While sometimes the COVID-19 situation might feel like it’d becoming the new normal, eventually we will all return to work. Things may be slightly different—social distancing, more leeway for remote work—but inevitably, we’re all going to find ourselves back in the work environments we were in before this lockdown began.

Already, at time of writing, the rules are relaxing slightly. Some food and drink locations are open for drive-through orders, for instance, and this is the thin end of a wedge—as safety increases, more and more businesses will have the opportunity to open.

You need to be ready and prepared for this, whether you’re an employee or a boss responsible for their safety. Here’s a brief guide on things you should be thinking about in the coming weeks, in order to get ahead of the (flattened) curve:

Plan (and plan, and plan some more)

We cannot stress this enough.

Things are a little bit unpredictable right now. For better or worse, the government is setting out its plans slowly, with staggered openings for various businesses. People who cannot work from home are ‘encouraged’ to attend their workplace. And it’s entirely possible that your business could be given the tentative go-ahead to re-open in the next couple of weeks.

Make sure you’re ready for this possibility. If your workplace is an office, set up desks according to distancing measures (two metres apart). Sort out rotas and stagger start times so you don’t have an entire workforce arriving at 9am and getting into a lift or stairwell together. 

Even if lockdown isn’t lifted any time soon, you should have your plans in order for when it is. Preparedness is key.

Keep people aware

Communicate constantly. Let people know that you’re aware of the situation, that you have plans in place, and that the safety is the highest thing on your mind.

When assembling these communications, voice them as equals. We’re all in this together, after all. Make sure all seniors are briefed, and on the same page with the same message and tone. 

Likewise, employees should feed back about how they’re doing. Whether currently working remotely or furloughed, employees are still the backbone of every organisation—and some are more suited to this lockdown than others. Talk to your line manager about any issues and worries you have, and ask questions about the plans your company has in place. 

Assemble a ‘return to work programme’

From the top down, arrange a staggered return to work. Things will have changed, and the new rules need to be explained. Starting with seniors, and moving down through managers to employees, set time aside to explain the following:

  • Social distancing in your workplace
  • Arrival arrangements—staggered start times, parking, etc
  • Food storage—fridges are a source of crowding
  • Health and hygiene requirements
  • Reporting ill-health
  • Lift protocols—it’s vitally important that people don’t all cram into the same lift. Encourage use of the stairs—it’s not only good practice during the pandemic, it’s great exercise too

Try to get as much of this information explained quickly and clearly before the return to the workplace begins. Preparation, again, is key.

It’s important to make sure the work environment itself is just as prepared as you are. Follow this checklist—some of it may seem minor, but it’ll be vital to a smooth return:

  • Make sure the safety of your workers is considered
  • Test your fire alarms/HVAC systems thoroughly
  • Update cleaning procedures in line with current advice
  • Agree policies with your building’s landlord, if necessary
  • Control all your entry points—consider deliveries, shipping and despatch areas as well as reception and car park entrances
  • Provide PPE where appropriate and available
  • Implement visitor policies—a maximum of, say, two external visitors at a time, with time between visitors allowing for sanitation and cleaning of visited areas

Social distancing

You’re probably suffering a little from social distance fatigue—after all, the rules have been in place for months, and they can seem quite draconian. But they’re vital to reducing the number of infections, and thus you need to implement a solid, workable distancing plan before you re-open:

  • Fewer people in the office mean more space. If your desks are tightly packed together, reduce the number of people in at any given time
  • Add markers to the floors delineating two metres of space
  • Implement a one-way system for foot traffic
  • Install shields where appropriate—anywhere where workers come into contact with lots of different people
  • Lock off smaller meeting rooms
  • Use video conferencing where possible to minimise contact
  • Reinforce the importance of hand-washing, use touchless access where available, and provide sanitiser/disinfectant for all staff

Monitor everything

It’s going to be a bit of an uncertain time, once you’re open for business again. Monitor the effectiveness of the plans you have in place, and review them daily. If you’re an employee, provide feedback on how you think it’s all going—your input is vital, and if you feel uncomfortable with anything, speak up. 

Review everything you’ve learned from the time spent in lockdown, too. How has remote work suited people, if applicable? Maybe productivity went up, maybe people struggled with the isolation. Everyone is different, after all. But you can use what you’ve learned to push ahead, and build the kind of organisation people truly feel comfortable working with.

Signpost the help available

Of course, you’re not expected to shoulder the burden of all these plans yourself. Make sure people are aware of your EAP, and the help it brings—likewise, if you’re having difficulty re-adjusting the life back in the office, use this service to speak to a friendly advisor.