The sudden outbreak of Covid-19 has resulted in Governments worldwide having to try balancing the saving of as many lives as possible whilst also saving their country’s economy from its devastating impact. The escalation to a global pandemic has resulted to many countries abruptly locking down.
With the UK entering the first phase of easing lockdown, the responsibility that British businesses and organisations are tasked with is not only on how to provide a safe working environment with Covid-19 preventive measures in place, but also reassuring their staff that their working space is as risk free as possible and that they are implementing the best solutions known to date.
Wellbeing has always been a factor in the design of work spaces, taking into account such things as acoustics, spacial layouts, ventilation and thermal environment, natural light, traffic flow, finishes (walls/floors/ceilings), security and safety. Covid-19 has however forced the world to re-assess the spaces we share with other people including the workplace – be it the office, industrial, educational or other settings – with the focus on preventing the virus spreading further.
When South East Asia eased their lockdown in April, they introduced the following policies regarding safety at work.
- Introduction of Government sanctioned phone apps which indicate (based on individuals home address, recent travels and medical histories) whether an individual is high or low risk.
- Public spaces / high traffic areas are disinfected via a fogging treatment method.
- Offices have employed a 2.5 day weekend to encourage consumers to have more leisure time for shopping in order to help boost the economy.
- Many office buildings and apartments have employed security personnel to administer temperature checks for people wanting to enter.
- All working personnel have to wear masks and practise social distancing whilst at work.
- New flexible working hours are offered whilst still maintaining full weekly contracted hours, with staff being split into smaller groups (A/B/C shifts) with only one team allowed into the office each day. This also allows social distancing on public transport and to prevent large groups of people entering and leaving office buildings simultaneously.
- Many offices are still conducting external as well as internal meetings with colleagues virtually.
- Workers are typically bringing their lunch to work, ordering lunch to be delivered and eating at their desks instead of heading outside to restaurants or canteens.
- Building elevators are limited to two people at a time.
- Workplaces are installing virus-killing UV lights to disinfect offices overnight.
- Employees have still been urged to work from home if social distancing is difficult to be maintained.
Over in New Zealand, who have achieved a very low Covid-19 death rate, their Level 3 “Restrict” policy implemented on 28th of April interestingly only requires 1 metre distance in controlled environments such as schools and workplaces, although a 2 metres social distance is in place in public spaces. Businesses could open their premises, but not physically interact with customers and take contactless pay methods. As of today (13 May) Level 2 “Reduce” permits most businesses to open to the public, however they must follow public health guidance including in relation to physical distancing and contact tracing. Alternative ways of working continues to be encouraged where possible in New Zealand such as remote working, shift-based working, physical distancing, staggering meal breaks and flexible leave. Businesses are required to maintain good contact registers, or contact tracing records, to document everyone who they interact with on the premises.
The introduction of Phase 1 in the UK today, means that those who can work from home should continue to do so and those who can’t should travel to work if their workplace is open. This includes sectors such as food production, construction, manufacturing, logistics, distribution and scientific research in laboratories. UK’s Phase 2, which at the earliest would commence on the 1st of June, would see non-essential retail reopening as well as some year groups at primary school returning to the classroom.
As with South East Asia, the UK has commenced with easing out of lockdown state by allowing those industries which will enable the kick start of the economy, such as construction and manufacturing industries, to return to work safely. However, thorough cleaning regimes either by fogging or UV-C systems adopted in South East Asia are something we have not yet seen in the UK, be it in public open spaces to offices to retail spaces and educational premises where the build-up of infections is at a greater risk. Could this not help stop the spread of this virus in places where majority of people pass through on a daily basis?
The same can be said for office businesses – the UK has adopted and issued guidance (“Covid-19 Secure” guidelines published on 14th May) which to an extent reflects similarities such as reorganising of office spaces to offer social distancing or screen protection between desks. Businesses in South East Asia have introduced contact tracing registers to facilitate and to prepare if outbreaks commence; temperature checks have been introduced for those who do return to work. Wouldn’t this help to lower employees’ anxieties?
These are just some of the questions we have been asking ourselves. Yes, the world is treading on unknown territories; however, we in the UK have the advantage of being weeks behind the Covid-19 outbreak and the opportunity to learn from the countries who are weeks ahead of where we plan to be. That is exactly what we are doing right now here at DB3 – keeping a close eye on how the world of workspace design is evolving and the lessons learned so far. Beyond the existing policies, we are innovating ourselves as to how through design we can limit the potential of a second wave and reunite our client’s colleagues in a re-designed work space in which they feel safe, inspired and productive.
As the epicentre of the virus shifted from South East Asia to Europe, we will look closer to home in our next article and examine the policies, which our neighbouring countries have recently implemented with regards to office life.