How Australian companies are planning to return to the office

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  • Australian work forces are beginning to transition back to the office after months of working at home.
  • In order to do so safely in the age of COVID-19, businesses will be trying out different strategies as they grapple with the new normal.
  • From introducing thermal body scanners, creating one-way corridors or simply refusing to go back at all, this is what Australian companies are trying.

It’s been two months since most Australian companies gave their white-collar staff their work from home orders, but many are now looking to make their return.

As the federal government rolls out its three-month plan to get the country working again, businesses of all shapes and sizes are looking to reemerge from their COVID-19 hibernation.

Here are some of the new working arrangements with which Australian workers will soon be accustomed.

ANZ Bank will introduce thermal body scanners, cut office numbers by two-thirds and limit elevator use

Clearly another wave of infections is bad for business, and with the virus demonstrating its ability to easily spread between hosts, it’s priority number one.

ANZ, one of the biggest employers in the country, says it has “a range of plans” to make sure this doesn’t happen.

“This includes an initial phase of limiting the number of people in our office buildings to 35% capacity, the use of thermal scanners at major buildings, restrictions on the movement between floors and buildings, additional cleaning and personal hygiene measures, and new rules for the use of elevators,” a spokesperson told Business Insider Australia.

From mandating a minimum number of cleaning turnarounds and encouraging vulnerable employees to continue working from home, ANZ said the bank is prepared to do what it takes to safeguard employees.

The UN’s Australian business chapter will implement one-way corridors

The Global Compact Network Australia (GCNA) is the local arm of the United Nations designed to promote sustainable business, with executive director Kylie Porter saying the NGO intends to lead by example.

From alternating start dates between staff members to opening up outside areas as workspaces, the GCNA said it’s ensuring employees keep their distance.

“This includes adjusting our office layout so there is wider spacing between desks, continuing to hold online meetings and events and implementing one-way corridors to ensure staff do not pass each other in close proximity,” Porter told Business Insider Australia.

Yes, that’s right, one-way corridors.

“By preventing staff from passing by in close proximity to each other when moving around the building we can ensure that social distancing is maintained and as such support the wellbeing of our employees,” Porter explained.

In addition, each will be provided hand sanitiser and cleaners will be given plenty of work under a bolstered schedule.

Atlassian won’t be returning to the office at all in 2020

Australian tech darling Atlassian meanwhile will all be working from home “until the end of the year”, chief people officer Tami Rosen told the company’s 4,500 staff on Friday.

“Rather than rush back to the way things were, we’re taking the opportunity to provide flexibility and ensure our people have all the tools they need to work remotely,” she said.

“If some offices are in a position to reopen sooner we will look at ways we can support people who prefer to work from an office, but we won’t require anyone to do so this year.”

Xinja is splitting into two, temperature testing workers, and designating a quarantine room just in case.

Neobanks that boast their smaller stature makes them agile in the good times may be especially grateful for it during the bad.

Take Xinja, which only has to manage the logistical challenges produced by a workforce numbered in the hundreds, not thousands.

“We’re planning the whole red team/blue team approach – although in Xinja’s case, pink team and turquoise team, to stay on brand – so no more than 50% will be in the office at any time to make social distancing easier and reduce risk,” co-founder Camilla Cooke told Business Insider Australia.

Xinja will also be conducting all external meetings via Zoom and continuing flexible work arrangements to minimise risk. Beyond that though, Cooke said there are 29 initiatives in total, including temperature checking staff on arrival and designating a special quarantine room should a staff member be suspected of being infected.

Maison de Sabre bought a second office to spread staff out

At the same time that many companies may be considering downsizing their real estate footprint, luxury leather goods maker Maison de Sabre is expanding its own.

“The biggest change for us since the outbreak of COVID-19, is that we have taken on a second office premises to give our employees more space to continue social distancing,” co-founder Omar Sabre told Business Insider Australia.

“This has been on the cards for us for some time as our team continues to grow, and Coronavirus just bumped it further up on our priority list.”

While Sabre said the team had managed to work well during the period, he acknowledged it’s simply easier being under one roof.

“As such, we are continuing regular temperature checks, enforcing mandatory cleaning of all personal office equipment, and the office premises and distribution centre machinery and equipment is regularly sanitised,” he said.

Others are going online entirely

For others, there’s an ever-growing need to go online, according to web hosting company GoDaddy.

“Whether it’s how we shop, how we interact socially, learn new things or how we operate businesses, the virus has altered a lot and could shape many of these things in the long-term too,” marketing director Suzanne Mitchell told Business Insider Australia. “With regards to work, we’ve seen a number of Australian small businesses activate or sharpen their online presence, and the anecdotal feedback we’re hearing from GoDaddy customers is that it’ll be a significant focus for them going forward.”

Noting examples ranging from language schools to local artists, Mitchell believes more and more small businesses will simply go online.

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