The Personal Investment Management and Financial Advice Association (PIMFA) has issued guidance to firms in the financial industry regarding how they might reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection in their offices. It comes as firms might be considering bringing more employees back to the office after an extended period of home working.

When employees work from the office, firms must ensure that their arrangements allow social distancing of ‘two metres’ or ‘one metre plus’ to be maintained. One metre plus means that two people are only one metre apart, but additional mitigating measures are taken, such as they are sitting side-by-side or back-to-back, instead of face-to-face, or are separated by a screen.

PIMFA recommends that firms make the following changes to their offices:

  • Changing seating layouts so employees are no longer seated face-to-face
  • Reducing the number of people in enclosed spaces
  • Improving ventilation
  • Installing protective screens
  • Closing non-essential social spaces, perhaps asking employees to eat at their desk, or away from the building
  • Providing hand sanitiser on desks
  • Changing shift patterns so that some employees can avoid public transport at peak times. This can also avoid the problem of how to get everyone up to the office for the start of the working day – you certainly can’t ask people to pack into a lift in the present climate

Other measures firms might wish to consider include:

  • Cleaning the premises thoroughly ahead of any re-opening and repeating this cleaning exercise regularly
  • Discouraging handshaking and other close contact
  • Making sure employees are aware of what is expected of them, including the need to maintain social distancing of two metres, or one metre where additional measures are in place. They also need to be constantly aware of the need to wash and sanitise hands regularly. It could be helpful if the new Covid-19 ‘rules’ were displayed on posters around the premises

However, while the media might refer to these changes as making offices ‘Covid-secure’, of course it is not possible for any firm to guarantee a completely risk-free environment.

The Government has said that, from August 1, it will be up to firms to decide whether their employees should work from home, but that appeared to contradict advice given by the Chief Scientific Adviser, who said he saw no reason to change the previous working from home advice.

On the subject of home working, the Prime Minister said:

“It is not for government to decide how employers should run their companies. What we are saying now is if employers think it would be better and more productive for employees to come to office, and they can work in a safe way, there should be discussions between employers and employees and people should make a decision.”

In recent days, the media have been speculating for the first time about the possibility of face coverings being worn in offices. However, the Health Secretary has said they would not make much difference in an office environment and the Chief Scientific Adviser has said of face coverings:I don’t think it’s something you can wear all day in indoor environments.”

Regardless of what any firm might do to reduce the risk of virus infection in their offices, it’s hard not to argue that it’s safer when people work from home. RBS has announced that 50,000 of its staff will be allowed to work from home for the remainder of the year.

The information shown in this article was correct at the time of publication. Articles are not routinely reviewed and as such are not updated. Please be aware the facts, circumstances or legal position may change after publication of the article