WATER-COOLER chats could be a thing of the past, according to office-sharing businesses’ post-lockdown plans.

Yesterday draft Government proposals came to light outlining measures that could be put in place when businesses reopen.

The plans include cutting back on hot-desking, closing office lifts and canteens and putting tape on the floor to mark where people should stand.

Millions of companies will have to draw up a Covid-19 “risk assessment” before allowing staff to return to work, the proposals suggest.

Office-sharing spaces will be heavily affected by the changes. But two such businesses in Sussex, Freedom Works and PLATF9RM, said they were optimistic as they revealed the measures they are putting in place.

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Jon Trigg, founder of co-working space business Freedom Works, which has offices in Hove, Worthing, Chichester and Crawley, said the company was already making changes.

He said when its offices eventually reopen, water coolers and tea urns could be spread out to stop people clustering, there could be rules to make sure only one person enters a toilet block at a time, and desks could be wiped down every hour.

He said there would be a maximum number of staff on site – at the moment, the company is working to a ratio of one person per 100 square feet.

And he said the firm was “following supermarkets’ lead” with two-metre marking layouts and one-way systems in its offices.

He said the company had been thinking ahead and planning for “several months at least” of social distancing – and an increased demand as would-be commuters prefer to stay in Sussex.

PLATF9RM, which runs offices in Brighton and Hove, is also discussing plans to arrange hourly cleaning, remove chairs to increase the space between workers, and introduce one way systems.

It too said there could be additional tea and coffee urns to stop people gathering.

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Emilie Lashmar, creative director at PLATF9RM, said: “We’re confident that we can get through the next few months and will welcome this shift in working culture”.

The Government’s draft documents, seen by the BBC and the Financial Times, say extra cleaning should be introduced in office spaces and the use of protective equipment should be considered where it is not possible to keep a two-metre distance between workers.

For workers who have customer-facing roles, plastic screens should be erected to help protect them, while continued home working and staggered shifts should also be encouraged, the guidance says.

The guidance also says social distancing will have to be maintained, whether on the shop floor, in shopping queues, or in communal spaces.

The proposals are among a list of guidelines in seven documents drawn up after consultation with executives, trade bodies and unions.

But business groups believe clarity is needed on issues such as personal protective equipment (PPE) and how rules will be enforced.

Gavin Stewart, executive director of the Brighton and Hove Economic Partnership, said: “Many businesses are beginning to think about what life will look like after the pandemic, but there are still more questions than answers.

“Will, for example, shoppers be expected to be one in, one out in the small retail boutiques of The Lanes and North Laine?

“Will social distancing outside all shops be policed by the businesses themselves? How will food and beverage providers be agile enough to substantively change their offers to take away?

“How will the public know where to access the appropriate PPE for just being outside?

“As we move towards the end of lockdown, businesses will be worrying about the costs of starting up again, whether their supply chains are ready and whether they can simply afford to reopen.”

The Prime Minister is due to set out a new strategy on Sunday with more details on how the lockdown will be eased following a review of the current arrangements on Thursday.

In a video message on Twitter on Monday, Boris Johnson said it was important to meet the five tests set by the Government before restrictions are eased.

“We will only be able to move on to the second phase of this conflict if our five tests have been met,” he said.

“The worst thing we could do now is ease up too soon and allow a second peak of coronavirus.”

A Government spokesman said: “The business secretary continues to work with businesses, union leaders and the science and medical community so we can ensure workplaces are safe for those who will go back to work once the measures are relaxed and give people the confidence to return to work.”

• At The Argus, we are championing the work of traders during the coronavirus pandemic as part of our #BackingSussexBusiness campaign. We are always interested to hear how the community is coming together in this crisis. If you know of a local business battling to do all it can in these tough times and/or offering support to the local community, please get in touch at laurie.churchman@theargus.co.uk and rose.lock@theargus.co.uk.