Staff briefings

Monday 31 January - return to offices


You will no doubt be aware of Scottish Government announcements regarding the easing of restrictions which have come into force today enabling a phased return to offices in a hybrid/blended way.

Clearly these announcements have a significant impact upon an organisation as large as SBC, with so many colleagues having been solely working from home since March 2020.

As you know we were already preparing for a hybrid/blended way of working as part of our transformation programme and the pandemic has accelerated this.  We have also set out ambitions within the Climate Change Roadmap to reduce travel which the hybrid/blended model will support.

Current office position

As of today national guidance around working from home has been relaxed, meaning organisations have a responsibility to enable a phased return to offices for staff.

As part of this, organisations have an individual responsibility to manage workplace risks and protect staff and as such a 1 metre (as a minimum) physical distancing rule, recommended by World Health Organisation, will be in place as a protective measure throughout Council buildings.

Works within the office at Newtown St Boswells (HQ) to create COVID-safe working areas and improve welfare facilities are ongoing, with work in the extension building and the ground floor of the concrete building complete.

As of last week a total of 73 bookable COVID-safe desks are available, an increase on the 26 previously available to those who can’t currently work at home.

The works have taken longer to complete than originally anticipated, in part due to COVID supply issues (obtaining materials and contractor availability), however half of the second floor of the main building is also complete, with just the remainder of the second floor to be finished.

It must be emphasised that these works are the first phase of a longer term project to establish more collaborative office space and truly establish a more modern working environment which fully supports hybrid or blended working.

Feedback from staff

Surveys of normally office-based staff during the period of enforced home-working have established that the vast majority are very content with home-working and would like to continue that, even once COVID-19 restrictions are eased.

This information has been shared with Directors and service managers to consider how service needs can be met going forward whilst facilitating a hybrid/blended approach to staff accessing offices and working from home.

This information is also informing the longer term plans around office accommodation.

Return to offices

Due to the limited time since the announcement of the change to the guidance, we do not anticipate a notable increase in the number of staff accessing offices initially, and, based on the survey responses, going forward we expect the number of staff accessing offices will be significantly lower than pre-pandemic.

Part of the work to establish COVID-safe workspaces involved the clearing of desks and storage areas and it would be a significant retrograde step were we to go back to a situation where all staff have their own identified work station.

As such, the initial return to offices will continue to be on the basis of the current bookable COVID-safe arrangements, with a clear-desk policy in place. Initially the ground floor will be utilised, with additional spaces made available should the demand be there.

This will not only limit the number of areas requiring enhanced cleaning, but also ensures the ongoing works can be completed.

The Scottish Government has launched a distance aware scheme, designed to help those worried about mixing with others as we adapt to living with COVID-19. The badges and lanyards let everyone around you know you need more space. You can pick up a free Distance Aware badge or lanyard from all libraries across Scotland and in most Asda stores. You can also order a badge or lanyard online.

Staff using the bookable COVID-safe office space within HQ will be personally responsible for the cleaning of workstations and work surfaces prior to and after their use. This includes taking responsibility for disposing of any rubbish and ensuring all personal belongings are taken away at the end of the day. Antibacterial wipes will be supplied for the cleaning of work surfaces along with hand sanitiser for staff’s personal hygiene.

Due to the anticipated low number of staff accessing the offices at Newtown St Boswells initially, and with catering and cleaning staff currently deployed elsewhere to support critical services, a date is yet to be confirmed regarding the opening of the new café facility.

Next steps

Given the speed with which we have moved from preparing for significant adverse impacts from the Omicron variant of COVID-19 to rapid easing of restrictions you will appreciate that there a number of further matters that are requiring consideration.

As a result, over the course of the next few weeks we will provide a range of updates on, for example:

  • access to other SBC property
  • future office accommodation at Newtown St Boswells
  • service arrangements and delivery with hybrid/blended working

Jenni Craig
Chairperson of SBC Response and Recovery Board