Staggered start times and no more hot-desking: What returning to the workplace could look like.



The government has announced its plan to have Australians back in our offices by July, as the threat of coronavirus in Australia continues to decline.

But when we return to our workplaces, communal kitchens, and shared meeting rooms – things are going to (have to be) very different.

In fact, the government has written up 1300 pages of ‘rules‘ across 23 sectors for our bosses to ensure we are returning to safe work environments.


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Shutdown measures are costing the Australian economy $4 billion weekly, so Scott Morrison is keen to reignite our businesses and industries to stem the pandemic-induced economic bleeding.

Unions are pushing for businesses to be compelled to provide virus-safe environments, but Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter believes existing laws are enough,

Here’s everything we know so far about what life back in the office will be like.

Getting to and from work.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy has suggested staggered working hours when Australians eventually return to the office.

“We don’t want everybody crowding on public transport at the same time,” he explained.

“We don’t want everyone crowding in the lifts at the beginning of the day and the end of the day.”

Coronavirus Precautions In Australia
We're being encouraged to have 'staggered' work arrival and departure times when we return to the office. Image: Izhar Khan/NurPhoto via Getty.

If you're required to travel in a car with your colleagues as part of your job, Safe Work says only two people will be allowed in a five-seat vehicle.

One will sit in the driver's seat and the other in the backseat.


Professor Murphy said cleaning products and hand sanitisers should be available in all workplaces.

Handwashing facilities, or if that's not possible alcohol-based hand sanitiser, will also need to be provided for workers if they handle deliveries from outside couriers.


If there's a situation in the office where you are required to spend more than two hours face to face with others, Safe Work recommends bosses consider the use of PPE (personal protective equipment).

office restructure
Offices will have to reorganise so that desks are 1.5m apart. Image: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty.

Everyone will be reminded to wash their hands before and after eating, after coughing or sneezing, after going to the toilet and when changing tasks. The Safe Work website recommends posters on the wall and "training" to ensure everyone is across basic hygiene.


Workplaces will also be encouraged to clean offices daily.

Maintaining distance. 

Professor Murphy says video conferencing should still be used where possible and maintaining the handshake ban would be important.

In the Safe Work Australia guidelines, employers are encouraged to make sure there is 4 square metres of space per person, and are advising that desks are kept 1.5 metres apart.

Hot-desking, Professor Murphy says, should no longer be allowed.

Zoom calls
Zoom meetings should be upheld where possible. Image: Robert Nickelsberg/Getty.

For those tasks that cannot maintain the 1.5m rule, bosses will have to undertake a "risk assessment" and determine what measures they can put in place under the circumstances.

"For example, if close contact with others is unavoidable, you must implement other control measures such as, minimising the number of people within an area, moving work tasks off-site if possible, or separating workers into dedicated teams that work different shifts," the guidelines read.

Non-essential gatherings, meetings or training will be postponed or cancelled, and adequate ventilation in indoor workplaces will need to be provided.

Mental health.

As part of the new guidelines, businesses have been given advice on how to help their employees "manage the stress of COVID-19" when we return to the office.

Things like regularly asking workers how they are going, reassurance, and increased support are advised as we make the transition back.

The current situation around COVID-19 might be making you feel scared or uncertain. It's okay to feel this way, but it's also important to learn how to manage feelings of anxiety during this time. To download the free PDF:  Anxiety & Coronavirus - How to Manage Feelings of Anxiety click here.

Feature image: Getty.