July 02, 2020
Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, countries and states around the world are working round-the-clock to reduce the spread of this disease by ensuring lockdown of all activities, quarantining people and testing en masse. As the world slowly eases the lockdown regulations and prepares to resume normal life, some businesses are being allowed to operate, albeit under strict conditions, while other businesses are still working on strategies to reopen slowly.
As far as returning to work after the lockdown is concerned, you, as an employer, should take responsibility for assessing the risk of transmission at the workplace. You have to ensure extensive sanitization of the workplace before your staff return to work. The areas with heavy employee traffic should be the focus, such as work chairs, desks, floors, meeting rooms, and equipment like fax machines, photocopiers, coffee vending machines, elevator buttons, escalator handrails, door handles and screening areas.
Your staff’s workstations should also be rearranged to ensure the requisite distance between them -the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a distance of at least 1 metre between people. Also ensure availability of contactless scanners for screening your staff for any symptoms associated with Covid-19.
As per preventive measures laid down by WHO, there should be adequate facilities for washing hands with soap and water, paper towels to dry hands after washing, availability of alcohol-based sanitizers and PPE kits in case of urgent need, follow social distancing norms and wear face masks or respirators at work at all times. Encourage your staff to follow guidelines during their commute to and fro from work, bring home-cooked food, sanitize their laptops/PCs and mobile phones regularly, and ensure that they keep their workstation clean. You must create awareness among your staff about the dangers of the virus, its method of transmission and measures to prevent transmission. Notices to this effect can be placed at workstations, restrooms, kitchen and meeting rooms. Talking about meeting rooms, while the novel coronavirus has changed the way we work, it is unlikely that we will keep relying entirely on video conferencing to collaborate or conduct meetings, nothing can replace the human touch. So, how do you conduct meetings in such a scenario?
First, you need to consider whether a video conference can replace the meeting. If not, can you limit the number of participants for the meeting or will it be feasible to conduct the meeting in two parts so that fewer people are present in the meeting room. Once you have answers to these questions, you need to plan the seating arrangement, ensure availability of tissues, sanitizers, masks for the attendees and also keep ready a response plan if someone at the meeting becomes ill. Encourage your staff to bring their own notepad and pens to take notes so that there is minimum surface contact. You also need to make sure that your meeting venue is adequately ventilated.
As far as your support staff including receptionists, security guards, cafeteria and housekeeping staff are concerned, you need to ask yourself if you need all of them to come to work right after lockdown or in a staggered manner. Keeping the support staff to the necessary minimum immediately after lockdown would be more appropriate.
You also need to assess the psychological risks associated with COVID-19 that your staff may face, such as workload, fear of contamination and isolation. If any staff can work from home then it should be made voluntary for the person to attend office. You need to understand that the fear of infection is present throughout the entire ecosystem around the individual; the ecosystem that consists of family and society, and it is the fear of this entire ecosystem that also needs to be taken care of through your employee.
As a responsible employer, consider initiating a phase-wise return to work by rotating your staff and reducing the number of your employees who need to be present at the workplace. In a nutshell, a well-planned return to work is the need of the hour.
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