Returning to the office: A checklist for SMEs

Matt Richards, CMO, Datto, shares his tips to help SMEs prepare for the return to work

With authorities gradually easing the lockdown restrictions, many UK businesses are now getting ready to return to the office. But, how do you enable effective social distancing at work? And, how do you make the working environment as safe as possible in order to keep Coronavirus at bay? There are a number of things to consider, from rearranging the office space to adjusting employee guidelines.

Staff may understandably be nervous about returning to the office, but with proper preparation and communication, you can alleviate some of their concerns. Being in the office will not feel the same as before the lockdown, but establishing a ‘new normal’ should allow people to focus on their work rather than their worries.

Datto has created a checklist to help businesses prepare for a safe return.

People come first

To manage how many people are in the office every day, consider a phased approach and prioritise who should return first. Base this on individuals’ needs to physically be in the office, their own risk profile including potential Coronavirus exposure on their commute, personal or family health conditions and other considerations such as childcare. Consider a schedule that rotates employees between working from home and working in the office.

Establish an ongoing Work from Home policy.

This will help those who cannot return yet and avoid a crowded office. Also review how sick leave, annual leave and parental leave are managed to allow people to stay at home if someone in their household has Covid-19 symptoms.

For those in the office, encourage appropriate safety practices. These include frequent hand washing, use of hand sanitisers, proper distancing, wiping down surfaces and eliminating high-touch areas such as the water cooler or coffee machine. Check with local health officials about health screening guidance, too.

Depending on the size and type of your organisation, you could ask for volunteers to become a part of a ‘return to the office’ taskforce to help with preparations. Adjusting may take a bit of time but as with all changes, communication is key: Make sure everyone understands the potential risks of returning to the office, the precautions you have taken, and help them voice their concerns.

Adapt the office space

Perform a thorough office deep clean before reopening and establish new cleaning schedules. To enable social distancing, you may need to make changes to your floor plans, conference rooms and general office layout. You may need to develop traffic flow patterns such as one-way systems; make sure these are clearly marked and signposted. Seating arrangements need to be in line with guidelines and if your space is shared with other tenants or you have visitors entering the office, ensure they also adhere to social distancing.

Evaluate your technology

At the start of the pandemic, you probably spent time, money and effort on equipping your employees with the right technology so they could work securely from home. Don’t abandon all of those set-ups yet, as you will likely have to support remote workers for some time to come. The goal is to ensure all employees have what they need to do their jobs effectively while you maintain a safe and secure work environment.

Create a list of technology and devices used and decide what you will still need moving forward. Determine what has worked so far and what needs to change, and whether you still need all of the licences purchased, for example for cloud platforms and services. Evaluate the service providers you have used. How did they perform during the crisis? Are they still in the best place to support you?

Make a list of items that were removed from the office at the beginning of the lockdown – such as hardware, files, folders, paper documents – and make sure they are properly returned.

Run an audit on any workstations in the office that have been sitting idle. Have all critical patches been applied? Do they run the latest software versions? Also review your disaster recovery and business continuity plan. Is there anything that needs to be adjusted or improved?

For those employees working on personal devices at home, develop an action plan to ensure the ongoing use of those devices complies with your company’s security standards. Revisit basics such as password security, remote access policies and phishing awareness.

Plan for the future:

The Coronavirus pandemic seemingly hit us out of nowhere. Building on what you have learned this time around, think about how to prepare for the next time something unexpected happens. Also remember that there may be a second peak in infections, non-essential businesses may have to close again or an employee in your office may test positive for Covid-19. Have a reclosure plan in place for these eventualities. Things change quickly, so keep updating your strategy as the pandemic evolves.