How to work safely in the office during Covid

Lockdown is mostly over and, slowly, workplaces are reopening. For some, it’s a relief to get back to a familiar routine but for many, it’s a stressful experience that makes them worry they’re putting themselves at risk. In shops and public-facing positions, there are clear social distancing measures and masking regulations in place but in offices, it’s still sometimes unclear how to stay safe.

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Getting back to work

There is consensus that in many cases, it’s possible to go back to working in an office, but there are definitely workplaces with higher and lower risk. Some risk factors are outside of employers’ control, like the infection level in the local area or the ventilation of the office building. Others are only partially under the employer’s ability to control, such as how well employees actually follow safety measures put in place. The risk increases in customer facing roles: there’s always a chance that one of the people sitting in the reception chairs is asymptomatic, or hasn’t washed their hands since coming into contact with someone who has Covid-19.

There are still plenty of things employers can do to keep their staff safe, and also that staff can do to protect themselves and one another.

Staying safe at work

As in any other area of life, the best way to stay safe is to wear a mask and maintain proper social distancing. In short, wearing a mask protects others if you are infected, even if you’re asymptomatic. Staying six feet apart protects both you and other people. That means everywhere. The only place it’s really sensible to be unmasked is in your own office. Lunch breaks are the time most people are likely to slip up. Chatting with colleagues over lunch is one of the more pleasant parts of office life and, of course, no one can wear a mask to eat. It’s important to stay alert and think about habits instead of just following them.

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Beyond masks and distance, the best safety measure is to regularly sanitise equipment. That means everything from keyboards, to surfaces, to reception chairs and desks.

Advice and best practices change regularly as scientists gather more data on how COVID-19 is transmitted and spread. Making the right decisions to stay safe in an office or anywhere else isn’t just one action, it’s an ongoing process.

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