By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors
As you will know if you read my previous blog posts about coronavirus, we have been working remotely since the “stay at home” order came into effect in March.
For the most part, this change in our way of working has been successful. But the coronavirus alert level has been downgraded from four to three, and the government has updated its guidance on how non-retail businesses can work. This means it’s time to work in the office again. A coronavirus risk assessment helps us do that.
Adapting to Covid-19
In many ways, the last three months has been a nationwide experiment in change. We have had to adapt to the coronavirus lockdown by:
- dealing with the psychological and physical effects of a devastating disease and pandemic
- wearing facemasks
- using gloves, hand sanitiser, and washing hands more frequently and carefully
- remote working
- changing how we interact with our clients, the courts, and others.
Remote Working Results
Some expressed doubts about whether the UK workforce would succeed. I am pleased to report that my firm’s lawyers are capable of remote working for extended periods.
Our clients tell us that we have been able to keep up our usual high standards of service. My team and I have worked productively on cases using our cutting-edge facilities. The new laptops I bought for them before the lockdown really helped. They help us use video conferencing, phones, chats, emails etc. to keep in touch and collaborate on work. (A quick shout out to our IT and phone people. Their work has been crucial in making remote-working happen. Thank you to them all.)
Remote working has been so successful that we will continue with it in some capacity in future. There are clear benefits in terms of the impact on staff, the environment, and other factors.
Benefits of Office Working
But, despite the success of remote working, we are all itching to come back to work. Video calls are great, but there is no substitute for being together to brainstorm an issue on a client’s case, or just pop into each other’s rooms for a catch up. We all get on and miss seeing each other face-to-face. The social aspect of being at work is important and cannot be ignored.
Conducting a Coronavirus Risk Assessment
Recently the government lifted the work from home restrictions, subject to non-essential businesses following official guidance. I have reviewed the recommendations, conducted a thorough coronavirus risk assessment, and implemented a COVID-19 Return to Work Policy in consultation with my staff.
This was a detailed project. I had to consider all aspects of work, our office layout, and the needs of my team. Following the risk assessment, I determined that we could return to work in the office, subject to restrictions.
Changes to How We Work
We re-open the office from Tuesday 23 June 2020. But it won’t be business as usual:
- Continuing our lockdown period policy, we will not have face-to-face meetings with anyone, in the office or elsewhere. This includes clients, barristers, suppliers, and others. The risk of infection was, and remains, too high.
- We will work flexibly in the office. We will stagger start and end times and avoid peak public transport times. This might result in staff not being available at times but it’s safer for them.
- Everyone in the office will get, and must use, face masks, hand sanitiser, and gloves. I have installed hand sanitiser units throughout and encouraged regular use. Social distancing measures and markings have been put in place.
- I hope to further reduce the risk of external infection by getting the office deep-cleaned regularly and using a quarantine room for post and deliveries.
- Lastly, no staff members can come to the office if they, or members of their household, have any coronavirus symptoms. This is not a time to be that person who thinks they must come in even if they, or someone in their home, feels ill.
Despite these steps, no one can guarantee protection from coronavirus. I hope that, with these measures and the support of my fantastic team, we can mitigate the risk as far as possible.
We are lucky that none of us at Donoghue Solicitors has been directly affected by covid-19, but some of our friends and relatives have. We have seen the devastating effects of the illness first-hand. Our sympathies are with all those who have been affected by this terrible disease.
Kevin Donoghue is the solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors.