As the parameters of the ‘new normal’ become better understood, workplace and facilities management professionals have a unique opportunity to take a leading role in the return to work, to ‘build back better’, and create and manage a new generation of workplaces. This will enable people and businesses to work safely, flexibly, collaboratively and productively, and provide the greatest benefit to the individual, the organisation and society in general.
Below you will find guidance we have created or compiled in collaboration with industry experts to support your organisations and employees returning to the workplace, in addition to enabling those that will continue to work from home to do so in a balanced manner. This guidance aims to provide a principled approach to support individuals with varying levels of responsibility and experience. It does not provide detailed technical information, but signposts to authoritative and extensive guidance.
First, however, we have the results of our time-series ‘Returning to work’ research, which we commissioned in April and June 2020 and again in March 2021 to help inform the profession, industries and our guidance. This research provides key insights into the experiences, attitudes and concerns of UK office workers as we head for new ways of working and wider adoption of hybrid working post-COVID-19.
We will continue to update this page regularly and according to the changing situation. Please bookmark and check this page regularly to stay informed.
‘Returning to the workplace’ research: Majority of UK employees expect a move to hybrid working
As businesses look to once again reopen their doors following an easing of lockdown measures, our new research has found that the vast majority of employees will expect a level of ‘hybrid’ working in the future - with nearly half (44%) of the workforce planning to work from the office for 3 days or fewer a week. The findings also revealed that 63% of employees now believe the office to be unnecessary - a rise of a fifth since the first lockdown (51%).
The poll, which surveyed 2,000 office workers across the country in March 2021, shows that demand for hybrid working is particularly prevalent in the younger demographic. Two-thirds (66%) of 18-24-year-olds admitted that not being offered flexible work patterns would cause them to look for a new job. Yet worryingly, more than a third (38%) of this demographic feel their employer is pressuring them to return to the office - risking losing new talent.
We are calling on employers to ensure that hybrid working is accessible for all; providing adequate choice and support for employees to perform their role from multiple locations, in order to avoid losing younger workers to competitors.
Chris Moriarty, Director of Insight at the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management comments: ‘More than a year on, we continue to see employers striving to strike the right balance between remote and office working. The benefits of the office have not been forgotten, yet we continue to become accustomed and comfortable with our home working routines.
‘The truth is home versus office working should not be viewed as a binary choice between focus and connection. A true commitment to ‘hybrid working’ will give employees and employers flexibility to work in a way that is best suited to them - allowing them to reap the productivity and social benefits of both home and office working environments, how and when it best suits their needs. Employers should now make every effort to provide staff with genuine choice to perform their role wherever they feel their performance would be best supported - adapting the office space, incentives and policies to reflect the changing nature of the workspace environment.’
More than three-quarters (79%) of 18-24-year-olds believe that they will be equally as productive or more productive working from home. This demographic is also working the most unpaid overtime from home - on average 11.6 extra hours a week - and has invested on average nearly £300 in creating a suitable working environment at home (£292).
Chris continues, ‘The COVID-19 crisis has left a permanent mark on our view of the workplace - and a knee-jerk return to the pre-pandemic status quo risks serious implications for businesses in attracting and nurturing talent. The responsibility now falls on organisations to think about their employee experience beyond the boundaries of their corporate workspace. Effective employers will already be thinking of how to support employees and provide a suitable working environment for them, wherever and however they choose to work.’
Please find below the main findings from our research.
Click here to view the summarised results
Research results: summary
How far do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?
3.1. This period of home-working has made it unnecessary to work in the office
- 63 % agree with this statement, more than a 10% increase from June 2020 which saw 51% agree.
- This rises to 69% of 18-34-year-olds.
3.2. This period of home-working has made me more likely to want to work from home more in the future
- 63% has feel this period of home-working has made them more likely to want to work from home more in the future - in June 2020 this was 61%.
3.3. Being forced to go back to the office before I am not comfortable would push me to search for a new job
- 2 in 5 (40%) people would search for a new job if they were forced back into the office.
- Highest amongst 18-34-year-olds (47%).
3.4. Not being offered more flexible working options upon a return to the office would lead me to search for a new job
- Nearly half (47%) of respondents agree that not being offered more flexible working options upon a return to the office would lead them to search for a new job.
3.5. My employer has communicated with me well about future plans for the office
- Only half (53%) of those surveyed believe that their employer has communicated well about future plans for the office.
3.6. My employer is doing enough to support my wellbeing whilst working from home
- More than half (56%) think their employer is doing enough to support their wellbeing whilst working from home.
3.7. My employer is doing enough to protect my health and safety in formulating return to the office plans
- Those who agree that their employer is doing enough to protect their health and safety in planning a return to the office has increased by 19%. This is up from 37% in June 2020 to 56% in March 2021.
3.8. My employer is pressuring or compelling me to return to the office
- Nearly one third (31%) of respondents agree that their employer is pressuring or compelling them to return to the office.
- 40% of 18-24-year-olds agree that their employer is pressuring or compelling them to return to the office.
3.9. My employer has invested enough in ensuring I have an adequate home-working set up
- More than half (57%) of respondents believe that their employer has invested enough in ensuring they have an adequate home working set up.
3.10. I am confident my employer will respect the way I want to work in future
- Only half (51%) of those surveyed are confident their employer will respect the way they want to work in future.
4. Which of the below best describes your feelings about going back to the office?
- 60% are looking forward to it, nearly double from June 2020 (34%) but down from 49% in April 2020.
- Looking forward to it but have reservations about it is highest amongst 18-34-year-olds (33%).
- 22% are not looking forward to it, down from 34% in June 2020, but up from 19% in April 2020.
5. Has working from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on your working hours at all?
- People are working an average of 7.2 extra hours per week (unpaid); one in 10 (11%) of those surveyed are working more than 30 extra hours per week.
- 18-34-year-olds work 9.5 extra hours a week from home.
6. If you were to continue working from home post pandemic, do you think this will have an effect on your productivity?
- Nearly half of those surveyed (49%) believe that continuing to work from home will have a positive effect on their productivity - 12% believe that it will have a negative impact.
- Believing they will be more productive rises dramatically to 57% for 18-34-year-olds.
7. Which if any of the following aspects of your new working patterns do you currently enjoy?
- The lack of a commute continues to be the top thing we enjoy about working from home with 47% of those surveyed saying they enjoy it.
- In June 2020 our survey found that 75% enjoyed the time saved from not commuting.
- 39% of employees continue to enjoy the financial savings associated with working from home, this number is down from 69% in June 2020.
- Nearly twice as many women (42%) than men (25%) enjoy the flexibility to juggle their work and home life.
8. And which of these aspects of your new working pattern would you like to carry forward post pandemic?
- The lack of a commute continues to be the top thing we want to take forward with 37% of those surveyed choosing it.
- 29% want to continue the financial savings and 27% want to continue to benefit from the flexible working hours.
9. How do you see yourself working from the office/workplace once the pandemic is over?
- Average person sees themselves working from home 3 days a week in the future - rising to 3.5 for 18-34-year-olds.
- Only 13% believe that they won't have a choice.
10. How much has been spent by you or your employer on improving your working environment over the last 12 months?
- Average person has spent £333.50 versus average employer spend of £403.80.
- 18-34-year-olds have spent the most: £451.90 on average.
- A quarter of employees think their employer has spent nothing on improving their working environment over the past twelve months.
11. Has your employer communicated their plans for how you will work in future?
- More than one quarter (26%) of those surveyed will be working from the office full time in the future.
- Rises to 38% of 18-34-year-olds - despite 69% of this age group believing the office is no longer necessary.
- 21% will be hybrid working and splitting their time between their home and the office.
This research was conducted by IWFM as part of its ongoing ‘Returning to the workplace’ campaign.
All figures from March 2021 are from Opinium. Total sample size was 2,000 adults, of which 570 who are now working from home (the core sample of the research). Fieldwork was undertaken between 11 - 16 March 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
All figures from June 2020, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,059 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18 - 19h June 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
All figures from April 2020, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,260 adults, of which 1,195 UK-based office workers, of which 404 who are now working from home (the core sample of the research). Fieldwork was undertaken between 22 - 23 April 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
The UK Government roadmap to easing restrictions
On 22 February the Prime Minister announced a cautious four-step roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions in England and - ultimately - ending them.
Each step will be assessed against four data-based tests before restrictions can ease, which are that:
the vaccine deployment programme continues successfully
evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated
infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS
There will be a minimum of five weeks between each step: four weeks for the data to reflect changes in restrictions, followed by one week's notice of the restrictions to be eased as applicable.
The key dates and easing measures are (for infographic version, see below):
Step 1 - from 8 March
Wraparound childcare and other supervised children's activities can resume
Care home residents to be allowed one regular visitor provided they are tested and wear PPE
People can leave home for recreation outdoors with their household or support bubble, or with one person outside their household
The stay at home requirement (except for permitted reasons) remains in place and people will still only be able to leave home for work purposes where they cannot reasonably work from home.
Step 1 - from 29 March
Outdoor gatherings of either 6 people or 2 households will be allowed, including in private gardens
Outdoor sports facilities can reopen, and formally organised outdoor sports can resume
The stay at home order will end, although people should continue to work from home where possible.
Step 2 - no earlier than 12 April
Non-essential retail, personal care premises and public buildings, e.g. libraries and community centres, can reopen.
Most outdoor attractions and settings, e.g. zoos and theme parks, can reopen with social contact rules to prevent indoor mixing between households
Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and swimming pools can reopen, but with no mixing between households.
Hospitality venues can serve food and alcohol outdoors only.
Self-contained accommodation where indoor facilities are not shared with other households can reopen.
Funerals can continue with up to 30 people; weddings, receptions and commemorative events can take place with up to 15 people
Step 3 - no earlier than 17 May
Outdoor cinemas and theatres can re-open
Indoor hospitality, entertainment venues such as cinemas and soft play areas, the rest of the accommodation sector, and indoor adult group sports and exercise classes can also re-open
Larger performances and sporting events in indoor venues with a capacity of 1,000 people or half-full (whichever is lower) will also be allowed, as will those in outdoor venues with a capacity of 4,000 people or half-full (whichever is lower).
In larger outdoor seated venues where crowds can spread out, up to 10,000 people will be able to attend (or a quarter-full, whichever is lower).
Up to 30 people will be able to attend weddings, receptions, wakes and funerals
People should continue to work from home where possible
Step 4 - no earlier than 21 June
Nightclubs can reopen, remaining restrictions on large events and performances to be removed
People should continue to work from home where possible (subject to the findings of a government review of social distancing and other measures to limit transmission of COVID-19).
Returning to work: five guiding principles for FMs
Workplace and facilities managers will need to prepare buildings ready for reoccupation within the limits set by social distancing imperatives and help their organisations adjust, at pace, to a new set of operating norms. This kind of change programme requires professional leadership and represents a great opportunity for FMs to demonstrate the added value they offer in bringing together the space, culture and technology aspects of workplace into a workplace strategy which can enable organisations and individuals to remain productive.
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The immediate concern is the return of people to the building and this first stage may require several iterations, very likely in parallel with evolving social distancing measures, before you can plan for longer term ‘normality’. However, it is key to understand that you will need to plan for change over time.
1. The return of the employee/occupant - how many?
Firstly, the facilities lead should respond to government guidance on working safely during COVID-19 by carrying out a risk assessment to determine the workspace capacity for people returning and how best to keep people safe. This risk assessment should be done in consultation with workers or unions.
Employers have a legal responsibility to do everything reasonably practicable to minimise health and safety risks to their workers, while recognising that it is not possible to completely eliminate the risk of COVID-19. Consider also the capability and capacity of each individual to return to the workplace, including their transport requirements, and the Government’s safer travel guidance.
The risk assessment is a key tool to review the possible experiences and activities within the workspace to understand and identify potential hazards and to assess the risk of them occurring, so that mitigation measures can be put in place; it will therefore help you define not just how many can return, but how to manage this safely.
Social distancing requirements will likely mean that the number who can return to the workplace will remain dramatically reduced. To determine what the operational space is, you will have to consider not just the volume of space, but also factors such as access points and lifts, optimising flows and minimising bottlenecks and ventilation potential.
- the latest UK Government guidance on social distancing can be found here
- the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has excellent advice on risk assessments; advice on controlling risks in the workplace can be found here, and an example risk assessment for an office-based business can be found here. The HSE has also provided this specific advice to help control the risk of coronavirus in workplaces.
- the preparing buildings for re-use section on this page has additional prompts for a range of measures that should be taken.
2. What is the workplace strategy? Who needs to be there and what does this mean for the space?
Once you know how many people you can accommodate, you need to consider who needs to be physically in the workplace and who does not. This will help to prioritise and organise the space into an attractive environment so that it can accommodate the right activities. You should consider the need for meeting rooms, the potential removal of desks, the addition of screens (transparent where possible to promote connectivity). Continuing the practice of ‘hot-desking’ will require regular and thorough cleaning of the workstation area, but this may enable better social distancing and be more hygienic than allocating desks to individuals. Where possible provide modular and flexible solutions so that people have different options to suit their needs.
In addition to planning the usual work space, based on an understanding of which activities need to take place and how it is best organised within the building fabric, you will also need to consider the needs of the many people, possibly a majority, who will continue to work remotely. They will need to be supported to create workspaces at home that are conducive to productive working. Key considerations for home workers include how to support them with the right hardware, including chairs and IT, as well as navigating a new working dynamic including breaks and concentration techniques.
Most workplace strategies will not settle for a binary choice of office or home working, rather they will provide additional options of remote working and ongoing flexibility about how and when work is done. Giving control to individuals over how and when they work, as well as providing them with what they will need to do that, allows them to balance their work life demands, minimising stress and anxiety, benefitting all.
Whatever measures or adjustments that you put in place must avoid putting disabled workers at a disadvantage, take account of your duties under equality legislation, and be mindful of the particular needs of any groups or individuals whose protected characteristics might expose them to different degrees of risks.
3. Essential engagement and communications with employees
The most effective workplace strategy will be informed by insight – you need to understand concerns about likely workplace scenarios to best identify and accommodate an optimal balance between individual and organisational needs.
Engagement is a fundamental part of any workplace strategy, including two-way communication and transparency about the implementation of practical measures, such as cleaning and distancing regimes, which will be top of mind for people returning to the office. Not everyone is going to want to return to the workplace and not everyone’s home situation may allow this either.
Following the introduction of tiers system on 23 November 2020, organisations may wish to recommunicate their workplace guidelines to provide clarity and reassurance to their employees.
FMs should collaborate with HR colleagues to survey employees to understand their needs and key concerns. Not only will this help to decide what to prioritise in your space management, but what you can do better to support people in making efficient home working spaces while at the same time ensuring people’s wellbeing and connectivity. Good practice would see a regular survey taking place, especially in larger organisations to help keep track of teams and, for example, to compare different approaches.
Along with employee engagement, open and transparent communications about what the business is doing will be important to retain trust in the organisation – internally and externally. In addition, the Government expects every employer with over 50 workers to publish their COVID-19 risk assessment on their website. Furthermore, the ongoing review of best practice, alongside the engagement and communication, will demonstrate a commitment to creating a safe and healthy workplace.
If you manage a workplace in a building with multiple occupiers, you will also need to engage and coordinate with the different stakeholders so that everybody's health and safety is protected.
4. ‘Building’ response to the new workplace strategy
In addition to a people survey, analysis of space utilisation and general building use should inform the post COVID-19 occupancy footprint and other approaches, including cleaning protocols as the biggest concerns for people around returning to the workplace are maintaining social distancing and hygiene.
Increasing cleaning operations during the day and in high traffic areas will help maintain a visible presence. Measures such as placing sufficient sanitiser throughout the workplace, clear displays of health and safety information, and regular communication on measures being taken throughout the building so that occupants can see the efforts of the organisation to keep them safe are all important actions in promoting trust and confidence in safety.
The risk assessment should inform employers about the need for any appropriate PPE. Staggered arrival and departure routines should be considered as lifts (and stairs) will not be able to accommodate as many people at the same time. Visible and audible signalling should be used to indicate safe zones both in and outside the lifts, and the wider workspace, so that social distancing can be maintained consistently throughout. Employers should also consider their policies on testing people, and whether in addition to government testing where needed, an antigen test would be offered to people in the organisation.
In addition to providing a space-based response to the social distancing challenge, workplace and facilities managers will need to ensure ongoing compliance with health and safety to ensure the building is a genuinely safe workplace: PPM, lift safety checks, water systems checks, deep cleans, fire system checks, security, and so on, should all be reviewed well in advance of the return so they can be planned properly. Ideally, at least three to four weeks – possibly longer for multi-occupied buildings - should be set aside for this as the availability of suppliers for such checks might be strained both by demand as well as by potential sickness. The HSE will expect a building to be 100% compliant before (re-)occupation.
The section ‘Preparing buildings for re-use’ below includes a variety of prompts to consider. More information on testing eligibility and processes to follow can be found in the testing section below.
5. Staying flexible and leading the ongoing change programme for the next phase and beyond
Now is the time to demonstrate leadership in providing and implementing the solutions that workplaces need. While you are likely to already be working closely together with IT and HR to provide solutions you will need to work with other key decision-making functions such as communications and finance teams to enact your workplace strategy efficiently.
The initial return to work is only the first phase in a long transition to a ‘new normal’. It is therefore important to remain flexible and resilient in your planning so that you can adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. You should ensure solid business continuity plans remain up-to-date to manage a sudden return to home-working in case of a further lockdowns.
Alongside this mid-term planning, you should start considering the long-term implications for your office space footprint alongside other workplace adaptations that will help to focus minds on the organisation’s long-term objectives. It is important that organisations do not plan to revert to business as usual without taking on board learnings from how they managed the change.
Furthermore, there is major opportunity to use this rethinking to return to a better workplace, offering greater flexibility and choice while working towards more ambitious sustainability goals. COVID-19 has taught us that sustainability has not disappeared off the agenda – if anything, quite the opposite. It is not only necessary, it is also possible to make a difference.
Working safely guidelines
In line with the roadmap to easing restrictions, the UK Government advice remains that you may only leave your home for work if you cannot reasonably work from home.
Business and commercial activity – including the provision of FM services, maintenance and essential repair work – should continue if it can be carried out in accordance with UK Government guidance on social distancing and working safely during coronavirus.
Where it is not possible to follow the social distancing guidelines in full, you should consider what activities need to continue and take all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission. No one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment.
The Health and Safety Executive also has guidance for business on how to manage risk and risk assessment at work along with specific advice to help control the risk of coronavirus in workplaces.
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Social distancing should also be maintained at entrances and exits, and in shared and/or public areas such as canteens and receptions. Measures to consider implementing include floor markings, one-way traffic flows on staircases and corridors, reducing lift capacity, increasing space allocated to social areas, providing additional sanitiser points, and deactivating security barriers or turnstiles.
The UK Government’s guidance on Working safely during COVID-19 in offices and contact centres provides detailed advice, with illustrated examples, on moving around buildings, using lifts, protocols for common areas and sanitation.
Other recommendations include keeping activity time as short as possible, reducing the number of people each worker has contact with by using fixed teams or partnering, and implementing back-to-back or side-to-side working (rather than face-to-face).
While the guiding principles on returning to work apply to the whole of the UK and beyond, the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have adopted differing approaches in dealing with the pandemic and putting restrictions in place. Those countries have issued specific guidelines which vary from those of the UK Government referred to in this guidance in the following areas (please click on the link in each country name):
Social distancing: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland
Working safely: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland
Preparing buildings for re-use – space based activity prompts
This section provides advice and guidance for preparing buildings for re-use, covering health and hygiene, utilities, fire safety, security, cyber security, and other practices which will help to ensure safety at work for employees, contractors and other building users.
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Once you have determined what activities will continue to take place in the workplace, how many people will occupy the building and at what times - and therefore have an understanding of your future building systems requirements - you will need to give careful consideration and plan the extent, scheduling and order of maintenance, cleaning and testing activities.
If regular statutory maintenance or testing was due to take place during the closure and has not been undertaken, then it must be carried out before the building is re-occupied as the HSE will expect 100% compliance before (re)occupation.
Keeping a checklist of tasks and actions is vital during such a critical phase of the recovery. You may find the following Facilities Management Re-Occupancy checklist useful:
Click here to download the checklist.
Health and hygiene
- ensure ready access to hand sanitisers, tissues, personal equipment such as keyboards, mice and headphones, and materials to wipe down surfaces
- consider whether PPE should be provided. The wearing of face coverings has been compulsory in shops from 24 July 2020 and may become mandatory in other settings. Providing such PPE may be seen as best practice and encourage staff to return to the workplace. The need for PPE will depend on the activity being carried out, the specific workplace, and the individual employee. If your Risk Assessment concludes that PPE is required, your organisation is required to provide it, train the employee(s) on its use, and check that it is being used correctly. UK Government advice on COVID-19 PPE can be found here and in section 6.1 here. The latter also provides more advice on face masks in section 6.2. Please note: PPE used in a health context will be of a different grade to that used by the wider public and in workplaces. HSE has provided advice on fit testing face masks to avoid transmission during the coronavirus outbreak
- NHS Test and Trace: UK Government guidance on actions sectors and businesses need to take to protect staff, visitors and customers, including on taking part in the Test and Trace programme. (For example, workplace canteens open to staff only do not need to collect data for Test and Trace.)
- waste: the UK Government has issued specific guidance on the disposal of cleaning waste and PPE during the pandemic
- check the latest health guidance from the UK Government and other authorities such as the HSE, for example on sanitising, cleaning, handwashing, and social distancing
- cleaning: assess what level is required prior to re-opening, particularly if any building occupant or visitor contracted the coronavirus; review ongoing plans to help prevent any re-occurrence. UK Government advice published in February suggests that human coronaviruses can survive on inanimate objects and can remain viable for up to five days at temperatures of 22-25°C and relative humidity of 40-50% (which is typical of air-conditioned indoor environments)
- BICSc has guidance on cleaning and decontamination after an outbreak (including instructions on suitable PPE and materials), infection control awareness (including how infections spread and appropriate cleaning protocol, materials and PPE), and cleaning and disinfection quality in UK hospitals and other healthcare facilities
- the UK Government has issued guidance on the cleaning of non-healthcare settings outside the home.
- cleaning and maintenance teams may require training on good hygiene practice, on any new schedules and protocols they will need to implement and to update them on the correct use of PPE. Additional supervision and checking may be required to build staff confidence and willingness to return to the workplace
- review protocols for new incidences of COVID-19 on the premises and make sure they remain up to date
- during re-use, consider enhanced cleaning regimes during the day and in high traffic/shared areas such as breakout zones and on commonly touched surfaces such as door handles
- consider what measures implemented prior to and/during the building shutdown would be good practice to maintain, for example a visitor logbook with contact details in case contacts of a future virus victim need to be traced. Organisations in certain sectors should collect details and maintain records of staff, customers and visitors on their premises to support NHS Test and Trace. For details of the organisations this guidance applies to and the information to be collected, click here
- review use of welfare facilities and whether adequate social distancing and cleaning protocols be maintained for the planned occupancy level and times
- consider replacing any touch surfaces with automatic and sensor operated tools, for example automatic or revolving doors, instead of push doors, sensor operated lighting.
Air and water services, ventilation, utilities, and fire safety
- carry out full checks on: fire safety systems: electrical systems (especially to fire safety equipment, security systems, emergency lighting and business critical services, such as server rooms); water systems and treatments (ensure boilers and pumps are functioning properly and at correct levels, check for leaks in water systems and other products); all HVAC and environmental systems (consider if they are appropriate for dealing with any future virus outbreaks); the integrity of the building envelope.
- make sure you are fully compliant with all statutory and mandatory testing regimes – these will need to be checked at least three-to-four weeks in advance of re-use to allow for supplier availability. Make sure to use competent people. Re-set all mechanical set-points to appropriate occupancy levels
- liaise with service, testing and maintenance providers to ensure appropriate provision levels can be restarted where not maintained
- water systems: hygiene requirements are covered by the HSE’s ACOP L8 and CIC/CIPHE guidance. CIBSE’s TM13 gives further guidance on minimising the risks of legionella, while the UK Government provides guidance on disease prevention and the national surveillance scheme
- electrical safety: checks are required under the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 and BS7671 (18th edition electrical regulations). A competent electrical contractor should be consulted about any requirements to restart electrical systems; the Electrical Contractors Association can provide guidance
- gas safety: the Gas Safe register provides advice and guidance on inspection
- Ventilation: HVAC plays a crucial role in controlling infection; these are some general principles:
- ventilation should be maintained to high levels in all occupied parts of the building and, if possible, set to 24/7 running in high risk areas, such as toilets
- air-conditioning should use fresh air rather than recirculated air, windows should be opened where possible, and filter changes increased for better air quality
- ventilation systems should be flushed of air 24 hours before reoccupation and set to operate for at least two hours before and after staff arrive with increased rates during occupancy
- ensure sufficient air changes to help dissipate COVID-19 droplets (these can remain on hard surfaces for up to 5 days). The frequency will depend on the type of workplace, number of people and the type of work undertaken.
Further detailed advice is provided by CIBSE
- fire safety: testing and maintenance routines of fire detection and protection systems, including sprinklers and fire extinguishers, should be brought up-to-date as soon as possible. Other actions to consider include:
- review Fire Risk Assessments in light of any risks incurred by new working locations or patterns, or changes of use
- review Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans to reflect current staffing levels and working practices, paying particular attention to any vulnerable workers
- review risks of measures, such as keeping fire doors open to reduce surface contact with handles (note: fire doors should be kept closed unless they are held open by purpose-made automatic devices)
- ensure staff working on-site are trained to carry out fire safety responsibilities
- encourage those working from home to check fire safety protocols and equipment (for example, test smoke alarms and unplug equipment when not in use)
- further guidance from the National Fire Chiefs Council on COVID-19-related safety can be found here, and on competent fire safety risk assessment here. Their general COVID-19 advice page can be found here.
- lifts and escalators: passenger lifts and lifting equipment must comply with the LOLER requirements. Your maintenance contractor should confirm that lifts are compliant and fit for service
- BESA has produced comprehensive guidance (SFG30) on engineering services that need to be considered for the mothballing and re-activation of buildings, the link can be found here.
Security and access
- consider how to best protect your reception staff, use transparent screening or signage (floor markings, guidance ropes, and so on) for appropriate distancing
- ensure adequate protection for security personnel who are amongst the occupations most exposed to the risk of COVID-19 (and with the highest mortality rate, according to ONS figures). ASIS have published a range of guidance and resources for security professionals
- check for signs of damage/vandalism around the building/perimeter, check outdoor spaces and outbuildings for unauthorised occupation (for example, rough sleepers, children)
- Police Crime Prevention advice for empty commercial premises can be found here (your local police force may be able to provide additional guidance)
- UK Policing and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure have published a protective security self-assessment checklist to help organisations understand their security assurance strengths and weaknesses during a pandemic
- insurance: if required, notify your provider about operational changes and whether statutory maintenance, especially of fire systems, is up-to-date (or, if this has not been completed yet, what mitigation measures you have put in place)
- mixed-use properties: do any occupants/residents remain in the vulnerable category (those aged 70 or older, or with an underlying health condition, or pregnant), or are any self-isolating: do they have access to food and any medical supplies?
- reinstate/adjust services with third party suppliers for waste services, food and drink services where social distancing can be maintained, post collection/distribution, and so on
- pest control: check build up and traps, replenish bait levels
- provide additional storage space for those people wanting to use bicycles instead of public transport
- furloughed staff and other HR issues: the CIPD have produced guidance on these aspects of returning to the workplace.
Health and wellbeing
Your COVID-19 risk assessment should inform you about any need for PPE or the use of face coverings. The UK Government has stated that any PPE currently used for non-COVID-19 risks should continue to be used, but that additional PPE is not beneficial except in clinical settings or a small number of other workplaces, or when responding to a suspected or confirmed case of the virus. However, if your risk assessment does show the risk of transmission is very high and that PPE is required, then you must provide the appropriate PPE free of charge to workers who need it. UK Government advice on COVID-19 PPE can be found here.
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UK Government advice on the wearing of face coverings is that it may be marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure in protecting others if an individual is infected but has not developed symptoms, or in enclosed spaces where social distancing isn’t possible. However, face coverings are not a replacement for other ways of managing risk such as handwashing and should not be relied on for the purpose of health and safety assessments. Early on in the first lockdown, the Government published its PPE strategy.
As part of your workplace strategy you should also consider the ongoing physical and mental support needed both for returnees and their home working counterparts. Monitor the wellbeing of people who are working from home and help them stay connected to the rest of the workforce, especially if the majority of their colleagues are on-site.
The onset of autumn saw the escalation of stricter measures, which culminated in national lockdowns over several months. The process, in combination with the darker winter months may see a negative effect on employees’ morale and wellbeing. FMs should work together with HR colleagues to remind workers of these rules and monitor what additional support may be required.
You will also need to consider greater protections for those groups of people who are at higher risk, including individuals who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
Adjusted wellbeing plans will help people to adapt to new ways of working and new workplace concepts as these continue to evolve. The importance of getting this right for the long term cannot be underestimated.
HSE has work-related stress guidance advice, while their stress toolkit has ideas which you can adapt to suit current working arrangements.
Specialist guidance on protecting mental health in social isolation during the pandemic is available from MIND and the Mental Health Foundation. Further signposting to emotional support can be found at UNISON’s There for You charity.
Testing and vaccines
Testing and isolation are likely to play vital roles in the fight against COVID-19 for some time to come, even after the majority of the UK population has been vaccinated. Health officials believe that at least a third of COVID-19 sufferers show no symptoms of the virus and it is still not fully understood whether the vaccines stop people being carriers.
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NHS Test and Trace
This programme is the main route to free testing for anyone in England with symptoms of the virus and for tracing of their contacts. Those who test positive must immediately self-isolate to avoid passing the virus on to others and will be entitled to the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment.
Government guidance on NHS Test and Trace in the workplace, including on self-isolation and financial support, can be found here. Additional guidance on the testing process, when and where to get tests and testing in care homes here.
Employers can refer essential workers for testing if they are self-isolating because either they or member(s) of their household have coronavirus symptoms. Although the workplace and facilities profession is not explicitly named on the official list of essential workers, many of the sectors in which they operate are included: health and social care, schools, prisons, probation services, to name just a few. The full list of eligible essential workers for England can be found here.
Organisations may wish to supplement this programme by setting up internal tracing programmes to help monitor workplace outbreaks or identify possible areas of transmission.
The CBI has created a factsheet on Test and Trace (including links to guidance for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland).
Alongside mass vaccination, more widespread testing of individuals who do not display symptoms of COVID-19 - but who may be infectious - will be needed for planning the safe reopening of workplaces.
The UK Government is now strongly encouraging regular asymptomatic testing in workplace settings that remain open during lockdown and where people cannot work from home, and for those who will return to the workplace in line with the roadmap to end pandemic restrictions announced on 22 February.
Businesses whose employees cannot work from home are eligible to receive rapid lateral flow testing kits. These simple swab tests deliver a result in just 30 minutes and are being provided free of charge until 30 June 2021, provided businesses register here before 31 March.
The Department for Health and Social Care will provide support on setting up testing facilities, training and a list of accredited private providers who can organise third party testing if this is preferred.
General government guidance for employers on COVID-19 testing can be found here, with practical guidance for employers who want to offer asymptomatic testing in the workplace here.
Since no test is 100% accurate and a test only provides a result for that point in time, any testing should complement, not replace, existing workplace COVID-secure measures.
Guidance on data protection issues arising from workplace testing is available from the UK data protection regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Lateral flow testing is also being offered to individuals who do not symptoms of COVID-19, but who may still be spreading the virus.
These programmes are being rolled out across all local authorities in England to identify and isolate individuals who have coronavirus, but do not have symptoms. Participating local authorities (a list can be found here) are being encouraged to target testing at those who are unable to work from home and are therefore at higher risk. Find out more here.
These tests require a blood sample and check for antibodies to see if a person has been infected by the virus in the past. It cannot tell if that person is immune to coronavirus or whether they are infectious, and therefore should not be the only testing offered to employees. Find out more here.
The UK-wide COVID-19 vaccination programme began with those groups identified as highly vulnerable (these may vary in Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland) and is being rolled out for older age groups before being offered to lower risk age groups.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development have produced a guide for employers on preparing for the COVID19 vaccination. It covers how the programme is being rolled out, workplace risk assessments and vaccine policy, encouraging vaccination and dealing with groups of employees who may be hesitant or refuse, and the legal issues around enforcing vaccinations. To view the guide click here.
Employment and skills support
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For businesses and employers
This £2 billion scheme provides funding for new job placements for 16 to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit who are referred to the employer by the Department for Work and Pensions. As well as £1,500 per job placement for setup costs and to support the young person’s employability skills, employers will receive 100% of the National Minimum Wage (or the National Living Wage depending on the age of the participant) for 25 hours per week for a total of six months, associated employer National Insurance contributions and employer minimum automatic enrolment contributions.
Businesses of any size can apply for any number of job placements. Gateway organisations such as a Local Authority or Chamber of Commerce can help provide a local connection and tailored support.
Job placements must not replace existing or planned vacancies, or cause existing employees, apprentices or contractors to lose work or reduce their working hours. Placements can start up to 31 December 2021 (funding is paid when the placement starts). Find out more here.
An apprenticeship is a skilled job which combine practical workplace experience with formal, off-the-job training for at least 12 months at all levels from intermediate to master’s degree equivalent. Training can be delivered by a college, a training provider, an Institute of Technology, or in the workplace. Apprenticeships can be offered to retrain and upskill existing staff, or to recruit new employees.
Employers must pay apprentices a salary (the Apprentice National Minimum Wage hourly rate is £4.15 increasing to £4.30 from 1 April 2021 - although many are paid more) and may have to contribute 5% of their training and assessment costs (training providers can provide advice on this).
In England the Government is offering employers incentive payments of up to £2,000 for each new apprentice hired under the age of 25 (£1,500 for those 25 and over) until 31 March 2021; from 1 April until 30 September 2021 these rates both increase to £3,000 per new hire. These incentives are in addition to the existing £1,000 payment the Government provides for all new 16-18 year-old apprentices. Find out more here.
From July 2021 the Government is to help employers in England set up and expand
portable apprenticeships. These will enable people who need to work across multiple projects with
different employers to benefit from long-term training.
Funded by the Government, a traineeship is a skills development programme aimed at preparing 16 to 24-year-olds in England for an apprenticeship or job. Traineeships can last from six weeks to a year (most are under six months); programmes can be designed to suit the needs of both the business and the trainee and must include a minimum of 70 hours’ work experience. Employers who create new work placement opportunities may also be entitled to a payment of £1,000 per learner (up to 10 learners). Find out more here.
Sector-based Work Academy Programme
Lasting up to six weeks, these training programmes are designed to help employers in England and Scotland recruit a workforce with the appropriate skills for their business. They are open to all jobseekers aged 18+ wanting to retrain in a wide range of sectors. Each programme includes relevant pre-employment training, a work experience placement and a guaranteed interview for a live job vacancy. Find out more here.
This government scheme aims to provide employers with the knowledge, skills and confidence to make the most of the talents that the UK’s 7.7 million working age disabled people can bring to workplaces. Over 18,000 organisations currently take part in the programme which is helping to change attitudes, behaviour and cultures towards disability in their own businesses, networks and communities, and helping disabled people to fulfil their potential. Businesses which are already meeting the commitments and actions required by the scheme can still sign up to Disability Confident to publicly demonstrate that they are providing equal opportunities for disabled people. Find out more here.
For employees and individuals
UK Government’s Plan for Jobs
This webpage brings together guidance for jobseekers on developing skills, job applications and searching for opportunities, including:
- Finding apprenticeship and traineeships
- The Skills Toolkit free online learning
- Lifetime Skills Guarantee and skills boot camps
- The Restart scheme support for those out of work for at least 12 months.
Other Government advice and support
Alternative business support schemes operate in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Follow the links to find out more.
The significant increase in people working remotely due to the pandemic presents potential data protection risks from cybercrime and privacy issues governed by GDPR. Guidance on these issues is provided by the National Cyber Security Centre and the Information Commissioner’s Office.
UK Government advice and guidance:
GOV UK (see guidance for Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland): working safely in offices, construction sites and other workplaces
GOV UK: workplace guidance on the NHS test and trace service
GOV UK: mental health and wellbeing aspects of COVID-19
GOV UK: support for businesses and employers during coronavirus
GOV UK: general guidance for employees during coronavirus
GOV UK: implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings
CBI: the latest information, insight and support for businesses
A number of facilities management and property organisations have also published their own guidance on making preparations for returning to a variety of workplaces: