Return-to-work guidance: seven workplaces reconceived



Over the weekend, leaked versions emerged of draft guidance that sets out how workplaces might be able to safely operate after the lockdown is lifted.

The seven guidance documents, drawn up by cabinet office minister Michael Gove and business secretary Alok Sharma, paint a very different picture of what work will look like when the government gives employers the green light to reopen and begin economic recovery.

Although in draft form at this stage, the guidance gives employers a good idea of how they will be expected to segregate staff and visitors.  However, it has received a mixed response from trade unions and business bodies.

All workplaces – from offices to factories – are likely to see shifts staggered so that employees arrive and leave at different times; the implementation of different entry and exit points; storage for clothes and bags; and the installation of screens to create a physical barrier between people where distancing is not possible. Hand sanitiser is expected to be used extensively.

Here, we look at how each of the seven work environments set out by the government are likely to look when the nation returns to work.

Factories and warehouses

Employers will need to keep staff numbers to a minimum, with those who can work at home, such as office staff, asked to continue to do so.

Equipment, work areas and surfaces will need to be frequently disinfected. Cleaning procedures need to be put in place to ensure shared equipment, such as forklift trucks and tools, are cleaned at the end of each shift.

Staff boarding vehicles or handling deliveries will need to use hand sanitiser.

Hotels and restaurants

Interaction between workers will need to be minimised, even in busy environments such as kitchens.

Access to walk-in pantries, fridges and freezers will need to be restricted, with likely only one person being able to access these areas at a time.

Contact at “handover” points, such as where food is passed to serving staff or delivery drivers, will also need to be minimised. A physical barrier will need to be created between staff and customers.

In hotels, check-in and check-out times will need to be staggered to prevent overcrowding in reception areas, while room occupancy will need to be minimised.


Where possible, office staff will need to continue working from home unless they are in roles that are critical for the business.

Layout should be reviewed to ensure contact is minimised, while staff should work side-by-side or facing away from each other.

Screens should be installed to create a physical barrier between people and floor tape should encourage staff to keep a 2 metre distance from each other.

Hot-desking and shared workspaces should be avoided, while the use of shared equipment should be minimised.

In-person meetings should be avoided. However, if necessary, they should be held in a well-ventilated room with restricted occupancy. Hand sanitiser should be placed in each meeting room.

Employers should keep in touch with staff working from home to monitor their welfare, mental and physical health and security.

Outdoor working

Layouts should be changed so that staff can work further apart, or screens should be installed to physically segregate workers.

If people need to work in close proximity, consistent pairings should be put in place. They should also work side-by-side or facing away from each other, not face-to-face.

People’s homes

Employees who visit customers’ homes to carry out a service will be required to keep a safe distance from residents.

Organisations will need to contact customers beforehand to ask that a 2 metre distance from the worker is maintained and that all internal doors are left open to avoid contact with door handles.

If work has to be carried out in pairs or teams, then organisations will need to establish a consistent pairing system and fixed teams.

If staff need to work in close proximity to each other, these tasks should be limited to 15 minutes.

Where multiple visits are required, the same worker should be sent each time.

Retail stores and bank branches

A maximum number of customers in a store at any one time will need to be defined so that a safe distance can be maintained, with customers queueing outside to be let in.

Stores are encouraged to appoint social distancing ‘champions’ to demonstrate social distancing practices to customers and provide guidance to customers on arrival.

No-contact return procedures will need to be established and returned items need to be kept separate from displayed items.

Cashless payments and refunds will be encouraged.

Working in a vehicle

Companies should reduce the number of people working at distribution centres or depots to a minimum and establish scheduled times for goods collection.

No-contact delivery, loading and refuelling should be put in place, with electronic delivery notes used instead of paperwork.

Alternatives to two-person delivery should be investigated. However, if this is not possible, a fixed pairing system for those who need to work in close proximity should be put in place.


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