Life After Lockdown: The Return to the Office
Updated: Jul 3, 2020
Lockdown is easing, the pubs are reopening and we can finally get our hair cut by people who know what they're doing! But this is no time to relax, particularly if you are reopening your business.
Staying Vigilant and Minimising Risks
As staff come back to work, remember that anyone displaying symptoms should self-isolate immediately. Make sure you keep communicating about this with your staff.
Also, remember that hygiene and social distancing measure still need to be observed. Think about the measures you can put in place to help with this. Some workplaces are increasing the number of hygiene stations in and around entrances and high traffic areas. If your staff work in an office, think about how you can move furniture or place screens to enable staff to maintain their 2 metres distance.
Awareness is key
There are so many myths surrounding COVID-19 which cloud people's judgement and ability to remain calm. Consider providing training, communications or publications which bust those myths and keep people in the know. Include things like steps you are taking to improve hygiene in the workplace or how you make sure people with symptoms don't come to work.
Managing Employee Absence
Managing absence has never been as business critical as it is today. Your absence policy should enable staff to do the right thing if they have symptoms of COVID-19 without fear of being penalised, but it should also enable you to manage people who might be taking advantage of the situation.
Not only that, you need to be able to manage COVID-19 related absences to protect the rest of your workforce.
Implementation of your sickness absence policy should take place before you see an increase in absenteeism. The policy should clearly state how absences should be reported, what an acceptable form of sickness absence is, the company position on sick pay and certification required to cover the absence. Ensure you have a robust return to work procedure in place to review employee's symptoms and confirm their fitness to work before they return to the workplace.
Bear in mind that your current absence management procedure is unlikely to include how you should respond to a pandemic.
My advice? Fairness, consistency and standards.
Consider how you will respond to employees who develop symptoms or care for someone who has developed symptoms, employees who are deemed vulnerable, and how you will supoprt those who are just plain terrified. Keep your channels of communication wide open, even with employees who are off sick, furloughed or shielding.
You should think about how you can prevent employees from calling in sick through fear of coming to work. Explain the measures you are taking to employees on a regular basis and reassure them that you're not asking them to take any unnecessary risks. If an employee does call in "sick" because they are worried about COVID-19, talk to them. Understand their reasons for being worried and, providing you're not asking anything unreasonable of them, you can request that they attend work.
In phasing back into a return to work, consider how you could split your teams or shifts to reduce the amount of people in the workplace at any one time and continue to reduce the risks of cross contamination. Perhaps you could split your employees into two teams of critical roles and ask them to work opposite shifts. Cross skilling your employees will prove vital to enabling you to adapt to new ways of working. Think about employees with skills which can be transferred into other areas of the business. Remember, you will need to talk to your employees you make sure they are happy with any change to their usual terms and conditions and that any shared workspaces or equipment will need to be cleaned down more regularly than usual.
Risk Assessment & Disaster Recovery
These are the documents we hope we'll never have to use, but we have a lot that we can learn from this pandemic in how we can respond differently the next time something like this comes around (hopefully never). Consider conducting a review of how your business responded to confirmed cases within your business, or to the pandemic in general and look at how you can improve preparedness, improve your response and recovery capability whilst maintaining continuous quality. This review should then feed into your disaster recovery plan in the event of another pandemic or similar crisis. The plan should consider critical staffing levels: what is the minimum number of people you can continue to operate with? It should also consider proportionate actions to be taken such as segregating workforces or areas, alternative work plans such as working from home or another site and ultimately, what would need to happen to force you to close the business?