A guide to returning to the office post-lockdown

This guide offers some general points to consider when planning your return to office working following the Covid-19 lockdown. It will be up to each firm or organisation to create a plan that suits their particular needs. This guide does not supersede government advice or relevant legislation.

For practice and regulatory updates please visit our Covid-19 update page.

When to reopen

It is worth noting that what the Scottish Government set out in the route map is a guide through various stages of the crisis. While lockdown required the closure of all non-essential workplaces and remote working as the default position, people working in ‘essential’ businesses have always been allowed to go to work (including in an office). The Scottish Government has never defined what is ‘essential’ and has relied on individual businesses using their judgement. Clearly many areas of legal practice have required solicitors and/or their staff to access offices and other places of work, e.g. the courts, throughout lockdown. As restrictions ease in the housing and other sectors, we envisage that more legal practices and teams will need to consider a return to the office for work that cannot be undertaken from home.
A more general opening of non-essential indoor office workspaces can occur in phase 3 of the Government’s route map “once relevant guidance has been agreed and with physical distancing”. We suggest that firms and organisations start to carry out more significant planning in anticipation of that phase.

Planning

The health and safety of your colleagues is paramount so central to your plan should be two factors -

  1. Work from home if possible
  2. Implement social distancing protocols if opening your office

The first step is to carry out a risk assessment and the second step will be to create a plan based around:

  • Business needs
  • Staff
  • Physical environment
Risk assessment

Carry out an appropriate risk assessment, just as you would for other health and safety related hazards. Work with your colleagues to carry out the assessment and create a plan to manage those risks. Share the results with your colleagues and review on a regular basis.

Business assessment

The default position remains to work from home wherever possible until we enter phase four of the government’s route map. Determine what processes, equipment and areas of practice require staff to physically be in the office and what can continue to be done from home. From there you can calculate what resources you need in the office and on what basis - full time/part time.

Staff

The crisis will likely have had an uneven impact on staff depending on their job role and personal circumstances – some may have been furloughed while others will have had an increased workload, some will have had (and continue to have) complex caring responsibilities while others may have been completely isolated.
Involve your colleagues in the planning and communicate updates both to those working from home and those in the office. While some will have concerns about returning to the office, others will be keen to return. Take into consideration staff who have caring responsibilities.
Staff who are clinically at higher risk are strongly advised to work from home. Employers should help to enable such individuals to continue to work from home either in their current role or another.
Monitor the wellbeing of people who are working from home and help them stay connected to the rest of the workforce, especially if the majority of their colleagues are on-site.
Provide equipment for people to work at home safely and effectively, for example, remote access to work systems.

Physical Environment

You must implement social distancing measures in your office which are appropriate to your circumstances. The government route map indicated that opening of offices could occur in phase 3 “once relevant guidance has been agreed and with physical distancing”. In advance of that guidance, below are a number of social distancing measures you should consider as part of your planning.

  • Stagger busy times of the day - arrival and departure times at work and break times
  • Review workstations, layouts, processes, common areas and meeting rooms to allow people to be further apart from each other
  • Avoid use of hot desks/sharing workstations
  • Consider introducing one-way systems, more entry points, regulating use of high traffic areas including corridors, deactivating turnstiles in favour of showing a pass to security personnel at a distance
  • Reduce maximum occupancy for lifts, providing hand sanitiser for the operation of lifts and encouraging use of stairs wherever possible
  • Use markings/signage
  • Use remote working tools to avoid in-person meetings
  • Encourage storage of personal items and clothing in personal storage spaces, for example, lockers and during shifts
  • Review hygiene protocols throughout the office space, especially for high traffic areas such as entry and exit points, meeting rooms, staff kitchens/eating facilities
  • Consider how all these arrangements will affect people with disabilities such as access to workstations, lifts and other facilities
  • Work collaboratively with landlords and other tenants in multi-tenant sites/buildings to ensure consistency across common areas, for example, receptions, staircases
  • Encourage employees to bring their own pre-prepared food or provide packaged meals or similar to avoid fully opening staff recreational/break areas
  • Continue online engagement with clients and contractors where this is an option and where office visits are required, guidance on social distancing and hygiene should be explained on or before arrival
  • Limit the number of visitors at any one time and determine if schedules for services and contractor visits (e.g. cleaners, IT services) can be revised to reduce interaction and overlap between people, for example, carrying out services outwith office hours
Communication

Provide clear, consistent and regular communication for staff, clients and contractors. Ensure all your colleagues are fully aware and trained on new protocols prior to returning to the office, especially around new procedures for arrival at work.

Encourage feedback from your colleagues (you won’t have thought of everything!).

Business Support

A range of Covid-19 related business support, compliance and other business services for legal practitioners.