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How can businesses ensure a safer working environment in a post-COVID world?

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In many fundamental parts of commerce and industry, the working world as we know it has likely changed forever. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant shift in attitudes towards working from home arrangements, safety in the workplace and flexibility around working hours – and it’s likely that many sectors will never see the typical regularity of the Monday-Friday, 9-5 in the office ever again.

When it comes to returning to the office, in whatever format that may be, employers have new health and safety challenges to consider, not least ensuring the safety and physical and mental wellbeing of their staff returning to a formal workspace for the first time in over a year. There are, however, some relatively simple to implement solutions that will create a safer working environment, all of which take inspiration from safety protocols we’ve seen installed in life since early 2020.

Separating desk spaces

Social distancing is something we’ve all come to know rather well these past 15 months, with the golden two metre rule being utilised in virtually every public environment we’ve stepped foot in. If you went to a restaurant during the brief period where indoor dining was still permitted, you’ll have likely seen well spaced-out tables and protective screens used to separate customers safely, and the same process can be adopted in a desk-based, office environment.

The Health and Safety Executive advises that there should be at least one metre between people going forward, as long as additional risk mitigation is present. Expect to see many offices adopt this one-two metre spacing rule, using desk spacing and screens to achieve it.

Implementing a one-way system

Head down to your local shopping centre to this day and you’ll see a one-way system in action in every shop as well as the centre itself. Keeping people moving in one, pre-determined direction has worked to maintain spacing and a safe flow of people, which is why many offices will be implementing the same process going forward.

Relatively easy and cheap to install, not to mention easy to enforce, many businesses already have some form of flow system in their workspace, thus the one-way system shouldn’t cause too much of a culture shock.

Listen to staff

One thing we’ve undoubtedly seen from the pandemic is that different people have very different attitudes to the crisis and the health and safety around it. As an employer, you might have staff that couldn’t care less about COVID, and others that are incredibly wary of potential dangers and sticklers for stringent safety protocols. Creating an environment where everyone in the business feels comfortable, safe and valued is essential, and one of the best ways to do that is to listen to your staff needs.

As part of the returning to work process, expect diligent employers to consult their staff when shaping their new health and safety environment. If businesses can create workspaces where everyone is happy, that can only bode well for staff retention and productivity in both the short and long term.

Sanitise, sanitise, sanitise

It’s hard to remember a world where sanitiser stations weren’t present at the entrance of every building, and now that the pandemic has happened and the public consciousness to illness and infection has been permanently heightened, don’t expect them to go anywhere.

Regardless of whether its posturing for staff or a genuine push for better hygiene in the office, sanitiser stations and another cheap, simple and effective way to show you’re making an extra effort as a business. And with no obvious downside, there’s no reason for businesses to get rid of them any time soon.

In summary, the changes we’re likely to see in the working world will actually be rather familiar to us all, with many workspace health and safety practices simply replicating those we’ve seen in our bars, restaurants and shops over the past year and a quarter. As we drift back to normality in general life, there’s no doubting we’ll see plenty of legacy effects of the pandemic in the way we work, one of them being a new, safer approach to the working environment.

CEO of Penske Media Group. Experienced Content Editor with a demonstrated history of working in the newspaper industry. Spoken on stages around the globe - NYU, US Embassy, P&G Toronto, and much more.

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