5 Things to Keep In Mind When Returning To the Workplace after COVID-19
By Rilind Elijaz
After months of wearing masks and social distancing, and working from home, it appears like the world is on the verge of winning against COVID-19. Many countries are relaxing the measures they had effected in response to the pandemic and life is slowly getting back to normalcy.
In the world of business, stakeholders are contemplating post-COVID-19 workplace challenges: how and when to return to the office safely. The COVID-19 infections curve could have flattened, but the virus is still with us. Businesses cannot afford to subject their workers to the virus and risk sparking a second wave of new infections. The WHO and national public health institutions have provided businesses with safety guidelines that, if followed keenly, can help businesses to successfully transition into this new workplace reality. But the said guidelines aren’t self-sufficient, mainly because each office and each workforce presents unique challenges that generic guidelines cannot address holistically. All employers will still need a well-thought-out return-to-work plan that works for each particular office and staff. That is why we offer you these helpful suggestions of 5 things you need to keep in mind when opening your post-COVID workplace.
- It is paramount that you assess hazards in the workplace
All surfaces in the workplace, right from the entrance to the washrooms, should be considered hazardous. Some employees will be commuting via public means and that increases the transmission risks in the workplace. You have to assess such hazards. Ensure that employees who use public transportation means do not interact with the rest of the team unless they have to. That might bring divisions and classism in the office, so you better be ready to address such side effects. Even better, you can help workers who cannot afford cars to get bicycles, motorbikes, and other safer vehicles.
In the office, you need to assess the likelihood that employees will be coming into close contact of fewer than 2 meters (6 feet) with one another. Liaise with employees and health experts to come up with a realistic health and safety compliance plan. Remember to give special attention to a specific worker or group of workers who could be living with diabetes or any other immuno-compromised workers who are probably at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19.
- Maintain workplace and employee hygiene
After assessing hazards in the workplace, the next step is to work on the workplace and employee hygiene. Train employees to wash hands regularly, sneeze into a tissue/elbow, and practice good overall hygiene. Encourage them to wear masks at all times and keep a healthy physical distance, and lead by example. Ensure that all managers and team leaders follow all best practices in order to set the right example for their subordinates. Keep plenty of cleaning supplies- disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, paper towels, hand soap, and disinfectants- in the office. Ensure those common areas are disinfected as many times as possible.
- The legal implication of your return to work formula
Not following set COVID-19 safety guidelines may precipitate unwanted legal complexities. Some of these complexities are hard to predict beforehand, so your best bet is to protect your business from future COVID-related legal claims by redesigning your HR strategy with the help of legal counsel. Some of the new HR issues that you need to protect your business from include:
· Discrimination cases to people diagnosed with COVID-19. How do you handle such cases?
· What if an employee refuses to come to the office quoting the fear of COVID-19 transmission in the office? Do you let them have it their way, do you fire them, or what other action can you take without contravening employment and labor laws?
· What if an employee refuses to follow safety protocols in the office and quotes religious or political reasons?
· What about employees who live with relatives with vulnerable immune systems, and for that, they fear coming to work?
All these are new challenges that HR departments will be grappling with going forward. Your company lawyer should be able to help you navigate this unchartered territory.
- Feasibility of a hybrid model
As we have mentioned above, some employees will want to continue working remotely for personal reasons. To ensure that in-office and remote employees are in sync, you have to bolster collaboration tools and techniques. For this reason, you must encourage all your employees to download and install zip file opener software such as WinZip for easier sharing of files over the internet. You will need to experiment with and foster a hybrid work model in order to enable all employees to work together effectively, regardless of location.
5. How to restore workforce productivity
Workforce productivity has taken a nosedive during the lockdown months. Even those who were starting to get used to working from home will experience difficulties adapting to the in-office work model. They will struggle to readjust their schedules. You might be forced to be flexible with the clock in hours for a few weeks until all employees are back to their before-COVID work mode. Try to make the office feel as normal as possible and assist employees to regain their productivity by providing them with all the equipment and supplies needed to optimize productivity. Planning your workforce management strategy before your employees are back in the office will give you a competitive advantage and ensure optimal productivity.
Self-isolation and quarantining have taken a toll on many people’s mental health, finances, and social life. Many employees will come back feeling confused, sad, angry, and afraid. Some will be anxious and depressed. Employers and their HR teams will need to be alive to this reality and set aside resources ready to help affected workers.