How To Re-open After The COVID-19 Lockdown

Companies that are preparing to re-open in the coming weeks still need to be in “survival mode” if they want to outlast the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Although the government has yet to confirm when a post-coronavirus return to the office might happen, companies and workplaces have started strategising.

Any plans for small businesses to re-open will be reversed if the rate of coronavirus infection rate (the now well known “R”) creeps back upwards.  This is already being seen in Germany and South Korea, which have loosened up their own lockdowns.

Guidelines On How to Re-open

Government guidelines shared with businesses and unions this weekend gave a glimpse of what is yet to come.

  • hot desking will cease
  • employees to be kept two metres away from each other with sticky tape on the floor
  • lifts will remain half empty
  • face-to-face meetings to stop or significantly decrease
  • working hours to be staggered to reduce the amount of people in the office at any given time,
  • office canteens not to re-open.

After coronavirus, the open-plan office format has suddenly become riskier than revolutionary.  This especially in light of previous studies which suggest the format results in a 62 per cent increase in sick leave. Now that barriers have become synonymous with protection from infection, could we see a return of the cubicle-style office – or are there other ways to achieve workplace safety?

Alternatives To Office Based Working When You Re-open

Covid-19 has enforced a global ‘working from home’ experiment which has accelerated long-term underlying trends in several areas. One of these is rethinking HOW and WHERE we work.  Also, does this work have to be tied to an office?

Many businesses are now fundamentally asking, ‘Why do we go to the office?’ and therefore ‘What is the office for?’

It doesn’t make much sense for people or the planet for everyone to travel into city centres in order to work alone, two metres away from each other, at desks or in cubicles, every single day of the working week.

Badges of Honour

Shops planning to re-open post June 1st could badge themselves “COVID-19 Secure” when they re-open.  To achieve this, they will need to follow guidelines published by government.  These guidelines will be developed after consultation with business groups and others.

Shops that were deemed “non-essential” have been shut since the government set out strict new measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus on 23rd March.

But by July, the government would like to see remaining small businesses that are not open, including hairdressers and beauty salons, pubs and hotels and cinemas, to also re-open.

Trade figures have issued new social distancing guidelines for shops to prepare for any easing of the lockdown.

Helen Dickinson, the British Retail Consortium‘s (BRC) boss, said:

“The safety and wellbeing of retail colleagues and customers remains the highest priority.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab made the comment on Sunday that “careful steps” are needed when easing the lockdown.

Industry and Unions Based Advice on How to Re-open

The industry body and the union issued the advice to non-food retailers, closely based on what is already happening in many food stores. Some suggestions include:

  • limiting the number of people in-store at any one time
  • encouraging customers to shop alone where possible
  • scheduling deliveries to avoid crowding
  • cleaning door handles, lift buttons and hand rails regularly
  • using floor markings to remind customers to maintain a distance of 2m

The Risks of Getting it Wrong

Here’s a dilemma:

  • an employee is working successfully and healthfully from home for the past couple of months.
  • the lockdown is lifted and the employer re-opens back up for business.
  • the employee goes to work.
  • a week later she tests positive.

Was it the employer’s fault?

That question is going to come up over the next few months … a lot.

And many small businesses could face enormous liabilities if the answer is even a possible maybe. Cashflow and customer demand concerns aside, the liability issue is probably the biggest challenge that many businesses – big and small – will be facing as the economy reopens.

Differing Risks for Differing Sectors

Beyond the retail sector, the hospitality sector will be among the last to get back up and running.

Takeaway food deliveries have continued among independent businesses through apps such as JustEat and Deliveroo.  Some hotels are remaining open to provide beds for key workers and stranded tourists.

But pubs, bars, nightclubs and restaurants were among the first to shut their doors to the public as social distancing is near impossible.

Pub managers warn that they may never re-open if landlords do not put a freeze on the rent they have to pay.  This week there is also a suggestion that people could have a limit of two or three drinks… and will need to sit in every other seat in order to get pubs and bars back open.

Staggering shift patterns, providing hand-sanitisers and ensuring minimal contact between employees are also among measures that could help the hospitality sector get back to a ‘new normal’.  But businesses are warned it is likely to take some time before we get there.

So Where Do We Go From Here…?

Closing the gates and furloughing millions of workers was a huge.  It is widely agreed that it was a necessity for the government intervention to be made in the private sector.

Opening the gates again may prove to be one of the most complex challenges this virus has thrown at us yet.

And we still do not know, as the virus is so new, whether the virus will be seasonal.  Other respiratory diseases are – such as influenza.  If it is, it will mean we will most probably be back into total lockdown come the winter months…

For more information on any of the above, or if you would like to discuss your specific business circumstances, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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