Companies of all sizes around the world are facing the challenges of how to return to work not only during coronavirus (COVID-19), but after it as well. Having a return to work strategy is key to enable organisations to service their customers when they return to work after COVID19. But what are the most important things any organisation needs to include in this process? What workplace health and safety policies and procedures need to be put in place to make your workplace safe for your employees? Below we take your through the top 10 things to prioritise in your return to work plan:
1. Refer to government advice
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a global health emergency. National governments are responding with country-specific plans for protecting their citizens. Below find some useful links that take you to various country websites with current guidance for employers and employees. The guidance is changing rapidly as countries come to terms with the specific and non-static issues their citizens face, so it is important that all employers, large and small, keep up to date with their national and local advice in all of the countries in which you operate:
USA covid19 response https://www.usa.gov/coronavirus
EU covid19 response https://ec.europa.eu/info/live-work-travel-eu/health/coronavirus-response_en
UK covid19 response https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/guidance-for-employers-and-businesses-on-coronavirus-covid-19
Australia covid19 response https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/covid-19-information-workplaces
Canada covid19 response https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/economic-response-plan.html
New Zealand covid19 response https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/covid-19-novel-coronavirus
2. Protect your employees
One of the main challenges for companies planning to return to work post COVID-19 is restarting their businesses whilst ensuring that their employees’ safety is taken care of as the highest priority. If your employees do not feel safe nor feel like their health is the highest priority of the company, they may not be able to serve your customers effectively. It may also present a legal liability in failing to provide a safe workplace. Protecting your employees includes providing the right advice around sanitisation (i.e. PPE and regular hand washing) and implementing policies around actions required by all staff to maintain a clean and hygienic workplace, social distancing, contact tracing and mental health.
3. Have a plan which is ready and able to change
The guidance from governments is constantly changing and varied. For example: on the 1st of May States in Australia issued changing guidance on what was allowed and not allowed. In some States shops could reopen, in other States shops couldn’t open but people could attend open spaces, and other States were remaining in total lockdown. Understanding and adapting to these changing policies is critically important for all companies.
But it is vital for companies who operate across jurisdictions to be agile and ready to adapt. The example of the Australian States is true for the United States or the European Union where companies might have parts of their business in one jurisdiction servicing customers in other jurisdictions. Having a plan that is agile and able to change as the government advice or business environment changes, and easily communicated to all employees and customers, will be one of the most critical success factors after COVID-19
4. Keep your employees informed
Companies, as they return to work during and after COVID-19, will find themselves having to adapt at a far greater pace to government advice and the changing business environment. It is critical that employees are kept informed on the latest workplace health and safety guidelines, so they are able to execute the company’s strategies. Large companies often have town hall meetings only once or twice a year. During this pandemic and its aftermath more regular information in readily accessible and varied formats, will be vital to employees’ ability to perform their duties, servicing customers and maintaining their health and wellbeing.
5. Keep your customers informed
These are uncertain times and the customers of your business are unsure of what products and services they are allowed to purchase in line with government guidance. In the event that they can purchase from a company, they will also need to be shown HOW they can make the purchase and take delivery of the goods or services. As lockdowns are gradually lifted post COVID-19 across the globe, customers need to be informed that they can now purchase from a company and the methods available. Ensuring clear information is provided to customers via social media, websites, formal marketing and information packs will be critical to generating revenue in the period after COVID-19.
6. Maintain social distancing
When implementing a social distancing policy in the workplace, if required by law, it will be important to minimise contact between employees and between employees and customers, where transmission is most likely to take place. This is where people are in close proximity to each other for prolonged periods of time. Generally speaking, government guidance recommends where possible having 1.5-2m distance between employees and any other person, staff or customer. Placing markers on the floor to protect people so they can see the appropriate distance between each other, monitoring and reminding everyone of social distancing requirements, removing old social norms like shaking hands to greet each other and cancelling non-essential meetings or holding them via video conferencing or phone calls are all ways to reduce a company’s overall risk of infection to its employees and customers from COVID-19.
Desk seating poses one of the greatest risks of transmission. This is due to the prolonged time office workers sit in close proximity to each other. At HybridHero, we are experts at setting your office up so social distancing is maintained and employees can see which desk they can or cannot sit at to comply with the policy. This ensures adequate space is between them protecting their health and meeting the company’s workplace health and safety obligations.
7. Tools and items every company needs.
Companies need to ensure they have the tools and items readily available to enable them to survive and thrive in the post COVID-19 world. Below is a list of the most critical tools every company needs:
8. Implement a contact tracing strategy for your company
- Sanitisation: ensure adequate sanitisation supplies are available so employees can wash their hands, use hand sanitiser and products to clean desks and other surfaces
- Software: every company needs a to ensure it has software, like HybridHero, which enables proper management of remote working, social distancing, contact tracing and wellbeing modules to care for employees’ mental health
- PPE: ensure employees have adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to perform their jobs.
- Medical Equipment including Thermometers: ensure appropriate medical equipment is available to employees in case of a medical incident, such as including thermometers.
- Signage and Information: keep all employees and clients informed of how to follow guidelines to protect everybody’s safety. For internal employees this can be easily done via HybridHero with various notices, message boards and updates to keep them informed and safe.
Many countries around the world are implementing contact tracing apps for citizens to have on their smart phones to control the spread of COVID-19. These are being rushed out with assistance from large technology firms but there are a number of vital questions about their ability to accurately monitor contract tracing in the workplace and the data privacy of company employees in aCOVID-19 world.
The way these apps work is largely by using location data from mobile signal towers, GPS or Bluetooth to determine an employee’s whereabouts and who they came close to. The mobile tower data is relatively simple and can show who was in the vicinity of an area to within approximately 1km. The GPS signal is more accurate. However, both are not necessarily accurate where mobile signals are poor or in buildings where someone on the 27th floor has the same GPS co-ordinates as someone on the 1st floor. These two people may never have been in contact despite these results. For this reason the latest apps use Bluetooth to determine a person’s whereabouts and who they came into contact with.
This presents two main issues. First, it requires everyone to use the app, have Bluetooth switched ‘on’ and a charged-up phone. Second, if this data is stored outside of the organisation, the company is potentially giving the creators of these apps all the interactions between employees, customers and in respect of its business location and places of operation. This is data that may be commercially sensitive and information the company simply may not wish to share especially when the results may not be available to the company itself to enable protective policies to be implemented, workplace heath and safety obligations to be maintained or business decisions to be made. There is also the problem these apps will miss people who don’t have the local country’s app including international visitors.
Some of the recent data has shown the highest level of transmission are in the home and places of work especially offices where you have long hours of sustained contact between individuals sitting at desks. The solution to solving the office problem is having a desk booking and check-in system, like HybridHero, where the company can rapidly trace who had prolonged exposure to someone displaying COVID-19 symptoms.
9. Make employees’ mental health a top priority
Ensuring workplace health and safety of all your employees is a key objective and companies need to look beyond physical health. The pandemic has caused significant mental health issues due to prolonged isolation at home, social distancing at work, and the stress of not knowing if they or their friends, colleagues or family will become ill. Providing employees an avenue to have their mental health requirements met needs to be a top priority of all employers during and post COVID-19. This is especially true for employees who have contracted COVID19 and find themselves ill and/or in isolation.
Below you can see an example of the HybridHero mental health module where you can customise your message for staff and add links for external mental health providers for employees who do not feel comfortable speaking to their employer.
10. Minimising the impact in the event of a COVID-19 incident
One of the things that has made COVID-19 a pandemic is that countries lacked the data to accurately make the decisions they needed to in a timely manner. As we return to work after COVID-19, companies need to have the data at their fingertips to make the decisions accurately, effectively and in a timely manner. In the early days of the pandemic we saw companies shut entire buildings as they did not know how to contain the spread of the disease within their organisation. This situation may not always need to happen in a COVID-19 world if organisations follow a few key steps:
- • Ensure you have the data of employees’ seating arrangements and can quickly review desks in close proximity over the preceding weeks in the event that an employee becomes infected or is showing COVID-19 symptoms (HybridHero real-time management reporting).
- • Ensure you have a ready to go communication plan to inform employees of any incident and the action they need to take.
- • Isolate and protect any employees exposed to an infected employee.
- • Ensure you have adequate mental health support available for all your employees especially those who are infected and who need to isolate (HybridHero wellbeing module).
Disclaimer: this article is based on market research but also contains references to the software product owned by HybridHero Limited
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