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Office expert: Don't bring your staff back to work until you have done these things

  • Written by Tess Sanders Lazarus

With lockdown restrictions gradually being eased across the country, Australian workplaces are looking at the types of changes needed in order to meet new health and wellness requirements post-lockdown.

Office National is Australia’s largest independent supplier of office products. Their CEO Gavin Ward said today, “Australian workplaces have a responsibility to enforce strict social distancing rules after the lockdown and to implement many other changes.”

“We may be going back to work soon, but it won’t be as we know it. Don’t expect for things to go back to normal once lockdown restrictions are eased. You definitely won’t be working the same as you were prior to the pandemic,” Ward said.

“Every employer needs to have a checklist of things they have to do before they open their offices again. The government is already working hard in this area to identify recommended rules for different industries looking to start up again after the lockdown.”

According to Ward, some of the things that offices will have to do include: removing hot desks, isolating people, granting concessions for those who feel even a little sick, stocking up on hygiene products, implementing touchless services, facilities and solutions, and purchasing wooden disposable cutlery.

Removal of hot desks

“Hot desks or NOT desks as they are now being called, have become more and more a part of the ‘modern’ office over the past few years but unfortunately, they just aren’t suited to the social distancing era,” Ward said.

“Workplaces that rely on hot desks may need to convert hot desks into permanent desks and remove every second chair to ensure a one and half metre distance between each employee.  

“Many desks are affixed to cabling and can’t be moved hence the need to remove chairs.  Hot desks also pose the risk of infection of others.  Overall, we are going to see less of them in offices.”

Barriers between desks

“Barriers between desks are now essential in order to maintain effective social distancing,” Ward added.  

“We are selling a lot of office screens that can be easily placed between desks.  They are commonly known as rapid screens because they can be erected quickly between and around desks.   Cubicles and screens will be the new norm – much like a return to the old days 30 years ago when offices were more compartmentalised.” 

Sick leave flexibility

“Employers will also need to institute more lenient ‘sick day’ rules that allow employees with even the slightest show of symptoms to take a day off,” Ward said.

Reduction in shared items

Ward predicts a reduction in the use of shared items across the office.  

“Many workers in office environments share items such as staplers, sticky tape, folders, cutlery, coffee, tea, milk, reference materials, etc,” Ward added. 

“We are going to see more people being asked to use their items only.   Office survival packs will be distributed to staff providing them with the basics that they need to use while in the office.  This will ensure items are not shared or used by others.   

“We are already seeing a surge in the purchase of label makers and labels so that people and workplaces can place labels on certain items to create ownership and avoid unwanted use by others.  Labelling everything will be the new norm.”

Increase in hygiene and touchless products

“Stocking up on hygiene products and introducing touchless dispensers such as soap, water and hand sanitiser is something employers need to find room for in the annual budget,” Ward added. 

“Work places will need to have touchless dispensers at every corner of the office, near doors and around common areas.”

Green has been

“Sadly, the idea of recycle and reuse has become a scary thought for many,” Ward said. 

“For this reason, we are going to see a lot more people using and bringing single use items into the workplace.  We are selling a lot of single use wooden cutlery and wooden drink stirrers.  These are certainly better for the environment than plastic.”

The responsibility to outline and enforce requirements across workplaces will lie on employers, says Ward. 

“Workplace standards start at the top of any organisation. Over the next few weeks, every employer in Australia will have to basically become experts on workplace hygiene. Unfortunately, this is yet another thing to worry about for Australia’s already-struggling small businesses,” Ward said.

“If employees are going to follow the social distancing rules, they’ll need incentives to do so. Employers could come up with reward schemes for people who follow the social distancing rules. For example, employers could get their employees in the ‘cleaning spirit’ by offering rewards for people who have the cleanest desk.”

Ward believes that Australian workplaces will be living with these social distancing and cleaning rules until the end of the year, at least.

“These rules aren’t a short term solution. In order for them to work in preventing a second wave after the lockdown, they’ll need to be in place for a while,” Ward said.

“I suspect that even when January 2021 comes around, Australian workplaces will still be thinking about how they can minimise contact and enforce social distancing. These rules will be with us for a while, so you might as well study up and learn how to enforce them effectively.”

Office National is part of the Office Brands network – the largest network of independent stationery stores in Australia with over 160 stores.  Brands include Office National, Office Products Depot, and O-Net.


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