Guidance and practices for the safe return to workplaces in light of the easing of restrictions

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Purpose

Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) is the designated custodian of general-purpose office accommodation for the Government of Canada (GC).

PSPC has developed this PSPC guidance and practices for the safe return to workplaces in light of the easing of restrictions during the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic primarily to support GC departments and agencies as the employer in their responsibility to ensure the health and safety of their employees in the workplace.

This document is intended for all client departments and agencies who occupy office space managed by PSPC real property services in Crown-owned, lease-purchase, and leased facilities, specifically those clients in functional areas of workplace design and utilization.

This workplace guidance document focuses on the health and well-being of occupants as the easing of restrictions begins and the federal government resumes a percentage of occupancy in our workplaces, specifically general administrative office space. The aim is to suggest practical approaches to maintaining physical distancing and facilitating frequent cleaning, enabling employees to circulate in a healthy workplace within a safe distance from each other (minimum 2 metres). The recommendations in this document are intended to be short-term tactics to allow occupancy of the workplace while physical distancing is required.

This functional guidance document is subject to change. The conditions of the pandemic in Canada are fluid, and Canadian public health authorities may issue new guidance or change those currently in place. Should new considerations and information impact the guidance and recommendations contained in this document, they will be integrated. The document will be updated and shared.

It is recommended that department and agency officials stay abreast of the evolving context. Organizations should refer to and integrate recommendations and guidelines provided by public health officials as well as departmental security officers (responsible for occupational health and safety and compliance with Canada Labour Code and other legislation) into their plans for re-occupation of physical workplaces in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This guidance was prepared by PSPC Real Property Services Workplace Solutions, its main contributors were the National Centres of Expertise for Interior Design, for Change Management and for Accommodation Management informed by global workplace industry documentation, PSPC Real Property Service Sectors and broad consultation.

The core elements of the guidance may be useful and adapted for other custodians as appropriate.

Scope

Figure 1

Scope for return—Text version below
Text version: Figure 1 Image of the 4 level of interaction that are present for the return to the workplace as described in the text, and showing level 1 outside the office, level 2 the building, level 3 the workplace and level 4 the workforce.

The scope for the progressive return to the workplace spans a number of levels of intervention and engagement beyond PSPC’s role and spheres of influence and expertise. In broad terms:

PSPC Real Property Centres of Expertise are available to provide support to departmental functional teams as they develop their approaches and determine the practices they will be adopting within their workplaces.

Departmental workplace and fit-up enquiries should be directed to the departmental client accommodations representative.

General enquiries on this document should be directed to the GCworkplace mailbox: tpsgc.similieudetravailgc-rpsgcworkplace.pwgsc@tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca

Context

On December 31, 2019, the World Health Organization was alerted to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, China. The virus did not match any other known virus. On January 7, 2020, China confirmed COVID-19. Since then, there has been a global spread of the virus which has left health professionals on high alert.

Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) are working with provinces, territories, and international partners, including the World Health Organization, to actively monitor the situation. Global efforts are focused on containment of the outbreak and the prevention of further spread. PHAC is working closely with the medical community to ensure that any cases of COVID-19 occurring in Canada continue to be rapidly identified and managed in order to protect the health of Canadians.

By mid-March 2020, the Prime Minister of Canada and provincial leaders introduced social and physical distancing measures in an attempt to flatten the curve of COVID-19 spread within Canada. This meant that federal employees in non-essential services were asked to work from home.

Since that time, after several weeks of social and physical distancing measures and business and workplace shut-downs, industry and governments are looking at gradually opening up the economy, including workplaces. The federal public service is preparing its workplaces for the progressive return of employees and seeking guidance on how best to gradually balance working from home with office presence.

Considerations

Health and safety of employees is paramount

Conditions for the return to the workplace hinge on whether employee health and safety in the workplace can be maintained through the effective implementation of Canadian public health authority measures in alignment with Part II of the Canada Labour Code. It is expected that employees will continue to have concerns about being in office environments where physical distancing will henceforth become necessary and where maintaining high levels of cleanliness (of surfaces and high touch areas) is the norm.

Changing mindsets and behaviours

While the evolving COVID-19 pandemic has led to the immediate adoption of a work from home model across most federal departments and agencies, the Government of Canada must prepare for the eventual reintegration of its workforce into its physical workplaces. This planning effort must consider opportunities for accommodating flexible workplace options, and new strategies for ensuring employee health and wellbeing throughout the process of reintegration.

For some departments and agencies, returning to their existing office set-ups may present challenges, especially since, while working from home over the last number of weeks, both employees and managers have discovered effective methods of operating remotely. These new ways of working could come in conflict with decades-old office designs that don’t consider this evolution and the resulting new mindsets and behaviours.

Flexible approach is key

Given the evolving context, a short-term, agile approach, that iterates through a review, learn, evaluate, act and adjust cycle will best serve organizations as they make their plans and consider adjustments to their workplaces. Many recommendations in this document are temporary in nature, focused on making best use of current layouts, and making minimal modifications only where required, including simply how space is used rather than permanent changes to layout or design of furniture.

Figure 2

Cycle of review, learn, evaluate, act and adjust—Text version below
Text version: Figure 2 Image of the iterative cycle showing arrows in a clockwise direction linking the words review, learn, evaluate, act, adjust.

The return to the workplace will be progressive, and it is expected that only a fraction of the space will be occupied at one time. Under this assumption, the space will be used differently by those who return. Attempting to make permanent changes to office layout, furniture, or design in the immediate term may be time consuming, costly, and challenging, and, given the evolving context, may also prove ineffective or unnecessary; in some cases it may negatively impact building systems, egress, and other occupant health and safety measures. The conditions of the pandemic in Canada are fluid and Canadian public health authorities may issue new guidance or change those currently in place. It is recommended that department and agency officials stay abreast of the evolving context.

It is important to note that universal design is a key principle of the design of Government of Canada workplaces, and therefore all practices pertaining to the progressive return to the office must consider accessibility and inclusivity. Any modifications or functional adaptations of the workplace must continue to ensure functionality and consider a wide range of mobility levels in addition to different manual dexterity, visual and auditory capability, and cognitive function.

Government of Canada modernization vision and goals

Over the last number of years, the Government of Canada has taken important steps to create a confident and high-performing workforce that embraces new ways of working and mobilizes the diversity of its talent to serve the nation’s evolving needs. The new GCworkplace vision and objectives, supported by the 2019 Government of Canada Workplace Fit-up Standards and design principles built on the agile and digital technology-forward activity-based working model, are a big part of making that vision a reality and stand to be integral in supporting our government’s ability to respond quickly and seamlessly to future events and to serve and support Canadians, continuously, reliably, and dependably.

Workplace practices and guidance: Overview

Healthy workplace

While a portion of the responsibility for a healthy workplace will be addressed by PSPC and departmental facilities management (FM) practices and procedures, as well as cleaning services provided to GC offices and buildings (Property management practices for coronavirus disease (COVID-19), additional responsibility for maintaining a clean workplace will fall on managers and occupants of spaces.

In order to facilitate a healthy workplace, it is recommended that organizations consider significantly reducing the amount of surfaces to clean within the office and establishing clear user etiquettes and norms to facilitate frequent cleaning and reduce the risks associated with virus presence on surfaces and high-touch areas.

There are 3 key areas for intervention:

  1. Individual use spaces, furniture (work surfaces, drawer handles, seating), and equipment (accessories that you contact to power on or off, adjust height or proximity)
  2. Common use spaces, furniture (table surfaces, seating), and equipment (accessories that you contact to connect for collaborative work)
  3. Personal hygiene (frequent hand washing, avoid touching the face, and the use of hand sanitizer). Refer to the PHAC Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) guidance documents

For those 3 key areas, organizations should:

Physical distancing

Some recommended measures of physical distancing in federal general administrative office space will apply to common areas outside of the operational zones, such as entrances, stairwells, washrooms, elevators, and lunch rooms; other measures will apply to the office spaces themselves, where people meet, work, and eat. This guidance addresses the latter, with the property management practices for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) addressing the former.

When it comes to the workplace, the following areas may require intervention regarding physical distancing:

Exploring the potential flexibility of the current workplace

The Occupancy Strategy

Organizations need to have an understanding of who needs to be in the office and how they need to use the space based on function. With that understanding, an occupancy strategy should be developed. The goal of this strategy is to determine the maximum allowable occupancy of the workplace in order to respect physical distancing and help keep occupants as safe as possible. Density will most likely need to be reduced as many factors may affect this maximum allowable occupancy, such as elevator and washroom capacities and points of egress.

As a starting point, the workplace should be assessed for suitability of use as currently designed, then for potential modifications that can be implemented, which will lead to the determination of the maximum quantity of workpoints to be used at any given time. The next step would be to determine which amenities of the workplace should be made available (or restricted) and how they should be used. Every workplace is unique and each may have specific opportunities and challenges.

Current workplace layout and design

Simple short-term tactics and utilization protocols in the workplace are recommended at this time to make it safe for return to the workplace without requiring physical changes to the environment. If feasible and supportive of operational requirements, consider limiting permanent physical changes to the workplace until the long-term requirements can be thoroughly assessed.

The following are the main factors to consider when examining the current layout and design:

Every workpoint or amenity type in the workplace requires different examinations and has the potential for different utilization strategies. The following section explores each workplace amenity and provides guidance on its assessment and recommendations for use.

Workstations and open workpoints

Examine current workstation layout to measure all possible distances between occupants. As shown in Figures 3 and 4 below, 2 m distance colour-coded circles around the blue, green and turquoise occupants overlap as they move their chairs around the workstation or as they enter and exit the workspace, making it impossible to maintain the 2 m physical distance between workstation occupants.

Figure 3
Row of workstations with overlapping 2 metre distances depending on task chair placement—Text version below
Text version: Figure 3 Image of a 4-seat office arrangement in one row with an indication of 2 metres diametres around occupants in line and where they overlap.
Figure 4
Adjacent rows of workstations with overlapping 2 metre distances depending on task chair placement—Text version below
Text version: Figure 4 Image of an 8-seat office arrangement in 2 rows of 4 stations. The chairs and stations are oriented facing a single direction, 2 metres diametres circles around the occupants show overlapping between the diametre circles around occupants of neighbouring workstations.
Figure 5
Workstation configuration where minimum 2 metre distance cannot be achieved—Text version below
Text version: Figure 5 Image of a plan view of a 4-seat office arrangement of 2 rows of 2 chairs that is crossed out. The diagram indicates that this arrangement does not permit occupants to maintain a 2 metre distance between them.

Many workstation configurations will not allow proper distance between adjacent occupants. Even in a large traditional cubicle layout such as is show in Figure 5, 2 metres of separation between occupants cannot always be met. It is important to note that at this time, there is no evidence that partitions provide sufficient safety between occupants, and should not be the first line of defence.

If workstations don’t have the minimum spacing of 2 metres between occupants at any point in their workspace, then a staggered seating plan is recommended. Face-to-face seating is discouraged; staggered seating can also remedy this problem.

Figure 6
Alternating seating arrangement—Text version below
Text version: Figure 6 Image of an 4-seat office arrangement of a single rows of 4 chairs with 4 alternating spaces crossed out. The diagram indicates the optimal way to create distance by removing every other workstation from the arrangement.
Figure 7
Workstations with staggered occupancy—Text version below
Text version: Figure 7 Image of an 8-seat office arrangement of 2 rows of 4 chairs with 4 alternating spaces crossed out. The diagram indicates the optimal way to create distance by removing every other workstation from the arrangement.
Figure 8
Staggered seating arrangement—Text version below
Text version: Figure 8 Image of an 8-seat office arrangement of 2 rows of 4 chairs with 4 alternating spaces crossed out. The diagram indicates the optimal way to create distance by removing every other chair from the arrangement, so the remaining 4 seats do not directly face each other.

The more flexibility an occupancy strategy provides, the more it will ensure that staggered seating can be easily implemented, which will maximize workspace use and leave very few unavailable for use.

The occupancy strategy should also include direction on the use of enclosed spaces, open collaborative areas, and circulation patterns.

Enclosed offices or other workpoints

Users may find themselves needing to isolate in response to uneasiness or anxiety during this return to the office phase.

Figure 9
Enclosed room—Text version below
Text version: Figure 9 Image of a 3-dimentional enclosed office with glass front partition and door. The office has 1 lounge chair and 1 ottoman.

Meeting rooms and open collaborative areas

Given that workplace occupancy will most likely be reduced, meeting room and collaborative spaces may not require as much use. Nonetheless, minor changes can be made to maximize their use and safety at this time.

Figure 10
Meeting room—Text version below
Text version: Figure 10 Image of a meeting room in isometric view. The room has a large rectangular table and 12 chairs. Every other chair is marked with an X to indicate it is not to be used.
Figure 11
Meeting room plan view—Text version below
Text version: Figure 11 Image of a meeting room in plan view. The room has a very long rectangular table with 22 chairs. Every second chair is marked with an X to indicate it is not to be used or should be removed. The room has 2 entryways. One is reserved for entry, the other for exit. There are arrows indicating the path of travel within the room.

Open collaborative areas should ensure proper distance between seats. This may mean the removal of seats as necessary.

Figure 12
Collaboration area—Text version below
Text version: Figure 12 Image of an open collaborative area, with 2 informal chairs, a small couch in a triangular arrangement, with a shared small table centered between them. Distance markers indicating there is 2 metres of space between the seating furniture.

Equipment rooms, kitchenettes and other support spaces

Lockers, coat closets and other storage areas

Figure 13
Locker area—Text version below
Text version: Figure 13 Image of a locker area with 2 banks of full height lockers and a bench with aisles in between. There are arrows indicating unidirectional path of travel between the lockers and the bench.

Circulation areas

The following floor plan provides an example of a staggered seating strategy across an entire floor. It indicates which workpoints shouldn’t be used, modifications to use of enclosed rooms, and how to circulate in 1 direction (as much as possible) on the floor.

Figure 14

Example floor plan—Text version below
Legend —Text version below
Text version: Figure 14 Image of an office floor plan with a staggered seating arrangement. Every second workstation or workpoint is marked with an X to indicate that it should not be used. Enclosed rooms are marked with an icon indicating that it is for a single user at one time or that occupancy of the room should be reduced. There are directional arrows indicating unidirectional path of travel. One door is marked for entrance only, the other for exit only.

Special purpose space

Although PSPC’s mandate is for federal general administrative office space, many organizations may have special purpose spaces (SPS) where they need to apply similar physical distancing. When it comes to SPS, the original design was based on the space supporting a program-specific function that required specialized construction, such as fixed millwork, added security, air or temperature control, etc.

Public contact spaces

Employees may feel particularly vulnerable returning to workplaces that require them to interact directly with members of the public. As many grocery and retail establishments have had to adapt where there are close proximity interactions, temporary measures can be adopted to help employees safely integrate back into the workplace and to allow members of the public to safely receive required services.

Potential workplace modifications and enhancements to support a healthy workplace

Once the assessment of the current workplace layout and design is complete, there may be a requirement for small adjustments or additions to the workplace in order to maximize its use and provide reassurance and guidance to occupants.

Furniture reconfigurations

If workstations are easily reconfigurable (freestanding), it may be possible to space them out or reorient them in order to avoid face-to-face placement.

Figure 15

Example of back to back seating—Text version below
Text version: Figure 15 Image of an isometric view of a workstation cluster. The workstations are positioned back to back and there is an indication that all the chairs are at least 2 metres apart.

Accessories

Creating physical and perceived boundaries in the workplace may help to maintain people’s comfort and safety as they come back to work by providing visual cues for proper distancing. One way to achieve this is with the addition of screens and panels. Although at this time it is unclear if screens of any kind prevent the spread of infection, they can offer some level of psychological comfort to the people who occupy a space. These solutions should be applied with caution in order to not promote a false sense of safety and to consider their potential environmental impact should these items be deemed unnecessary in the future.

Figure 16

Example of privacy screen placement—Text version below
Text version: Figure 16 Image of a free-standing privacy screen behind a single chair, creating a semi-isolated area.

Note

These products should be added in consultation with professional and technical expertise to ensure potential egress issues are avoided and accessibility is maintained..

Signage

Consider that any design/usage modification or healthy workplace protocol put in place requires communication. Where new office etiquettes or norms are instituted, it is recommended to provide appropriate and comprehensive guidance to users via common communications channels to ensure they are aware of what is changing, what the expected behaviours are, and how these measures are intended to protect their health and wellbeing and that of others.

Temporary added measures for personal hygiene

In order to support Canadian public health guidance and protocols, consider providing signage and cues within the workplace as reminders to employees to:

Refer to the PHAC Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) guidance documents

To facilitate these practices, provide hand sanitizer stations where appropriate, especially at entrances to office areas, asking employees to sanitize their hands as they enter operational zones. Also consider these stations in areas that are furthest from the available washrooms and avoid creating bottlenecks so employees can maintain proper distancing.

Behavioural and utilization recommendations

While this document provides advice and guidance regarding the built environment, behavioural changes may be the most critical factor in maintaining a healthy workplace. And while the environment can be a significant catalyst for changing behaviour, the environment alone cannot keep people safe.

As part of the occupancy strategy, the following options may be explored:

In order to enable a healthy workplace in collaborative areas, consider:

Enquiries

Departmental workplace and fit-up enquiries should be directed to the departmental client accommodations representative.

General enquiries on this document should be directed to the GCworkplace mailbox: tpsgc.similieudetravailgc-rpsgcworkplace.pwgsc@tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca

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