Planning to reinvigorate your workforce to work from the office? Here are some precautions that you must consider!
The change in the air is palpable. It started a few months ago with the gradual opening up of the economy, freeing of travel and movement restrictions, opening up of markets and public transport. The momentum is gaining ground, with the current buzz being “back to the office”.
Both the employers and employees have mixed feelings about the full-scale reopening of offices. In a survey of over 1000 workers in the US, PwC found that 70% were hesitant to return to work due to a variety of reasons, the predominant one (51%) being fear of getting sick. Concern, anxiety, and worry are going hand in hand with the need to go out with a purpose, of interacting with colleagues, of getting one’s life back on the rails. These feelings are not limited to the employer and employees per se but extend to their families and near ones.
Employers have the moral and legal obligation to provide a safe and healthy work environment to their employees and workers. Employees, too are bound to comply with the stipulations and conditions that ensure protection for themselves and to those around them.
The Way Forward
How does one cope with these challenges? While providing a safe work environment is fundamental, it may not be enough to just be limited to this. Most forward-looking employers recognize that they need to reinvigorate their employees. HR interventions that motivate and inspire and rekindle the spirit of fearless engagement will be a necessity too.
The measures for workplace changes after Covid may be bifurcated into two parts
1. Physical aspects
On the office front, some pre-restart actions that should draw the attention of the employers include:
- Deep cleaning and sanitizing– Premises that have been shut for some time or are working on skeleton staff are prone to maintenance issues. Removing mold, dust, stains, ensuring that the electrical and water utilities are fully functional, the sitting arrangements, workspace, and restroom facilities are clean and neat, etc. is imperative to make the employees feel welcome and comfortable. It also serves the purpose of reaffirmation in the employee’s minds that they work for a caring organization.
- Review employee facility arrangements– Most offices have cafeterias/lunch rooms/canteens/common rooms for use during their breaks. These are usually crowded spaces. Arrangements for food, snacks, water, tea coffee, and other beverages as also the seating and cooking facilities should be reviewed in light of Covi-19 guidelines. If such services are outsourced, the vendors/contractors must be made aware of the need to implement all of the required safety measures.
- Implement social distancing norms- Ensure that the seating arrangement is such that the prescribed distance is maintained. Partitioning of workstations, modification of seats and furniture, the widespread use of highlighted visual signage in common areas like lifts and elevators, etc. to be implemented.
- Provide protective aids and refurbish first-aid facilities– Offices should have a ready supply of masks, hand sanitizers, etc. for use of all office goers. Thermal thermometers and health screening devices to be provided at entrance points. First aid kits containing OTC medicines for countering common symptoms of flu should be handy, though given only after medical advice. Tie-ups with local hospitals and medical facilities may also be pursued for employee benefit.
2. Administrative aspects
On the administrative front, process changes may be necessary for risk mitigation. Some suggestions include:
- Streamline Open Communication Channels– All office goers must have a clear understanding as to whom to contact in case of any mishappening. Siloed and hierarchical approach may have to be abandoned in favor of a fast response reaction to a contingency. Setting up a centralized control room with a coordinator could be a workable solution.
- Draw up Checklists– Easy to follow step-by-step action to be taken and by whom, under various scenarios, should be drawn up and circulated amongst all. For e.g., what to do in case an employee shows symptoms while at work?
- Stagger timings– Modify timings to prevent possible crowding. Breaks, the start of day and end of day timings may be adjusted, where feasible, as one of the protective measures for employee safety.
- Revisit HR issues–Review the policy of leaves, especially sick leave, so as to make special provisions, for instance, is quarantine for asymptomatic persons covered? Check whether counselors, in-house or contracted, are the organization’s needs to deal with possible Covid-19 trauma-related issues. Prepare training toolkits and educational materials, brochures, pamphlets, posters, etc., which provide easy to understand handy information related to Covid protocol hygiene, best protective practices, social distancing, quarantining, self-monitoring, etc.
Empathy is the Core
The above set of mitigating measures will go a long way in alleviating any apprehensions in the minds of the office staff. Other supportive workplace policies may also be planned and put in place as per organization-specific requirements to boost employee confidence. Organizations that make visible changes that prioritize employee concerns of safety and well-being are the ones that will successfully meet the challenge of the transition.