Actionable guidance on the measures Facilities and HR teams can take to protect employees from viral transmission by ensuring social distancing guidelines are adhered to within the workplace.
As organisations welcome increasing numbers of employees back into the fold it is critical that the duty of care they have to ensure the workplace is a safe environment is a top priority.
Proximity is a key factor in the direct transmission of COVID19, and therefore ensuring social distancing guidelines are maintained must be of paramount importance to Facilities and HR teams.
Challenges posed by increased occupancy
During lockdowns and initial office re-openings, managing capacity and social distancing was a relatively straightforward process as only those who required access to the office to complete their tasks or were unable to work successfully from home ventured in.
Now, as restrictions are lifted and organisations seek to once again benefit from the collaborative and social nature of the office, occupancy numbers are rising. Overwhelmingly, workplaces were not designed with social distancing in mind and ensuring that employees are kept safe poses significant challenges.
Following social distancing guidelines innately means that offices cannot operate at full capacity, as space is required between assets and employees. Therefore, it is the duty of Facilities and HR teams to not only ensure they are providing the appropriate assets to facilitate productivity but also create a framework in which employees know what assets they are able to access, and when.
One significant change to have emerged over the course of the pandemic is the rise of the hybrid workplace. Employees demonstrated their ability to work remotely, and now look to organisations to adopt it into their workplace policy permanently.
However, hybrid workplaces offer dual benefits to both employees and organisations alike, as enabling employees to work from home is a highly effective measure in keeping office occupancy levels from reaching dangerous level.
In fact, when surveyed, 37% of 1000+ respondents, identified the introduction of flexible work as the most effective measure to guarantee employee safety as offices reopen - it is therefore, heartening to see that 91% of respondents indicated that their organisation is updating their workplace policy in this manner.
Close attention to trends in occupancy across the week and departments is vital to ensure that utilisation does not peak dangerously and employees encounter overcrowding on the assets they require.
Additionally, alongside reducing direct viral transmission, managing capacity in this manner lowers the risk of indirect transfer. COVID19 attaches itself to particulate matter in the air which enters the body through respiration, and high levels of office occupancy increases particulate build up increasing the risk to individuals.
Measuring CO2 levels as a proxy for particulate matter build up alongside occupancy data enables organisations to ensure air quality remains at a safe level by making evidence based decisions in capacity planning and HVAC systems.
Below are three further key aspects of hybrid working that Facilities and HR teams must consider in social distancing planning.
1- Managing occupancy in flexible environments
To ensure social distancing guidelines are adhered to, it is important for Facilities and HR teams to understand the behaviour of their employees, and create appropriate workplace policy around this to control access to the workplace and create a controlled framework in which employees are free to operate.
Gathering workplace data using occupancy solutions provides organisations with the information necessary to map out the behaviour of each department, and allocate them the appropriate time and spaces within the workplace. Making evidence based decisions such as these removes the risk of overcrowding as each day’s maximum capacity is known in advance.
Furthermore, gathering real time workplace data means that should occupancy spike and reach dangerous level, Facilities teams can respond immediately and rectify the situation.
2 - Ensuring appropriate workspace provision
Hybrid work environments exist to enable employees to work in the setting most preferable to the task at hand, meaning that interactions with the workplace will be far more purposeful, with employees seeking to access a specific resource or collaboration space they do not have at home.
To ensure social distancing policies are followed, and also to avoid frustrating employees who will not appreciate a wasted journey should the space they require be unavailable, it is important that Facilities teams are providing the correct array of workplace assets.
The data gathered from workplace sensors in occupancy solutions once again provides the solution to this challenge, as teams are able to identify and monitor the usage of varying workspaces throughout the office.
Creating a workplace tailored to the behaviour of employees is therefore a simple process as popular assets are identified alongside the under-utilised areas which are viable for repurposing.
3 - Creating a safe framework
Once the physical layout of the workplace and policy regarding departmental access to it has been clarified using occupancy data, the final hurdle in ensuring social distancing guidelines are followed is to implement a system for employees themselves to access the space itself.
Introducing a booking or space reservation system is central to this process. With social distancing measures in place there can be no ‘free for all’ once employees access the workplace or else track and trace systems would fall apart entirely.
By leveraging a booking solution, Facilities teams are able to quickly and easily add or remove assets available to reserve as guidelines change or policy is updated based on internal data gathered from occupancy sensors.
This creates a centralised point of communication directly with employees seeking to access the workplace, who can identify when and where the spaces they require are available throughout the week.
Combining these three processes provides the solid foundations of a safe, controlled and accessible workplace in which social distancing is an ingrained feature.
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