Revealed: The Return-to-Work Blueprint for Businesses

To effectively prepare your business for return-to-work, reflect on what you have learned from the lockdown period when your employees were working remotely. It is time to look beyond the conventional working processes for employees and look for new radical, long-term solutions to help offshoot any such future eventuality.

This pandemic has deeply affected many businesses. Some were forced to completely close their operations, while some other fortunate ones had the opportunity to scale down their operations and ask their employees to work remotely or from home.

Now, as the lockdown restrictions have eased and businesses are gradually planning to return to work, they are expected to fulfil certain legal and situational obligations to ensure proper health, safety and welfare of their employees as well as their customers. Here is a comprehensive guide to help you plan and prepare your organisation to return to work post the COVID-19 restrictions.

The beginning

To begin with, organisations need to first determine the steps required to build a safe work environment for their employees. Employers should focus on taking all practical measures as recommended by the government to resume organisational activities. Corporate regulators strongly advise the companies to conduct a risk assessment of their premises and consider all the potential risks and hazards that would need effective controls measures to ensure the implementation of a safe return to work policy for your employees.

There are a few questions that an organisation should consider in their quest to create an effective return to work plan for its employees:

  • Do you need to return to work?

Consider the current situation and your remote working arrangements and determine whether it is truly necessary to ask your employees to return to work.

  • Whom do you want to return to work?

Consider which employees are required to come to work. If your staff is working effectively from remote locations, then you may ask them to continue with their functions. It is safer to let your staff stay at their current location.

Consider rotating the shift of the employees whom you have asked to return to work. And ensure that ample safety precautions are in place.

Also, consider the travel arrangement of employees whom you have asked to return to work. Is it appropriate for them to take public transport or better to provide them with a transportation facility?

Consider your employees that are vulnerable to the infection or are at a higher risk of contracting the infection and take appropriate measures to safeguard them.

An effective return-to-work plan

At BetterPlace, we have developed an effective return to work strategy for our clients as well as our employees. We hope that employers and organisations can certainly benefit from this plan. Our return-to-work program follows the below four protocols:

  • Prepare
  • Inform
  • Prevent
  • Recover

To help understand, let us discuss each of the protocols in detail:

1. Prepare

To prepare your company to return to work, you need to focus on the following aspects:

  • The leadership team should discuss and unanimously agree that the business has to return to work and that an effective return to work strategy has to be implemented.
  • Create a plan to effectively prepare your office building or premises for occupancy.
  • Conduct a comprehensive pre-occupancy inspection.
  • Arrange for deep-cleaning and deep sanitisation of the premises.
  • Train your facility management and housekeeping staff on implementing good hygiene at the premises and create a daily schedule for hygiene and cleaning.
  • Review the services that present the highest risk of health issues and establish ways of minimising the risk.
  • Examine all life saving and emergency systems at the premises.

Next, the leadership should agree on who and what type of employees would return to work, and then consider the below aspects:

  • Availability of space to implement social distancing at the workplace
  • Work timings to shift timings to achieve social distancing at the workplace
  • Identifying the most at risk or vulnerable employees
  • Identifying employees who have care or child responsibilities
  • Making travel arrangements, if and where possible, to reduce the dependence on public transportation

The employer must establish social distancing protocols at the workplace based on the guidelines issued by the government. These include:

  • Staggered departure and arrival
  • Ample space to work between two employees
  • Building exit and/or entrance protocol
  • Creating social distancing norms at canteens, pantries at the premises
  • Creating social distancing policies for internal meetings as well as client meetings
  • Making elaborate emergency and security arrangements

Another important aspect that you need to bear in mind is the heightened anxiety among employees due to difficulties faced while returning to work. And its resistant consequences in the form of violence and/or aggression.

Most importantly, the organisation needs to establish a clear contingency plan to effectively respond to any kind of emergency or a spike in the COVID-19 outbreak. This forethought would enable a timely response from your employees without any disruption of services.

2. Inform

The effectiveness of your return-to-work policy depends on how well you communicate with your employees. It is better to keep a senior-most person in charge of communicating your plan to your employees.

Arrange an orientation program to welcome your employees and managers back to work, and to inform or notify them about the new protocols at the workplace. These should include:

  • Social distancing norms at the workplace and cleaning arrangement at the premises
  • Travel arrangement to work, particularly for those employees who use public transport or other public facilities to come to work
  • Relaxation of the vehicle-sharing plan, if it is in place
  • Seating arrangements at the workplace
  • The shift arrangement at the workplace including breaks
  • Following government guidelines on using public transport
  • Proper eating and drinking arrangements at canteens and pantries
  • Workstation hygiene and health requirements
  • To-and-fro travel arrangements from outdoor meetings and client sites
  • Regular vehicle checks and hygiene requirements
  • Proper reporting of ill health and employee support program
  • An end-of-shift protocol including handing the responsibility to the incoming shift

Make it a point to regularly highlight the message of being safe and healthy to your employees.

3. Prevent

Make sure that the hygiene and health standards are properly maintained and managed at the workplace by doing the following:

  • Identify the main touchpoints at the office premises and provide appropriate hand sanitisation stations to clean and/or sanitise the hands.
  • Maintain washroom hygiene and cleanliness.
  • Determine the cleaning frequency of the work surfaces and the HVAC systems to maintain optimum hygiene.
  • Cleaning should be considered as a core activity, and employees should have access to the appropriate PPE kits when required, and their placement should be such that they are visible to the employees when required. In general, PPE kits are recommended as a means of psychological reassurance rather than as a safety measure.
  • Ensure safe conduct of statutory testing.
  • Review the following:
    • Food serving and preparation areas to make sure that social distancing is effectively maintained
    • The dispatches and delivery happening at the workplace
    • Arrangement of proper disposal of waste, including special arrangements for disposal of PPE kits worn by facilities and housekeeping staff
    • Transport arrangement for employees and proper locker facilities where required
    • Reinforcement of social distancing norms at the workplace

4. Recover

The recovery of the business is one of the key stages that employers should focus on. Therefore, employers must actively monitor the efficiency and effectiveness of their return-to-work plan, and make sure that the plan stays relevant and supports the employees who have come back for work in these circumstances. A well-defined return-to-work policy instils confidence among the employees and the business.

Employers should review the lessons learnt from this outbreak and seek feedback from employees. Analyse your performance and accordingly improve on the feedback.

Further, employers must also review and accordingly update their Business Continuity Plan as per the changing circumstances. Most companies may have already implemented their plans before the outbreak. This pandemic is a great learning opportunity for such companies.

To effectively prepare your business for return-to-work, reflect on what you have learned from the lockdown period when your employees were working remotely or from home. It is time to look beyond the conventional working processes for employees and look for new radical, long-term solutions to help offshoot any such future eventuality. This pandemic has brought about a shift in employee behaviour as well. There is an increasing feeling among employees to have the flexibility of working from home as part of their employee benefits.

Many organisations are cashing in on these trends and are offering permanent work from home positions to their full-time employees. So, you could embrace what is working for you, act on the positives and work on the negatives to make working a pleasurable experience for your employees.

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