Practical guidance and considerations in planning a return to work
To help accountancy practices back to work, a practical framework is provided below to form the basis of planning discussions and considerations as part of your risk assessment.
The recommendations are based on government guidelines. The guidance should be read to identify areas where improvements might want to be implemented into the workplace.
Social distancing at work
The guidance is to maintain two metres social distancing wherever possible – including arriving at and departing from work, whilst in work and when travelling between sites, if applicable. It applies to all parts of a business including entrances, exits, break rooms and canteens for example.
Social distancing applies to all parts of the business and so all communal areas, which might be shared with other tenants, will also need to be considered.
Where this rule cannot be followed in full, in relation to a specific activity, the business should consider whether that activity needs to continue for the business to operate. If it does, the following mitigating actions should be implemented to reduce transmission:
- Increase the frequency of hand washing and surface cleaning
- Keep the activity time as short as possible
- Use screens and/or barriers to separate people
- Use back-to-back or side-to-side working whenever possible
- Reduce the number of people each person has contact with by using fixed teams (such as A and B)
Coming into and leaving work
To maintain social distancing whilst employees are entering and leaving work the following should be considered:
- Stagger arrival and departure times at work to reduce crowding during peak times
- Provide additional parking and/or facilities such as bike racks to help people walk, run, or cycle to work, where possible.
- Consider having more entry points in/out of the workplace to reduce congestion.
- Provide more storage areas for clothes and bags to enable changing of clothes and encourage running or cycling to work.
- Use markings to encourage one-way flow at entry and exit points.
- Provide handwashing facilities, or hand sanitiser where not possible, at entry and exit points and do not use touch-based security devices such as keypads (use alternatives if required).
- Define process alternatives for entry/exit points where appropriate, for example, deactivating lobby turnstiles requiring pass checks in favour of showing a pass to security personnel at a distance.
Moving around buildings
To maintain social distancing whilst people travel through the workplace the following should be considered:
- Reduce movement by discouraging non-essential trips within buildings and/or floors, for example, restricting access to some areas, encouraging use of telephones, where permitted, and cleaning them between use.
- Restrict access between different areas of a building or floors.
- Reduce job/location rotation.
- Introduce more one-way flow through buildings.
- Reduce the maximum occupancy for lifts, providing hand sanitiser for the operation of lifts and encouraging use of stairs wherever possible.
- Make sure that people with disabilities can still access lifts.
- Regulate the use of high traffic areas including corridors, lifts turnstiles and walkways to maintain social distancing.
Workplaces and workstations
Workstations need to be assigned to an individual and not shared via hotdesking. If they are shared, then they should be shared by the smallest number of people. Workstations should be at least two metres apart and, if this is not possible, the business should consider whether the activity needs to continue for the business to operate or if fixed teams should be used.
Following considerations are as follows:
- Review layouts and processes to enable people to work further apart from each other.
- Use floor tape or paint to mark areas to help workers keep to a two-metre distance.
- Where it is not possible to move workstations further apart, arrange people to work side by side or facing away from each other rather than face-to-face.
- Where it is not possible to move workstations further apart, use plastic screens to separate people from each other.
- Manage occupancy levels to enable social distancing.
- Avoid use of hot desks and ensure spaces and shared equipment are cleaned and sanitised between different occupants using the workstation.
To reduce transmission due to face-to-face meetings and to maintain social distancing, the following should be considered:
- Use remote working tools such as video conferencing to avoid in-person meetings.
- Only necessary participants should attend any meetings and should maintain two metre separation throughout, if absolutely necessary.
- Avoid sharing pens and other objects.
- Provide hand sanitiser in meeting rooms.
- Hold meetings outdoors or in well-ventilated rooms whenever possible.
- Where regular meetings take place, use floor signage to help maintain social distancing.
To maintain social distancing in common areas the following should be considered:
- Work collaboratively with landlords and other tenants in multi-tenant sites/buildings to ensure consistency across common areas, for example, receptions, staircases.
- Stagger break times to reduce pressure on break rooms and/or canteens.
- Use safe outside areas for breaks.
- Create additional space by using other parts of the workplace or building which may have been freed up by remote working.
- Install screens to protect staff in receptions or similar areas.
- Avoid fully opening staff canteens and/or encourage employees to bring their own food.
- Reconfigure seating and tables to maintain spacing and reduce face-to-face interactions.
- Encourage staff to remain on-site rather than wondering off-site during breaks.
- Regulate use of changing areas and other facilities areas to reduce concurrent usage such as keeping a list of those who will be cycling or running to work.
- Encourage storage of personal items and clothing in assigned personal storage spaces or at their desks only.
Managing clients, visitors and contractors
To minimise the number of unnecessary visits to the office the following should be considered:
- Encourage visits via remote connection/ video conferencing, where this is an option.
- Where office attendance is required, office guidance on social distancing and hygiene should be explained to visitors on or before arrival.
- Limit the number of visitors at any one time and visitor times to a specific time window to restrict access.
- Determine if schedules for essential services and contractor visits can be revised to reduce interaction and overlap between people by, for example, carrying out services at night.
- Maintain a record of all visitors if this is practical.
- Revise visitor arrangements to ensure social distancing and hygiene, for example, where someone physically signs in with the same pen in receptions.
To ensure visitors understand what they need to do maintain safety the following should be considered:
- Provide clear guidance on social distancing and hygiene to people on arrival with signage or visual aids and before arrival, for example, by phone, on the website or by email.
- Establish host responsibilities relating to coronavirus and provide any necessary training for people who act as hosts for visitors.
- Review entry and exit routes for visitors and contractors to minimise contact with other people.
- Coordinate and work collaboratively with landlords and other tenants in multi-tenant sites.
Cleaning the workplace
Any office that has been closed or partially operated during lockdown will require an assessment in order to identify what cleaning procedures are required and to ensure the correct equipment, such as hand sanitiser, is in place before returning. Other considerations will include a service of the ventilation system and/or air conditioning units and opening windows and doors more frequently.
Keeping the workplace clean
In order to keep the workplace clean and prevent transmission through contaminated surfaces the following should be considered:
- Frequent cleaning of work areas and equipment between uses.
- Frequent cleaning of objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, such as door handles and keyboards.
- Clearing workspaces and removing waste and belongings from the work area at the end of the day.
- Limiting or restricting use of high-touch items and equipment, for example, printers or whiteboards.
Hygiene: handwashing, sanitation facilities and toilets
To ensure everyone keeps good hygiene throughout the working day the following should be implemented:
- Use signs and posters to build awareness of; good handwashing technique, the need to increase handwashing frequency, avoid touching your face and to cough or sneeze into a tissue which is binned safely, or into your arm if a tissue is not available.
- Provide regular reminders and signage to maintain personal hygiene standards.
- Provide hand sanitiser in multiple locations in addition to washrooms.
- Set clear use and cleaning guidance for toilets to ensure they are kept clean and social distancing is achieved as much as possible.
- Increase the frequency of cleaning in busy areas.
- Provide more waste facilities and more frequent rubbish collection.
- Where possible, provide paper towels as an alternative to hand dryers in handwashing facilities.
Changing rooms and showers
To minimise the risk of transmission in changing rooms and showers, clear use and cleaning guidance should be provided to ensure they are kept clean and clear of personal items. More frequent cleaning should be introduced during the day and at the end if such facilities are required.
Handling goods and other materials
Cleaning procedures for any items entering the office need to be communicated incorporating more handwashing for workers handling them. Non-business deliveries, such as personal deliveries to workers should be restricted.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings
PPE protects the user against health and safety risks at work. Unless you are in a workplace where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is particularly high, your risk assessment should reflect the fact that the role of PPE in providing additional protection is extremely limited.
There are some instances where a face covering can be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure. Evidence suggests that wearing a face mask does not protect you, but it may protect others if you are infected but have not yet developed symptoms. It could be worn in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible. However, the evidence of the benefit of such a face covering is weak and the effect is likely to be small so it is not a replacement for the other ways of managing risk. Wearing a face covering is therefore optional and is not required by law.
Working groups or staggered return
To reduce the amount of contact employees have work should be organised into distinct groups. Where staff are split into teams (such as A and B) these should be fixed so that contact is between the same people. Drop off points or transfer zones should be used where employees must directly pass things to each other.
Work related travel
Non-essential travel should be minimised by using remote options first.
Deliveries to other office locations
If delivering to other internal office locations is required procedures should be put in place to minimise person-to-person contact. To minimise contact during payment or exchange of documentation – electronic payment methods and electronically signed and exchange of documents should be encouraged.
Communication and training
It is important that all employees understand the new measures put in place for their safety, ensuring that any updates are communicated regularly. Clear, consistent and regular communication is required to aid understanding so that everyone adopts the new way of working. Engaging with workers through existing communication routes and employee representatives to agree any changes to work policies is key as well as maintaining ongoing engagement as changes are implemented. Visual communications such as whiteboards or signage are effective and could reduce the need for face-to-face communications.
For the full guidance please refer to the practical guidance on the UK government website, or your relevant devolved administration.