Its time to gear up for returning to work, as stay-at-home restrictions are withdrawn, the curve is considerably flattened, and businesses are resuming operations. However, sense of uncertainty and fear prevail, as we prepare ourselves to return to a normal workplace environment, whatever it may look like, after a prolonged period of lockdown and working from home. Amid the anxiety, it is critical for employers to effectively respond to the post COVID-19 environment and address key issues pertaining to safety, and managing employment and cultural risks as part of a COVID-19 return-to-work plan.
What do employers need to consider?
The health and safety of employees should be the ultimate goal of employers as their workforce return to office spaces. Employers need to ensure that the transition to the new workplace normal is made as easy and comfortable for employees as possible considering the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak. Essentially, they need to build a plan, keeping their workforce’s well-being and comfort in mind, while maintaining their safety and rebuilding morale.
A few tips for companies returning to work:
1) Embrace and Implement a Hybrid Work Model:
Employers may find that some employees are willing to return to work, but some are still reluctant due to personal reasons. This is really a time to show empathy and deal with employees on a one-to-one basis, rather than implementing a company-wide policy that applies to all. Creating a hybrid work model, with a mix of remote and in-office workers, will not only ensure social distancing measures at workplace, but will also give employees the flexibility to return to work when they are comfortable in doing so.
2) Restructure the Workplace:
Essentially, social distancing is here to stay for some time. Hence, offices need to space work desks apart and create barriers between workstations. Some considerations for rethinking physical workplaces have been summarized by Forrester Research here:
3) Rebuild Employee Morale:
As much as employers need to focus on the physical and infrastructural needs as offices resume, the human component can not be neglected. The senior management needs to invest time and effort to rebuild workplace morale. Ensuring employees physical and mental health is paramount to developing trust between employer and employee during this time.
A few protocols to minimize coronavirus transmission at work:
• Conduct awareness sessions for employees before they return to office, to educate them on the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, and dedicate HR staff to provide guidance to employees as to what action/precautions to take when coming into contact with a COVID-positive individual, or when feeling symptoms of the virus.
• Recommend employees to wear face masks or PPE while in office. Design and display in-office ‘safety protocols’ reminders through message displays on LCD screens, standees, and wall-art. Constant visual reminders on avoiding hand-shaking, wearing face masks, sanitizing hands, can help register the importance of these to employees, and ensure that individual safety protocols are followed by all. Support employee hygiene by keeping tissues, hand sanitizer, soap, disinfectant wipes readily available to all employees.
• Update office-access control methods to a hands-free option. Replacing biometric attendance with QR code scanners are a good idea.
• Schedule regular cleaning and disinfection of all surfaces. Ensure that WHO-approved disinfectants are used, and all necessary dilution and protection processes are followed.
It is critical to prepare physical facility, and employees for a post-covid work environment. While this is a daunting task for employers, however putting the right measures in place is essential to mitigate risk and reduce transmission of virus amongst employees. Implementing the necessary protocols, and responding to employee concerns can help businesses transition smoothly to the new normal, while ensuring well-being of all.