Exiting lockdown: what to consider

VONNE recently hosted a workshop to help VCSE organisations think through the many considerations of returning teams safely to an office environment and continuing to deliver services to people who need them during the transition.

This blog post provides an overview of the key points raised by, Andrew Willson of Absolute Quality Consultancy and Training, who worked with us to deliver the session, and explains what we’re doing to help organisations in their planning.

We’re not going ‘back to normal’ anytime soon

The Covid-19 vaccine rollout – and the fact the North East is vaccinating priority groups at pace – has provided much needed hope, but restrictions on what we do and how we do it are likely to remain throughout 2021. We need to find ways of working with the backdrop of Covid-19, even once the latest lockdown restrictions begin to ease.

This is a project like any other

Treat this as you would any other project:

  • Decide who is responsible; in most cases this will be the Chief Executive, and who will manage the risk assessment and keep up to date with changing government guidance.
  • Set clear objectives for each phase.
  • Develop an action plan, and then,
  • Communicate effectively with your team, volunteers and the people you support, so everyone understands what to expect, and what is expected of them.

Making it manageable - four principles

  • Focus only on essential processes to start with
  • Focus on things that add safety and value
  • Control your environment
  • Review and improve as you go

Official guidance should underpin all decisions, focused on eight priority actions to protect staff and service users for a phased, planned and controlled return to a premises-based work environment.

Complete a risk assessment 

Within this, consider who should be on site and minimise the number of people in one place at any one time. Minimise risk through the thorough cleaning of premises, workspaces and hands according to up to date guidance, ensuring safe ventilation and space for social distancing, and by controlling the movement of people around your workspace. Try to hold meetings in larger spaces and if this isn’t possible, think about walking or standing meetings or holding more frequent but smaller briefings instead.

It’s also vital to ensure fairness and equality in your risk assessment, so you must be consistent and transparent in your decisions, which should involve your team.

Share completed risk assessments with board members, staff, volunteers, service users and visitors. You can display the Government Covid Secure Notice, but it's also worth thinking creatively about how to communicating the preparations you’ve made. For example, could you record a video walk through the office on your phone to help people understand what to expect when they arrive?

Clean premises

If you’re not currently working in your usual environment, think about a deep clean before you return and rota more frequent cleaning of all spaces. Provide the correct materials for the job and encourage people to wash their hands more regularly, through signage and by providing hand sanitiser, and to clean their desks at the beginning and end of each day. Have a strict ‘clear desk’ policy, encourage decluttering and remove shared kitchen equipment – all of which makes cleaning easier and provides fewer opportunities for contamination.

Changing signs around the office regularly – whether words or colours – can prevent people from becoming too used to messages to take them in.

Self-screening, track and trace

Consider asking your staff to self-screen daily to ensure no one who is symptomatic comes into work. Visitors can also be asked to complete a self-screening declaration – both before they arrive and on arrival.

Keep records to support track and trace; for some organisations this is a legal requirement.

Make sure you know what to do in the event of an outbreak before it occurs. You may need to liaise with public health, so agree a named single point of contact. More information and a series of action cards on this are available from gov.uk.

To prevent your whole team needing to isolate if someone does contract Covid, where possible split your workforce into cells (think about First Aiders, fire wardens etc) and keep them separated so you can still have one cell operational if another needs to isolate.

It is daunting having to consider such a large number of requirements and information, but by being informed and focusing on the planning stage it’s possible to build a new normal and continue to operate successfully despite Covid-19.