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Post-lockdown office design shake-up planned by government

Shutterstock busy office interior
  • 4 Comments

New guidelines on coronavirus include imposition of distancing in lifts and floors, reduced hot-desking and staggered shifts

The proposals, contained in a draft plan from the business department (BEIS), also include encouragement of continued home working where possible, strict cleaning regimes and the avoidance of face-to-face meetings or sharing of equipment by staff.

The proposals, which the government hopes to introduced in stages, come ahead of a speech by prime minister Boris Johnson on Sunday (10 May) about Britain’s ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown.

They follow consultation with business leaders, unions and trade bodies and show several similarities with workplace changes put foward by the British Council for Offices (BCO) earlier this month.

According to the BBC, the draft strategy includes scant detail on personal protective equipment (PPE) advice but advocates hygiene procedures and physical screens for some workers and recommends employers consider the use of protective equipment where maintaining distancing of 2m (6ft) between staff is impossible.

The FT reported that limits will be imposed on people sharing lifts, with graphics showing lifts ’divided into sections by yellow and black tape, with only one person in each’ and that social distancing will be imposed in almost all areas, with exceptions made for emergency procedures, such as responding to fire alarms.

’I think the language is quite scary,’ one business executive told the paper. ’It’s one thing for big companies that already have health and safety teams and unionised workplaces but I could see some small operators looking at this and thinking “I’m going to stay closed”.’

The BCO paper, drawn up by its technical affairs committee, including representatives from Make, Adamson and JMA, suggested extensive changes to offices including:

  • Reversing the ’trend to share desks’, ie hot-desking, with more desks being individually allocated to particular users
  • Extra cleaning of all spaces, especially shared desks
  • Introduction of screens to protect receptionists
  • Replacement of communal toilets, with individual pods featuring touchless doors, taps and soap dispensers
  • An increase in bike storage to allow workers to avoid public transport
  • Strict limits on the number of people that can use a meeting room or share a lift at any one time
  • An end to communal cutlery, coffee pots and water bottles
  • Adaptation of ventilation and humidification systems to create tougher climates for viruses
  • Windows kept open even if rooms become cold
  • Suspension of some heat recovery systems and filtering of certain recycled air
  • Use of apps and other digital tools to maximise worker safety.

Richard Kauntze, chief executive of the BCO said:It is right to prepare Britain for getting back to work. Working from home is effective in the short term, but we are social beings who more productive and have better ideas in the office. Workplaces will need to undergo some quite substantial changes so that they are able to reopen. These are not necessarily reliant on the provision of PPE.

Workplaces will need to undergo quite substantial changes so they are able to reopen

’As the BCO has stated, receptionists should protected by screens, toilets made touchless where possible and our habits will have to change, with meeting rooms given maximum occupancy limits and communal items, like coffee pots and cutlery, taken away. Workplaces should also be fitted with more space for bikes, since commuters will want to avoid trains and buses.

’Most importantly, hygiene standards will need to be rigorous with hand sanitiser and anti-bacterial wipes well provided.’

  • 4 Comments

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Readers' comments (4)

  • It is good to hear these first steps into imagining a world where we live with the virus for the next year.

    I hope that the government put together a general purpose technical manual for designing the use of space. What we need is a kind of "Approved Document" for virus-safety, just like what the building industry have with official guidance on complying with Building Regulations.

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  • I would like ask the understanding behind Kauntze's comment about productivity at home versus in the office.
    I think this generalised view on the need for a centralised workplace and its importance in generating "the best ideas" is a tragic view that hold back progression.
    Yes we are social beings but if we want to natter to our colleagues and see a face that isn't our own family's that's a choice and not a need. That need does not need to be met in the workplace and we need to stop relying on it to do so.
    I think this is a key issue to point out in terms of understanding how people like to work and what works best for them. I think choice is the key, give people the choice there's not a one size fits all in terms of work environment. This goes for working hours too, if you work better in the early morning (subject to nature of work) then do it, if you work best in the evening do it.

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  • "showing lifts ’divided into sections by yellow and black tape, with only one person in each’"

    Hmm, in my workplace there are only 2 lifts serving 8 floors. Each is about the size of a phone box. They are cripplingly slow. You work it out...

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  • Chris Rogers then I would suggest only those who really need to use the lifts do so the rest can use the stairs. Its only 8 floors high clearly not a mountaineering task

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