Creating a COVID Safe Workspace and Beyond - a discussion paper


Discussion Paper

Creating a COVID Safe Workspace and Beyond


High Level Summary:

NHS Shetland has a duty to create a work environment for its employees that keeps staff safe, facilitates good working relationships and encourages teamwork. This paper outlines the proposed way forward for NHS Shetland to achieve these aims in light of the specific challenges posed by COVID-19 but in a way that doesn’t prevent future flexible working arrangements to be pursued.


Corporate Priorities and Strategic Aims:

Staff wellbeing and safety


Creating a COVID safe workspace  

NHS Shetland has a significant estate across multiple buildings, offices and non-clinical space is often deprioritised for investment and of variable quality. Previous decisions made by the Board have created disparate teams, inflexible working environments and poor quality workspaces.

Valuing the contribution made by staff working in non-patient environments is as important as investment in clinical spaces as everyone working in NHS Shetland contributes to the patient’s experience.


Meeting the COVID Challenge

Under the current Scottish Government COVID-19 guidance all staff who are able to work from home should be supported to do so. NHS Shetland has taken steps to facilitate this requirement and credit should be given to departments such as IT that have facilitated this transition so rapidly.

It is likely this situation will continue for the foreseeable future and while this is the case NHS Shetland should take all steps to maintain the new status quo.


However as we progress through the relaxation of COVID restrictions it is important that we keep this situation under review. The initial priority is to address the concerns raised by staff who have working from home but are struggling to maintain this situation as well as those staff who are unable to work from home.


Stage One – Safety first

The initial stage is focused on supporting those whose work environment is challenging whilst complying with the Scottish Government’s guidance.

Home working for those who are able to will remain the default position.

Managers are encouraged to engage with their teams to identify those working from home who are struggling. Once identified they will need to liaise with Estates to identify a suitable work environment for them. Where are all possible this will be a dedicated desk space and at this time hot desking will not be supported.

Those staff who cannot work from home should be encouraged to work flexibly e.g. shifts, compressed hours, 7 day working to reduce where possible the risks.

Face to face meetings are to be avoided where possible and the use of Microsoft Teams the default.

Stage Two – Sustainable flexibility

The second stage is focused at balancing the COVID risks posed by a workplace with the need to maintain and sustain team work.

Until a treatment or vaccine is available the need to maintain a socially distant workspace is required. This will mean that default position will be for those who are able to fulfil their roles from home to continue to do so where possible however there will be the opportunity for staff to return to work in a managed way to facilitate key tasks.

Hot desking will be avoided where possible, should a staff member not be in work the expectation is their desk will remain empty and this may require NHS Shetland to expand the estate it uses.

Face to face meetings are to be avoided where possible and the use of Microsoft Teams the default.


Stage Three – An agile workplace supported by technology  

The third and final stage is ensuring that staff have a positive flexible workspace when required that facilities good team working and maximises the use of the estate.

This stage is some distance away not only because of COVID but the level of transformation and trust required to achieve a fully agile working environment. The driving force behind this should be using the talents of our staff to enable to work in a flexible welcoming environment that supports collaboration, innovation and agile working to further the work of NHS Shetland. There is no fixed model in mind but most agile workspaces have moved away from fixed desks to flexible spaces with an open environment supported by multiple meeting spaces.

This approach is supported by high levels of technology to allow staff to work wherever they may be, face to face meetings have a place but aren’t the default due to the need to travel. A key factor of this approach is using the total estate effectivity and the footprint reduced where there are opportunities to reduce revenue and capital costs without impacting on working practices.



COVID has offered us the opportunity to rapidly change how we manage our workspaces but during stage one and two the focus must be on supporting staff to work in as safe an environment as possible.



Michael Dickson

Chief Executive