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Breaking out of lockdown - what will be the new normal for offices?

As restrictions are eased over the coming weeks and months, many landlords and tenants have turned their attention to reopening offices and bringing employees back when lockdown is lifted.

This is an ever-evolving area, with rules and guidance issued centrally on a regular basis and from various sources and on a country by country basis.  And of course whether measures are capable of being implemented is subjective in nature, being dependent on things like property layout and resource and equipment availability.

Key measures to consider for landlords are: carrying out risk assessments, including incorporating the findings of tenants with regard to returning to work, staff levels and density; a review of fire assembly points and evacuation strategy, given that social distancing requirements will remain in play for some time; the installation of hand sanitiser stations at readily accessible parts of common areas and at points where the risk of passing on contamination is greatest, principally where many people are likely to touch things; introducing contactless, smart and touch-free technology for entrance barriers, lights and doors to limit the requirement to touch anything; signage to encourage regular handwashing and sanitisation in light with the appropriate guidelines; enhancing and increasing cleaning rotas and staff to limit contamination; putting up signage on walls and floors to encourage social distancing; the installation of protective screens and the provision of protective equipment at reception and front of house areas; limitations on the use of lifts; and the evaluation and reprogramming of ventilation systems.

Tenants may introduce all or any of the measures detailed above within their demise, and should also consider: carrying out their own risk assessments with regard to health and safety and staff levels and shift patterns and any requirement to continue working from home and share these with landlords and their representatives; letting their staff have details of the measures landlords will be implementing and enforcing the need to follow these; removal of the open-plan office format; the installation of desk dividers and partitions; staggered office hours and flexible working to reduce pinch points in footfall; determining the best times for visitors and ensuring visits do not happen at the same time; limiting access to canteen facilities; self-distancing alarms and other similar technology; working with the landlord on all measures; and enforcing self-isolation where employees show or advise of symptoms.

The fundamental message is that landlords and tenants and their representatives must collaborate and work together as closely as possible and keep on top of any new rules and guidance, including those under the Coronavirus Act 2020 and the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 and guidance from Public Health England.  It is the nature of the beast that things will constantly change and it will not be possible to introduce a one size fits all new normal.  Properties, businesses and strategies are different, and people will need to learn from each other to navigate the path out of lockdown and reimagine how we work.  And it is possible that the office could, instead of being an office per se, become more of a place we choose to come to for activities that are better done in person such as building relationships, learning and socialising.

Contact Mark Sabey  msabey@gilsongray.co.uk to discuss.

The information and opinions contained in this article are for information only. They are not intended to constitute advice and should not be relied upon or considered as a replacement for advice. Before acting on any of the information contained in this blog, please seek specific advice from Gilson Gray.

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