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Visualising the post-lockdown office

When are we going back to the office?

On Sunday, prime minister Boris Johnson unveiled a ‘conditional plan’ to reopen society in England, including a return to work for those who can’t do their jobs from home. However, the advice in Scotland still stands: stay at home unless you have to go out for essential purposes.

Regardless, when the time comes, what will the post-lockdown office look like? And how can employers and property managers prepare and reassure employees?

Safety protocols

There’s no doubt businesses will be under intense scrutiny as lockdown eases, with investment in health and safety rightly taking centre stage.

A recent CBRE report summarises the pandemic response in China and quotes its head of property management there, Evan Choo, as saying property managers have a crucial role to play in enhancing safety and mitigating the pandemic.

Protocols implemented included —

  • Deep cleaning including using hospital-grade disinfectant to clean public areas hourly
  • Office entrance controls, including temperature checks and the wearing of masks
  • Implementing visitor controls including limiting the number of visitors (with pre-approval necessary) and having deliveries routed to designated outdoor areas
  • Other sensible preventative measures included providing hand sanitiser in public areas and establishing a ‘holding room’ and route for suspected cases to minimise exposure for others

And proactive steps involved —

  • Adopting flexible working practices, splitting employees into two or more groups
  • Daily temperature checks
  • Providing masks, gloves or hand sanitiser in reception areas
  • Suspending non-critical business travel and events
  • Providing instructions on what to do if an employee develops symptoms

Beyond the measures — the new normal

But over and above these efforts, there’s an equally important issue — how do you manage the perception of safety in the workplace so employees feel comfortable returning?

One option is for businesses to take time to consult with their workforce and understand the concerns beforehand. Inevitably, that will also mean having a protocol in place for what happens if a colleague develops symptoms, which could of course mean another office closure.

And there are other important questions businesses will have to grapple with.

What about staff that have to take public transport? Are you going to force them to come in? Why should they take more risk to come into the office than, say, someone who drives in with their own company parking space.

Is there a reason to be there? If going into the office involves social distancing, with only having half a team in all wearing masks, would these not flow better over Zoom or Microsoft Teams, for example?

What about schools? If schools aren’t back, but offices are open, how easy will it be for colleagues with children who are working remotely to feel part of a team when more and more of their peers are back at their desks?

Some business may, for example, choose to use technology to enhance the working-from-home experience, while other may look at changing or staggering people’s core hours to balance managing meetings and interactions with flexibility, safety and social distancing.

There’s no doubt the offices we’ll go back to, certainly in the short to medium term, will look a lot different to those we left in March, but what that return actually looks like in practical terms remains to be seen.

Malcolm Ferguson

Aberdeen-based partner Malcolm works as part of a large team dealing with a variety of commercial property matters across all business sectors.

Posted, 11 May 2020 by Malcolm Ferguson
Categories: Commercial property | Coronavirus | Coronavirus and commercial property | Insights