As you’ll be aware, due to increasing COVID cases, the government has announced a second national lockdown from Thursday, 5 November.
Regrettably, we must once again – from 5pm on Wednesday 4 November – close both Woodcock Street and the Council House. Those of you who have chosen to meet or work in those locations are now asked to work from home instead, using virtual Teams Meetings wherever possible. At this stage, we anticipate both buildings will be closed until the New Year. We will, however, continue to operate our emergency response services from Lancaster Circus – as we did during the previous lockdown (so there is no change for those of you who have been working from there). Further updates will follow in due course.
Previous guidance (not currently applicable)
While many of you will feel it is safer to continue to work from home, the council knows some of you feel it would be beneficial to be able to work from or meet in an office environment. This has also come through in our recent Health and Wellbeing survey.
As an organisation, we are continually reviewing our position – and listening to your concerns – which is why we commenced the reopening of Woodcock Street on a phased basis, in order to offer you the opportunity to occasionally work from an office environment, or access meeting space.
Any reopening will of course be subject to the infection rate in our city and will not be possible if we are in a local lockdown. We will of course continue to monitor this situation.
Importantly, a re-opened Woodcock Street will operate in a different way. The building will not operate as a base for those who have worked there before COVID but, instead, the building will provide a bookable office and meeting/collaboration space for any employee and elected member, regardless of their usual place of work.
Providing a safe environment is our number one priority and foremost in ours and our trade union colleagues’ thoughts. So, adopting the prescribed 2-metre social distancing approach, not all desks will be available for use, which limits the building’s capacity. We anticipate that each day we will be able to provide around 450 desk spaces and associated meeting spaces. Please be reassured we are following the government’s guidance, which it’s a good idea for you to familiarise yourself with.
Might Woodcock Street be a good option for you?
If you feel the new Woodcock Street might be a good one for you, generally, you’ll need to book a desk or meeting space in advance, on a first-come, first-served basis. The office will be open from 7:30am to 6:30pm. Please remember, numbers will be limited and you won’t be able to just turn up.
However, please note, for those of you who have indicated that you have a specific reason for a fixed desk for health and wellbeing reasons, as nominated by your manager, you will be given a fixed desk, which will not need to be booked.
For those of you who do need to book, in consideration of lone working and personal safety, you’re advised to let your manager know you’d like to take up this opportunity. Closer to the reopening date, look out for more details on how to book full and half day sessions.
If you were previously based at Woodcock Street, please remember you’ll be allocated a desk space via the booking system, not the one you were using before. This may not be in your usual team area and may even be on a different floor.
In this revised working arrangement, you’ll need to work ‘from a bag’: and not use the storage within the building, which will not be reallocated.
Meeting rooms and collaborative spaces will also be bookable on a first-come, first-served basis, while we learn from our experiences. Initially, these will be limited to our own employees and elected members, until we have enough experience to enable us to include our partners and others.
When making your booking, you’ll be taken through a series of questions to ensure not only your own safety but that of your colleagues.
This will also cover the usual health and safety requirements, which you should already be familiar with – but, of course, we’ve all been away from a building environment for some time, so it’s important to refresh ourselves on these. Obviously, there is also the ‘new norm’ to get familiar with – so you’ll be taken through this step by step.
Finally, you’ll be making a declaration that you’ve understood the temporary arrangements – and that you are symptom-free of COVID19. The declaration will be linked to our track-and-trace system, ensuring we are able to contact anyone who may have inadvertently been in contact with someone who tests positive for COVID. Information on possible symptoms can be found on the NHS website.
To ensure our cleaning regime is effective, all desks will have been cleared in advance of occupation and every desk will be thoroughly cleaned before the start of every working day. Desk clearance communications will be sent out shortly.
Please remember, this is an offer to those of you who have expressed the need to access an office environment, for a variety of reasons including your personal safety, collaborative working or not having a work-conducive environment at home. There are, in some cases, other solutions which might fulfil your needs and you may want to explore those.
For instance, those of you who are feeling the need for face-to-face meetings to touch base with your team members, or want to hold one-to-ones or workshops, might want to consider a mutually-agreed outdoor location; or a mutually-convenient café or restaurant, where social distancing has been built into their operations.
If you’ve been shielding – or one of your team has – then please consider carefully whether working from Woodcock Street, or holding a meeting there, is the best option. It’s still possible to shield but work from home and still participate in meetings as our technology enables us to hold ‘hybrid’ meetings, where some of you are in the office and some are at other locations.
The council’s overall message remains the same: we will continue to support you to work from home until we learn from this experience and are able to offer more alternatives.