Implementing social distancing measures for office working
As the impact of coronavirus continues to spread across the world and the dust begins to settle, small businesses are suffering financially and are relying on their accountants to help steer them through a challenging time.
Accountants play a vital role as a sounding board and touchpoint to help clients manage the issues impacting them and their business. With this in mind – how can we ensure that social distancing measures are maintained, keeping staff and clients safe whilst playing this important supportive role?
An estimated 7.1m people fall into the key workers’ category and the finance sector has been designated within government guidance as a Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) sector. In this context, a CNI finance sector key worker can be defined as someone who provides a service which is necessary to support the continued functioning of economic activity. Firms should consider the activities, services or operations which would lead to disruption of the economy if they were not available or where there is a legislative requirement for the service being provided. Many accountancy services are likely to fall within this definition.
Social distancing in the office
Whilst many accountancy firms have put into practice continuity plans and are delivering the necessary services to clients by working from home, showing resilience and flexibility, there are some instances where working at home might not be feasible. For example if the payroll software being used is only accessible from a local network or there is a need to access or collect physical records.
If you cannot work from home you are still able to travel to work however, firms need to consider social distancing measures within a workplace setting to ensure the safety of their staff. These measures will also likely be applicable once the lockdown period ends and employees begin returning to work.
The social distancing measures apply to everyone and should be followed wherever possible. Workplaces need to avoid crowding and minimise opportunities for the virus to spread by maintaining a distance of at least 2 metres between each individual.
Measures that can be implemented immediately are as follows:
- Make regular announcements/have signage to remind staff to follow social distancing advice and wash their hands regularly with soap (for 20 seconds) throughout the day particularly after blowing their nose, sneezing or coughing.
- Use additional signage to ask clients not to enter the premises if they have symptoms.
- Regulate entry so that premises do not become overcrowded.
- Provide additional pop-up handwashing stations or facilities where possible providing soap, water, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitiser and tissues to encourage use.
- Where it is possible to remain 2 metres apart, use floor marking to mark the distance particularly in crowded areas. If it is not possible to remain 2 metres apart, by leaving one station free between two workers in a bank of desks for example, to maximise the distance staff should work side by side or facing away from each other rather than face to face if possible.
- Where face-to-face contact is essential, this should be kept to 15 minutes or less.
- Personal desk areas should be disinfected at the start and end of each day.
- Disinfect high traffic areas regularly such as receptions, mail rooms, meeting rooms, kitchens and toilets.
- Care should be taken when opening mail or reviewing manual records by using disposable gloves which are disposed of following use. If possible, leave records for 72 hours until handling again.
- Encourage the use of digital and remote transfer of material, where possible, rather than paper format such as online transfer sites, emails and e-banking and implement acceptance of electronic signatures.
- Employees should be encouraged to bring their own food for lunch/breaks.
- Make sure everyone's contact numbers and emergency contact details are up to date.
- Make sure managers know how to spot symptoms of coronavirus and are clear on any relevant processes, such as sickness reporting and sick pay, in case someone in the workplace is potentially infected and needs to take the appropriate action.
A staggered return to work or shift-working pattern should also be considered if there are many people who need to work from the office or once the lockdown measures ease. Staggering workers will enable them to continue to operate both effectively and at a safe distance from one another. Staggering on premises hours will also reduce the use of public transport during peak hours and will benefit employees, businesses and the wider public.
Practically this could work by:
- Splitting staff into teams (A and B for example) each team working alternate days or weeks in the office.
- As far as possible these splits should be fixed and teams should be kept as small as possible so that where contact is unavoidable this happens between the same individuals (cohorting).
- Ensure the same measures listed above are implemented and ensure frequent cleaning and disinfecting of objects and surfaces that are touched regularly at the end/beginning of shifts and between change over.
It is imperative that everyone remains vigilant and if anyone becomes unwell with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature they should be advised to follow the stay at home guidance immediately for households with possible coronavirus infection. If these symptoms develop whilst at work they should be sent home immediately.