COVID-19: preparing your workplace for returning employees

5 min read  |   2 July, 2020   By Nick Hardy

Welcome back to the office

Breathe’s CEO – Jonathan Richards - recently co-hosted a fascinating webinar with Jo and Dave Blood, directors of Posture People and its sister company, Love your Workplace. They and their team are experts in workplace setup, ergonomics and design, helping businesses create comfortable working environments for their people.

They have recently been helping businesses ensure their people feel comfortable while working from home and their work spaces are compliant with the latest Health & Safety Executive regulations.

We caught up with Jo and Dave to discuss their tips for preparing workplaces for returning employees and how you can continue to support team members working from home.

During the webinar, we polled our attendees – mostly directors and managers of small businesses - to assess the readiness of their workplace for returning employees. It was an interactive session, with many people sharing their thoughts about ‘the return’ and the challenges they face.

Business reactions to lockdown

Return to work policies

Display Screen Equipment (DSE) assessments

Documenting and recording DSE assessments

Office layouts, screening and signage

The importance of ongoing risk assessments

Some final thoughts

 Additional resources for your business

Business reactions to lockdown

 Jo and Dave initially talked about the patterns they noticed as their customers and contacts reacted to news of the lockdown, and the pressing need for people to work from home, often with under a week’s notice.

Businesses did everything they could to ensure the move was structured, however, with the set up of communication tools - Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack - taking priority, home workstation's were often overlooked.

As a result, many people have created their working environment without guidance and – nearly four months into lockdown – may now be suffering from back and neck problems.

Return to work policies

With many businesses now planning for a phased return to the workplace - while also continuing their working from home policy - company directors are keen to ensure their people work comfortably, and safely.

We discussed this in a recent webinar focusing on this important subject.

Display Screen Equipment (DSE) assessments

Jo, Dave and their team have many years experience helping businesses conduct DSE assessments.

They explained employers must protect their people from the health risks associated with using display screen equipment, such as PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones.

Recently updated Health and Safety Executive regulations apply to workers who use DSE daily, for more than an hour at a time.

These rules apply to DSE users who work onsite and for those who work from home on a full or part-time basis.

Employers are required to complete DSE assessments for homeworkers and their office-based people. The team at Posture People have produced a brilliant step-by-step guide to managing assessments and for addressing any issues identified in the process.  

Documenting and recording DSE assessments

Once a DSE assessment has been completed, it is essential that it is recorded alongside any related agreements between an employer and their team member. This ensures employers and employees have access to agreed action-points.

This is good policy on a communications level and ensures people and managers have easy access to these agreements if there are any disputes.

Maintaining paper-based DSE agreements can be a confusing, time-consuming and impractical process, especially when many are working from home without access to their filing cabinets.

The alternative is to use document management functionality included in cloud-based HR management systems such as Breathe, storing these agreements centrally and securely in one place.

Posture People are Breathe partners and have produced a super-handy video guide for using our software to log and store assessments.  

Office layouts, screening and signage

Alongside ensuring employee workstations are setup correctly, a return to the workplace also requires careful thinking relating to the continued social distancing within your premises.

This applies especially to communal areas, shared office equipment and applications, ranging from kettles, fridges, toasters and printers (among others).

Dave Blood recommended setting up screens where practical and also using stickers and signage to make sure people are clear which areas are accessible, with regulations explaining best practices.

The importance of ongoing risk assessments & guidance

With many companies spacing desks apart, many people may be unable to work at their usual workstation and this may require hot-desking. This needs to be carefully managed, with clear guidance to your employees for how you are ensuring the cleanliness of shared desk-space - in addition to areas such as kitchens, toilets, lifts and staircases.

Reminding your people to sanitize their hands is easy to do but key to reducing risks. As we emerge from lockdown, there is a risk that people will become complacent and therefore ongoing guidance remains important.

On the other hand, it’s important to strike a balance and not overwhelm people with reminders; they are adults after all.

Dave recommended walking through an office with a new mindset, identifying pinch-points and areas where there is heightened risk of bacteria spreading.

Some final thoughts…

Over the coming months, businesses will be adapting to full and partial returns to the workplace but it looks very likely that a significant number of people will continue to work from home.

The Health and Safety Executive’s updated regulations cover homeworkers and people who have returned to their pre-lockdown place of work. Many people are predicting increasing numbers of employers will offer flexible working arrangements.

Indeed, Dave Blood has recently seen a number of business owners begin to offer home-working work-station kits as part of their recruitment drive.

In another of our other recent webinars, we polled attendees and discovered that 88 per cent of people – SME managers and directors – remain nervous about using public transport, despite 50 per cent stating that they are planning to return to the workplace. It doesn’t look like extended home-working is going to end any time soon.

What is clear, therefore, is that business owners need to consider the short and long term needs of everyone - homeworkers and their office-based colleagues - as they begin to plan for the future and the next normal.

Additional resources for your business

We're keeping our COVID-19 help page regularly updated with resources designed to help businesses come back stronger.

We have also co-hosted a number of webinars with leading HR experts on subjects including resilience and employment law.

If you have team members who will be continuing to work from home, this guide by Posture People includes use useful guidance for creating a safe, comfortable work space.

Finally, these guidelines from Posture People explain employers’ duty of care as recommended by the Health & Safety Executive.


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Author: Nick Hardy

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