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Creating a Covid-secure workplace plan

 

Martin Jacks (RGS 1986-1991) has worked in construction, design, refurbishment and fit-outs for all workplaces since 1994. He has kindly provided some guidance to help businesses to plan a Covid-secure workplace.

In April 2019, Martin started his own company, Skape, with a focus on offices, hotels, and industrial projects. With the Covid-19 pandemic, Martin has been providing a consultancy and implementation service for companies wishing to re-occupy their workplaces but who simply do not know what is involved in providing and maintaining a Covid-secure environment. Over to Martin…

 

How can Skape help?

Drawing on my experience of constructing workplaces, along with my team of experts in building services design, workplace strategists, designers and building agents, we are able to give the best advice possible. By digesting all of the varied data and guidance provided by the Government and other bodies such as the WHO allows us to provide a planned and well-executed approach to any return.

Working with me at Skape are two former RGS pupils: Ed Luck (RGS 1984-89) and Alain Schembri (RGS 1984-91). My wife Rebecca (née Metters, RGS 1988-90) is also a former RGS pupil so we are truly an RGS-based company. We would be delighted to work with, and support, the RGS Professionals community in these most uncertain of times.

Whilst we are all still unsure of the timings or possibility to return to anywhere near normal, we can at least look at all options available for the short-, mid- and long-term and deal to arrive at the most suitable solutions at any given time.

 

Planning to re-occupy your office

Obviously each space is different, so there is not a one-solution-fits-all scenario, but I have provided an overview of the process below. You will see there is quite a bit to consider and Skape can deliver all aspects of the process. We also have access to finance to support these changes as we are aware many firms may be financially restrained at this time.

There is another major consideration here, too. What if you go through all the below and realise the office you have just simply doesn’t work for your company anymore? For example, too many people having to commute for too long on public transport. Or your office could be really expensive now for the amount of use it gets. The key question is £ per head per square foot of space – how much is palatable? Perhaps you leased or bought an office five years for 100 staff. Now you can only use it for 40 staff, so the price per person has risen hugely. Do you need a satellite office? Smaller central office and more smaller offices where staff can drive and park? We work closely with building agents and can plan any new moves as a full business case and can negotiate lease breaks (and ends) to allow such changes, find new space and draw up planning layouts, etc.

 

Step-by-step planning

1) ASSESS CURRENT SPACE

Is it clean?

  • Offices should have a deep clean before anyone returns
  • Regular cleaning schedules should be increased

Is the building healthy?

  • Consider things such as Legionella in stagnant water pipes and storage devices/ tanks/air conditioning, etc. Also perhaps ‘dirty’ air from common fresh air supplies. Again, if left stagnant, the main plant serving the fresh air could have pigeons or rats nesting!

Maximum occupancy with 2m distancing

  • Consider the practicalities at tea points, canteens, but also walkways.
  • Are large meeting rooms obsolete? For example, a boardroom built for 20 people may now only be able to have eight people in, sitting at distance. Maybe a solution is to divide the room to make more effective use of the space.
  • Entry and exit points will be much slower to use, with far fewer people able to enter/exit at any one time thus queues are very likely to build up. Maybe only two people per lift to a floor where previously it could take six to eight.
  • Nipping out for coffee or a cigarette break may be a thing of the past in high rise buildings. Estimated time to leave your desk, queue to leave the building, queue to get coffee and queue to return to the building could be ten times longer than before.
  • How do you deal with desks and chairs? Remove them to create two metre distance? Alternate staff on different days to alternate desk and chair so no one shares a workspace?

 

2) STAFF RETURN

Staff volunteering to return to office working

  • It is clear that an employer should not be forcing anyone back, however, there are many people who may need to return as they do not have the adequate facilities at home. Working on a low coffee table with a laptop? Sitting the end of a settee? Poor broadband? Mental health issues resulting from feeling isolated? Abusive relationships? So many things to cover in this.
  • Many people will be forced to use public transport. Due to social distancing measures, the system can only provide 15% efficiency even when running at 100% service.
  • There is also a moral issue here – is someone in an admin role in an office really more deserving of a train seat than a nurse trying to get to work safely? Should a nurse be exposed to busy trains or buses on their commute?

Who is actually needed?

  • Assess bringing those who have been working from home back into the office, as well as bringing furloughed staff back. Look at rota systems or keeping those who can work from home there as long as possible.
  • Bear in mind the comments above, the employer should consider doing a staff survey to find out who is willing to return. Then assess their reasons for wanting to. Prioritise those in need of office space. Evaluate who the business really needs in the office to stay productive?

 

3) PLAN THE NEW SPACE

Plan routes, desks, physical separations

  • What are the logistics of moving furniture (with two people, while socially distancing), what posters, physical barriers, etc might be needed in different circumstances, and where do you buy these from, what are the estimated delivery times?
  • I can design and source all signage, barriers, etc. There is currently a delivery time of two to three weeks for most items. I can arrange furniture changes, removal, storage… whatever is needed in the revised move.
  • Bigger questions now being raised are whether signs (and the like) are relevant to an intelligent workforce? Is it more to do with training on new regimes? By capping the maximum occupancy, is an employer effectively reducing the risk of breaking the 2m distance anyway?
  • Of course, all of this is to be assessed with a potential timeline vs cost. No one yet knows when distancing measures will be eased or revoked completely. Is it viable for a company to spend potentially £000’s on these measures if it may only be for a few months. Then spend more money to put it back to normal.
  • Most news is hinting at a prolonged period of distancing but can be quite a big decision when no one is actually sure.

 

4) IMPLEMENTATION

Agreed plan, costs and timescales

  • Consider some of the things beyond your control – supplier delivery times, costs, manpower logistics. If demand goes up significantly – as companies all try to return at the same time – delivery times could be affected and timescales prolonged. Chances are, from what I am seeing, producers and manufacturers have been getting ready for the rush for quite a while now.

Establish new behaviours

  • What might this include and over what anticipated timeframe?
  • This could be really quick and simple. This will come into the training I mentioned above. Making sure that anyone who goes into the office is aware that it is a different place to the one they left. Plan how to deliver this, manage and monitor.
  • It is very similar to building site safety. We constantly have to have what are called ‘Tool Box Talks’ to deal with an ever changing working environment. A very basic but key example would be if a hole was cut through a floor one day. Worker used the same route to his area of work, which now has a hole in it. How do you let him know, how do you protect it to be 100% sure they will not accidentally walk their normal route and fall through. So Tool Box Talks include main safety, cleaning, change of fire exit routes due to work being carried out, areas of work overhead, etc. This new office move is the same. Educating people and putting measures in place so they cannot accidentally put themselves, one of their co-workers, or visitors at risk.

 

Martin can be contacted on mjacks@skape.london.

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