The workplace will never be the same again. Navigating the post-COVID-19 return to workplaces will be one of the biggest business challenges for companies whose employees are needed in the physical space.
Factory floors to retail shops, office buildings to hotels, the main aim will be to keep operations going while minimising the risk to employees. Most companies have adapted new ways of remote working, but what about those who have to return to the workplace?
In a survey by PwC, only one in five chief financial officers said they believed their companies could resume “business as usual” within a month if the crisis ended today.
Management teams will need to determine how and when to start the return to the workplace once government restrictions are lifted. When they reopen offices, factories and distribution centers, they will need to follow COVID-19 protocols to keep their employees safe.
New SOPs for cleaning and sanitisation will be priority. Companies may also have to look at redesigning of the office layout to follow the six feet apart requirement for social distancing. The main aim would be of course to reduce the number of people in an office at any given time. Another complex challenge will be determining which employees need to be physically present.
Job roles, such as sales and marketing, can transit to the remote working module where technologies like video conferencing may continue to be used to meet clients virtually.
Here’s a checklist of some important tasks that companies can cross out before asking their employees to return to their workplace:
Ensure that your return-to-work plan complies with local government orders specifying which industry sectors may return to in person operations and requirements for capacity limits
Phase employees returning to work: Bring them back in stages and/or on rotating shifts.
Make a temperature testing procedure mandatory for employees to ensure that no one is coming into the workplace with a fever. Organisations may consider making an arrangement with local clinics or hospitals to offer testing for staff members. (many companies are already offering the same to their employees regardless of their plans to reopen)
Provide tissues and place hand sanitisers in multiple locations to encourage hand hygiene.
Discourage handshaking and encourage the use of other noncontact methods of greeting.
You can choose to either provide, mandate or permit employees to wear face coverings or masks at all times
Maintain at least 6 feet of distance between workstations. You may install sneeze guards between spaces. Common or shared workspaces may need to be converted into separated cubicles and workstations.
Routinely clean and disinfect all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, keyboards, telephones, handrails, and doorknobs. Cleaning high touch surfaces and shared objects once a day is usually enough to sufficiently remove virus that may be on surfaces unless someone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 has been in your facility.
Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces can be wiped down by employees before each use. Install no-touch disposal receptacles.
Hang posters in common spaces describing best practices (e.g. sneezing/coughing into elbow/tissue, hand washing practices, not coming to work when sick)
Meal and rest break rules must be adjusted to stagger times to encourage physical distancing. Enforce social distancing in areas where employees congregate (e.g. water cooler, canteen, photocopier, etc). Limit the number of people inside an elevator.
Ensure better ventilation and air filtration/purifier systems. Some facility owners are spending a lot on capital improvements for better filtration, or for ultraviolet lights.
Provide details regarding the return-to-work plan to employees in advance of the effective date of reopening. Inform them of the mandatory COVID-19 safety precautions and protocols the company will have in place at the workplace.
New organisational roles are emerging like a Chief Health Officer. You may have to appoint one.
Last but not the least, set up a mental health hotline and/or support resources for employees who are struggling with fear or are reluctant to give up working remotely.
Remember that while returning to the workplace, there is NO one-size-fits-all solution for companies. They will just have to choose the approach that suits them the best.
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