Returning to the workplace

A guide for Queensland government agencies

As the Queensland Government eases physical and business restrictions around the COVID-19 pandemic, government agencies are working on their respective plans to progressively and safely return staff to the workplace. Decisions about returning to the workplace are based on health directions and advice. The government is implementing measures to support physical distancing and enhanced hygiene including additional cleaning, limiting employee numbers in government buildings and providing educational material.

This guide, produced by the Queensland Government Accommodation Office (QGAO), Department of Housing and Public Works, provides advice to Queensland Government agencies about the gradual return of their staff to the workplace.

It includes links to resources, including fact sheets and posters, to further assist in highlighting practices that support a safe return to the workplace.

Get the resource pack

As the health directions and advice change, QGAO will review and update this guide to support agencies to manage the transition of staff returning to the workplace for as long as necessary.

Gradual and planned return to the workplace

Staff should return to the workplace in an organised and staged manner in line with the Public Service Commission framework (PDF, 179 KB).

All staff returning to the workplace should practice physical distancing, maintain personal and workplace hygiene, but most importantly, stay home if they show signs of illness or feel unwell.

Determining workplace capacity

Decisions on how many staff can safely return to the workplace as restrictions are eased will be based on:

  • Floor layout – different office layouts will have an impact on available desks and use of the floor
  • Desks – number of desks available that meet physical distancing requirements

QGAO will provide guidance on floor layouts and the recommended number and location of desks which can be used to ensure adequate physical distancing.

Agencies will need to plan for the transition of staff returning to COVID-Safe workplaces in line with guidance from the Public Service Commission.

Questions and answers: returning to the workplace

Most of my team want to return to the office as soon as possible – can they do that?
A staged approach to returning to the office will be required to ensure appropriate physical distancing is possible.
As restrictions ease, will staff be able to continue working from home if preferred?
The Queensland Government supports flexible working. As restrictions ease, staff are encouraged to discuss the various options that may be suitable with their manager.

Physical distancing

Maintaining 1.5 metres of physical distance from others should continue in the workplace, to the extent that this is possible and reasonably practicable. Physical distancing is also referred to as social distancing.

This includes:

  • between staff seated at desks, which can be achieved in various forms depending on the size and layout of existing work areas
  • in meeting spaces, support spaces, lunch areas, bathroom/toilet facilities, end of trip facilities and circulation spaces
  • common areas and other rooms (staff may need to determine whether physical distancing can be maintained, and if not, leaving the area until it is safe to enter)
  • reception or counters, or areas where the public may visit.

Things to consider:

  • Splitting and rotating teams so some staff are in the workplace and others work from home to reduce the risk of all staff being required to isolate if there was a confirmed case of COVID-19 and to help with physical distancing measures.
  • How best to hold meetings (e.g. Skype, Microsoft Teams, physically distanced in a meeting room) and how many people can attend due to meeting room size.
  • Staggering start/finish times for staff to prevent overloading of public transport and minimise gathering of groups in lift foyers, lunch areas or other common areas.
  • Hot desking and use of agile workspaces should be reviewed and if possible and reasonably practicable, minimised during this period. While additional cleaning will be undertaken of these areas, disinfectant wipes and cleaning products should be provided for staff who need to use hot desks or agile spaces so they can wipe surfaces down before and after use. Where possible, each worker should be provided with their own equipment for these spaces, such as their own keyboard and mouse.
  • Use of signage including posters and floor stickers, to remind staff about physical distancing in shared and common areas, such as meeting rooms and kitchens.

Questions and answers: physical distancing

Will staff have to move desks when they return to the office?
Staff may be required to move to another desk to achieve the physical distancing practices. Tip: make sure that the new desk is cleaned and ergonomically set up for the staff member using that desk.
Can staff go to a colleague’s desk to discuss something?
Yes, but they must maintain the physical distance of 1.5 metres.
How can physical distancing be achieved in corridors?
Some corridors will become ‘one-way’ to assist with physical distancing. This is explained in the Circulation fact sheets for buildings.
How do I keep my physical distance while driving a vehicle for work?
You can keep your physical distance starting with booking the right-sized vehicle for your trip. For example, if you and your colleagues need to travel, ensure the vehicle you select has enough distance (1.5 metres) between you and your passengers; or ask your colleague/s to book another vehicle so only two of you travel in one vehicle at any one time.
You can also increase the amount of fresh air in the vehicle by opening windows or adjusting air conditioning; and if you can, wipe down the vehicle before and after use. See the ‘Vehicle cleaning and sanitation guideline’ for more information via QFleet’s Client Access System (CAS).

Building and lift access

A diagram showing two lifts: one crowded, and one with only three people. There is a tick underneath the one with three people.Even though most trips in lifts are short, extra steps need to be taken to ensure that lifts are COVID-Safe. As much as reasonably practicable, physical distancing needs to be applied in lifts and lift waiting areas. It is important that lifts are not overcrowded.

Building owners have considered the advice of Safe Work Australia. For most CBD office buildings, around 6 people per lift would not a pose a major risk. 

More frequent cleaning of high touch points, such as lift buttons, has been introduced.

Staggering start and finish times is important for managing public transport capacity and access to buildings, given the physical distancing restrictions for lifts. This is most important at the beginning of the day. QGAO can work with agencies in multi-tenanted sites to help coordinate the flow of employees.

Even with staggered start and finish times, staff may experience longer lift waiting times during peak periods. Any lift queues are to be managed with physical distancing measures in place, and using floor stickers and posters near lifts is recommended. It is important that people follow the signage about lifts.

Questions and answers: building and lift access

Can staff use fire escape stairs instead of the lifts?
Fire escape stairs are designed for emergency evacuation only and must not to be used for general access.
How can physical distancing be achieved in a lift?
Staff should maintain physical distancing as much as possible and should not crowd in lifts. It is important to follow the signage near lifts, paying attention to the recommended limit of people per lift

Face masks

On occasions, instances may arise when Queensland Health advice changes and the mandatory wearing of face masks directive is temporarily implemented. 

At all other times, it is encouraged to wear a mask in any indoor or outdoor space when physical distancing is not possible.

Read the Queensland Health face masks information.

End of trip facilities

Queensland Health supports end of trip facilities remaining open to encourage the use of active transport to the workplace and a decreased reliance on public transport.

Staff are requested to adhere to physical distancing while using end of trip facilities. While these facilities are regularly cleaned, they continue to operate on the mutual commitment of individuals to:

  • maintain 1.5m distance from others
  • carry out regular hand washing and practice good hygiene
  • determine, when entering a facility, whether physical distancing can be maintained, and if not, to exit the facility and wait until physical distancing is possible
  • spend minimal time in showers and the change room to reduce congestion and in consideration of other users waiting their turn
  • most importantly, not come into the office if feeling unwell.

Applying the guidelines

The following scenarios are examples only and do not relate to any specific person or role but can be used to help staff understand the changes required to their workplace and work practices.

Kelly, a CBD office worker

On 13 July, Kelly returns to work in her Brisbane CBD office on a part-time basis. Today, she is starting work early as her department has introduced staggered start times to reduce crowding on public transport and in lifts.

In the office, she catches the lift, waiting for one that is not crowded and with space to practice physical distancing. Kelly heads to her desk where she sits according to a new seating plan that ensures appropriate physical distancing is maintained. She takes her lunch early, at 11:30am, to make sure there are not too many people in the kitchen at the same time. She washes her hands frequently throughout the day.

Jake, a regional service centre worker

Jake works in a service centre in Roma and is returning to the centre to continue helping Queenslanders in a face-to-face setting. Jake drives his car to work and parks at the centre, washes his hands upon entry to the service centre and walks to his desk making sure to leave a 1.5 metre distance between himself and other staff members.

Once Jake has arrived at his desk, he uses disinfectant wipes to wipe down the desk, computer, keyboard, mouse, phone and any other hard surfaces before he starts working, as other people use the desk when he is not working. He also wipes down the counter areas and the payment machine used, in between serving customers.

Jake notices changes to his work environment including alcohol-based hand sanitiser for him to use and some for customers, and stickers on the floor indicating 1.5 metre distances for customers standing in line, which help him to encourage customers to practice safe physical distancing.

Jake is used to taking staggered lunch breaks to ensure there is enough staff to cover the number of customers and so doesn’t need to change this routine. Jake washes his hands more frequently and makes sure he disinfects his hands between each customer he helps.

Brian, a field officer

Brian’s role requires him to occasionally carry out site visits to conduct inspections and complete reports. The number of site visits has declined as video conferencing and photographs have been used to verify information about the sites. However, when Brian needs to carry out a site visit, he drives to the site, uses alcohol-based hand sanitiser before entering and completes his duties while maintaining a 1.5 metre distance from others. He tries to complete his duties at the site in less than 15 minutes where possible. Upon exiting the site, Brian disinfects his hands again.

Michelle, a manager

Michelle’s team have commenced returning to their workplace in Maroochydore. Michelle has checked the signage on the floor of the building to ensure all the relevant fact sheets and posters are visible for her team. At the beginning of the day her team holds a virtual meeting. Conducting meetings online ensures there aren’t too many people in meeting rooms and enables staff to participate in meetings regardless of where they are working.

Throughout the day Michelle checks in with her team to make sure everybody can maintain appropriate physical distancing and hygiene and to understand if anyone is feeling unwell.

Health and safety

Cases of COVID-19

This cleaning protocol details the response that will be undertaken when there is a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 in a Queensland Government owned or leased building with government tenants. In addition to the steps in this protocol, agencies should also consider any reporting obligations that they have under workplace health and safety regulations.

Suspected or confirmed case

1: Notification
  • Tenant agency notifies and seeks advice from their local Queensland Health public health unit

  • Tenant agency enacts Queensland Health advice

  • Tenant agency and Human Resources assists the local public health unit, if required, to identify close contacts of the confirmed case at the workplace.

    The public health unit will require those who they identify as close contacts to self-quarantine and will provide them with information on how to prevent the spread of infection.

    People who are not close contacts do not have to go into quarantine but should be alert to the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, monitor their health and continue to practice recommended physical distancing and hygiene measures.

    The Public Service Commission has a range of templates available to help with this process.

  • Tenant agency notifies relevant union.

  • Tenant commences actions in line with business continuity plan.

  • Tenant agency contacts QGAO on: 3719 7797.

2: Clean
  • QGAO arranges cleaning and disinfection in line with Queensland Health COVID-19 recommendations.

  • Confirmed case – HPW notifies building owner (in leased premises).

  • Suspected case – HPW liaises with building owner (in leased premises).

3: Notify other tenants
  • Confirmed case – HPW DDG or GM notifies other DGs connected to the affected building.

  • Suspected case – HPW DDG or GM notifies Heads of Corporate Services in affected building.

  • QGAO Lease Manager notifies tenant representatives in affected building.

There is a more comprehensive incident protocol on page 13 of the printable version of this guide.

Cleaning and hygiene

Alcohol-based hand sanitisers have been installed on the ground floor and at major entry points, and hand washing posters are displayed in amenities in all government owned office buildings.

Additional alcohol-based hand sanitiser and soap for handwashing should be procured by agencies for use in the tenanted areas of buildings. Single use paper towels are recommended for drying hands.

Using the existing cleaning contracts, additional cleaning in buildings is being undertaken for high contact areas such common areas, hot desks, agile workspaces and amenities, including lift buttons and door handles. Further cleaning protocols are being followed for any suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 within a building.

Currently, all government owned office buildings have a nightly cleaning service. The Queensland Government is using day cleaners (Monday to Friday) in all major office buildings to undertake enhanced cleaning during business hours.

For more information on how to keep workplaces clean, visit Workplace Health and Safety Queensland’s Work Health and Safety in COVID-19: Guide to keeping your workplace safe, clean and healthy.

Where cleaning and hygiene products have been provided, employees should use these to assist in maintaining high levels of hygiene at their workstations, and in shared areas such as hot desks and printing areas. Cleaning products such as multi-purpose spray and disinfectant wipes should be used, ensuring that rubbish is disposed of immediately after cleaning the area. Staff who have an allocated desk can access these cleaning products to regularly clean their desks, and staff using hot desks or agile workspaces should clean them before and after use, complementing the additional cleaning that is occurring under the existing cleaning contracts.

Questions and answers: cleaning and hygiene

Will alcohol-based hand sanitiser be provided to staff?
Many buildings have alcohol-based hand sanitiser provided, however, washing hands regularly is important to reduce the risk of transmission.
How are kitchens and shared lunchrooms being managed?
Daily cleaning will be undertaken in shared kitchen and lunch spaces. Staff can help reduce the risk of transmission by cleaning up after using the spaces throughout the day. Staff are encouraged to thoroughly clean shared kitchenware and eating utensils before and after use. Alternatively, employees may choose to use their own eating utensils.
How can physical distancing be achieved in toilets?
Some cubicles and wash basins may be temporarily closed to ensure adequate physical distancing.

Building evacuation and first aid

All building services, such as lights and air-conditioning, will remain in normal operation mode during business hours. However, with the staged approach to returning to the workplace, the usual arrangements for building evacuation and first aid may not be possible as the usual first aid officers or floor wardens may not be in the workplace. QGAO will work with agencies to review emergency plans and first aid protocols during this transition period. The following additional advice may be helpful for agencies to share with staff.

Evacuation – advice for staff

  1. Familiarise yourself with the emergency evacuation posters on your floor. Each day be aware of other staff on your floor to identify who may need assistance in the event of an evacuation, if a designated Floor Warden is not available.
  2. In after-hours mode, an automated bell/alert/evacuation tone will sound to alert the occupants of a potential emergency incident.
  3. When an alert tone is sounded you should prepare to self-evacuate.
  4. If followed by an evacuation tone, you should proceed to self-evacuate the building.
  5. If you are aware of anybody still in the building report their name and location to building security or the attending Queensland Fire and Emergency Services.
  6. Proceed to the usual assembly area and wait for further instruction.

First aid - advice for staff

  1. Familiarise yourself with other employees on your floor each day to identify who may be able to help with first aid assistance.
  2. For minor injuries, please use the first aid kit located on your floor.
  3. For urgent medical assistance, call 000 immediately and ask the operator for ‘ambulance’ and provide location and other details as requested. Follow their instructions.

What should be managed as normal

Even though there are extra steps we need to take as part of ensuring we have a safe workplace for all staff, there are some things that should be managed using the normal facilities management processes. For example, agencies should continue to leverage their ‘business as usual’ processes for activities like:

  • checking that equipment and facilities are in good working order
  • supporting any moves of staff
  • ergonomic checks for staff
  • purchasing new equipment
  • procuring cleaning supplies, including hand sanitiser.

Contacts and more information

See the Resources section of this page for additional materials, including fact sheets, posters and checklists.

Contact the Queensland Government Accommodation Office on:


Fact sheets, posters, and templates to use around your workplace.