Days turned into weeks, and weeks into months; today, we’re all habituated with the new way of work and living. No early morning rush hour traffic to tackle, no more suiting up for meetings and offices, factories, and other facilities now wear a deserted look with most employees working from home. The economic repercussions of the pandemic have been drastic, and several businesses are struggling to stay afloat amidst the chaos. The disruption of remote working and travel embargoes have not been too easy either. But there may finally be a reason to rejoice: restrictions in several parts of the world are easing up and a return to regular work is imminent. While navigating the COVID pandemic has certainly been a challenge, the aftermath will prove to be challenging still. Why, you ask? Experts agree that it might be long before we go back to the world we knew, instead, businesses will have to operate in a radically different environment, juggling various unknowns and managing real risk to human life whilst reintroducing to the workplace life. Ensuring the health and safety of workers should arguably be the topmost concern of any enterprise planning to shift the gears back to the ‘new normalcy’.
New protocols for sanitization might be needed. Social distancing would have to be enforced even within the office. Employee schedules might have to be rotated. Biometrics need to be looked into to make it contactless. Cafeterias must be re-thought. There’s a lot to do, while ensuring your business operates to its optimum level, and also factoring in employee health and safety. But how and where to get started?
Reintroduction to regular work can be dangerous if mishandled. Proper planning, risk evaluation, and technology adoption are necessary to make the transition easy. Despite the importance of planning for a safe return to work, a survey revealed that barely 10% of company executives have done any ‘extensive’ planning for the same, which prompts the question: Are we not taking it as seriously as we should? By the time we get around to planning a return to work, will it be too little too late? While businesses didn’t plan their way ‘in’ to the chaos, getting out of it certainly needs careful planning and a redo of how one ‘used to’ run the enterprise operations.
Here’s a brief guide on how you can ensure a safe return to the workplace while ensuring your business operates at its maximum capacity:
Workplace safety is paramount
The fight with COVID is far from over; we have a long way to go, and while restrictions may be easing up, it certainly doesn’t mean workplaces should let their guard down. Safety should be your biggest focus. Sanitize the office space, clean air ducts, eliminate any expired consumables, clean out desks and storage areas, and maintain a hygienic environment. Set up all the necessary expert-recommended measures at the workplace; introduce foot-operated or intelligent sanitizer dispensers. Replace taps with sensor-based taps in all washrooms. Re-think your access systems, as fingerprints have now become irrelevant. Adjust seating arrangements to follow social distancing protocols and make sure any social activities are curtailed. You also need to ensure regular cleaning and sanitization to ensure optimum levels of safety.
Restrict employee numbers
Return your employees to the workplace in a phased manner instead of opening your doors to them all at once. A larger volume of workers poses a huge risk for spreading the virus. Remember, the higher your employee numbers, the higher the risk involved.
Plan a re-introduction to office in a step by step manner. Keep remote working options open and rotate teams and groups of employees to work at the office every few days rather than all at once. You can also shuffle timings or restrict in-office work to critical functions whose presence in a work environment is highly necessary.
Encourage good practices
Your role is only half the job done, the rest falls down to your employees. Encourage your workers to stay safe and healthy and make it mandatory to adhere to the best safety practices in the workplace and beyond. Ensure basic tips such as frequent hand washing, sneezing into a tissue, wearing masks at all times, and social distancing are strictly followed. Stock up on supplies that will make it easy for your employees to practice good hygiene. Place sanitizers, soap, towels, tissues, face masks, among other items to make sanitization easy and accessible. It’s also a great idea to host sessions, send emails, or even hang posters across the office with information on following good practices and safety measures.
Update policies and procedures
A few months ago, a majority of organizations did not have ‘WFH’ as part of their policies; and for those that did it was a rarity accompanied by several conditions attached. Today, even those companies have been forced to re-think their policies and have embraced WFH as a new way of working. The key to sustaining and rising above the chaos of COVID is to be open to change, and this doesn’t just mean on the surface, rather an inward out change in the way your business operates.
Your sick leave policy may need a review due to COVID-19. Are you offering extra days off to those who test positive? How about leave for employees who live with someone affected? Consider policy changes such as indefinite work from home for those who can manage it. Provide paid time off to those suspected to be sick. Add more flexibility to attendance and timings. Reviewing and redoing your policies and procedures is a must to fit the new normal.
Review and upgrade your infrastructure
It might take many months before you can resume work as usual – that is, if pre-COVID normalcy returns at all. This means you need to address any gaps and deficiencies in the infrastructure that is needed to support your employees with their work. Do your employees have the proper tools necessary for the work? How seamlessly can they juggle between in-office work and working from home? Do they have proper connectivity and accessibility to data irrespective of where they work from? Ask these crucial questions and evaluate the areas that need improvement. When returning to work with a mixed workforce and distributed teams, it’s vital to set in place the necessary infrastructure for communication, collaboration, and connectivity to avoid a loss of productivity.
Rebuild your employees’ morale
The isolation of being under quarantine and weeks to months of distancing can take a toll on your employees’ well-being and mental health. Trying to get back to work after weeks can feel unsettling for some; so much may have changed, the culture, the workplace setting, a few old faces may not be returning and some friends might be on indefinite work from home. The human component of returning to workplace demands as much importance as everything else, so it’s necessary to focus on rebuilding workplace morale.
Hear out employee concerns and attempt to resolve them. Handle matters pertaining to new rules and operations with sensitivity. Focus on improving the workplace culture while staying within the permissible regulations; encourage cross-functional collaboration, consider team-building events, host celebrations, and other fun sessions to keep spirits high. Always keep the entire vibe positive; talk about the successes more, and less on the misses. A healthy workplace thrives on motivated workforces, so this is an investment you simply must make.
Use technology as a lever
Believe it or not, for most organizations that have so far sidelined digital transformation, the COVID pandemic has been a major eye-opener allowing them to unravel the immense benefits it brings. [Read more on how the Coronavirus crisis has been a wakeup call on the importance of digital transformation] Many who kept digital transformation on the backburner, have now embraced it to full effect. Technology has indeed proved to be a major gamechanger in helping several businesses tide through the crisis and alleviate the far-reaching business effects the pandemic has wrought. But this adoption of technology shouldn’t just end there! A return to the workplace will be highly demanding; your HR teams might have to work doubly hard to ensure proper protocols are in place, identifying and monitoring employee health can be cumbersome, and rotating shifts and employees can prove to be an operational nightmare if mishandled. However, making the right use of technology can help you ease the transition and make returning to work a lot safer, and manageable.
Appian’s Workforce Safety Solution: Why you need it?
Appian has come up with a ready solution to tackle the return to the workplace with the Workforce Safety Solution. Designed to enable organizations to intelligently manage the complexities of returning workers onsite while ensuring their safety, the Workforce Safety can help you leverage smart automation for a safe, efficient return to onsite work. With a unified command center to see and manage the health status of all employees, an intelligent return to onsite work authorization, and fast workforce screening through easy submission of data, the solution incorporates a range of features to simplify the transition to onsite work.
The solution also allows you to adopt a phased or rotating approach by automating return authorizations based on geography, team, personal health risk, role, and other factors, thus eliminating the cumbersome manual processes involved in shuffling your workers. There’s a free trial you can avail to test the capabilities of the solution. Get started with a free 14-day trial of Workforce Safety Solution today with Vuram!
It might be long before we return to a pre-COVID era and the best course of action is to evaluate, change, adapt, and adopt to align with the new normal. Returning to the workplace might not be easy, but it’s certainly necessary and needs to be handled carefully! Chart out a plan and put it in action – the earlier the better. It’s time you left behind the conventional means of working and embraced a new, reformed, digital setting with a distributed workforce. At Vuram, we’ve been empowering businesses with just that! Our digital transformation services have been helping enterprises find stability amidst the chaos. Want to learn more about how we can solve your enterprise challenges? Contact us or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org