCTV, from staff rosters to cleaning regimes, much of this information is a treasure trove for criminals or even hostile nation states. Shared spreadsheets and today’s insecure collaboration tools make life easier for bad actors.

With this in mind, CIOs should reassure themselves of the security aspects of all systems related to buildings management. Going with a cloud solution which offers dedicated storage options is now the most secure option for most organisations.

While lockdown has been a real challenge for many organisations relying on offices, it has also shone a spotlight on best-practices which may ultimately provide competitive advantage. The reality is that offices will be more precious than ever, it’s time to appreciate their value.

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