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Office industry placements after coronavirus (COVID-19)

This article provides some thoughts and ideas that will assist employers to think through and plan for being able to welcome students on industry placements all types of office environments, whilst considering the journey out of COVID-19 restrictions.

Key COVID-19 and safety concerns on site

Key safety procedures will have been put in place to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 within the workplace. 

Students must be fully aware of the company’s safety procedures

You will be responsible for ensuring the student is aware of all safety procedures prior to starting the placement. This can be done by sending out virtual guides or leaflets on what is in place.

This may be the students first experience of work and so it is good to recap regularly and ensure that if the student works on different sites that updates on safety arrangements are provided for each.

“A young person’s risk assessment is carried out for all students under 18.  Although there are age restrictions on access to some areas, these do not impact on the work undertaken by business administration students.” 
PALL-EX 

Offices are densely populated, and different departments work in close proximity

This means social distancing can be difficult, especially when entering and leaving the building. One consideration may be to implement one-way systems, in order to support social distancing. Workers will therefore avoid meeting one another when arriving at, and leaving, work.

Using a staggered shift patterns or office days also allows for easier social distancing in the office space. This means that less employees are present at one time in the office, while not reducing work productivity.

When engaging a student in such a work pattern it will be important to consider the pattern of the placement in line with the supervision available.  The student may be supported by more than one supervisor if this is easier to manage.

“Involve at least 2 senior managers to support the placement. Having someone else involved with the placement, who may not necessarily be in the team but understands the programme, is useful as diary management can be a challenge and then at least one of the managers are in the office on the days the student is with you.”
Greater Manchester Combined Authority

Office workers include part-time, flexible and full-time staff

Employers need to ensure any updates to protocols or safety regulations are communicated to all staff and placement students.

Appointing and training a handful of workers to be COVID-19 wardens may be beneficial. They can give weekly updates of any changes in COVID-19 restrictions, emphasise key messages as well as being a friendly face that staff can approach with questions or concerns. This is important as government guidelines are updates regularly, so you must ensure both the staff and students are up to date.

Keep track of who is entering and exiting the building

Using a track-and-trace system allows you to see who has come into contact with someone who may develop COVID-19 symptoms. It can be placed at the entrance and exit of the building to note people’s names, mobile numbers and who they came into contact with while at work. Such systems should be used with all staff and visitors.

Shared surfaces and equipment

There should be hand sanitisation stations around the building, especially near high-touch surfaces like printers.

Equipment should be disinfected regularly between uses. The whole office should be regularly cleaned as bacteria can live on surfaces for up to 3 days.

Students need to be fully aware of their responsibilities to support your cleaning regimes to promote safety for all.

Staff working from home

The requirement for some staff to work from home to aid social distancing is likely to be a feature of work in future.  An industry placement student will need to be in the office with their supervisor.

Having other staff working from home may make it easier to host a placement as there may be office space freed up by others working from home.

Meetings are essential

Technology such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams allow for meetings to take place virtually, meaning it is not necessary for all staff members to be in the same office. This allows for staff working from home to be part of important meetings and means meetings in the office can take place whilst maintaining social distancing. 

Initially students may benefit from a 'buddy' at such meetings to help build their confidence when contributing in the virtual environment.

Additional resources and support

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