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Work smart be safe: What to do when going back to the office

BASDA’s Kevin Hart lists the most important things to consider when returning to the workplace while Covid-19 is still a threat.

Informed consensus is that Covid-19 is likely to remain a significant health threat and business risk for the remainder of 2020 and possibly beyond. The timing and full detail of government imposed restrictions being lifted, allowing employees to return to their workplace, are both fluid and likely to be on a phased basis. Re-entry into the physical workspace will undoubtedly be challenging for both management and employees.

Meeting the physical safety, social distancing as well as recognising and respecting specific employee circumstances, preferences, concerns and fears will all need to be considered and will all be critical in supporting employees to rebuild their ‘community’ at work.

For many businesses identifying the risks, constraints, limitations, welfare needs (circumstances and preferences), options and alternatives of both workplace and employees will be critical in creating and implementing their plans for a safe return.

It is therefore prudent for businesses to consider and plan for all scenarios as a priority and to take these steps now.

BASDA (the Business Application Software Developers Association) have recently published a best practice guide to help businesses do just that (as they have done for several other topics). The guide, ‘Top things to consider when returning to the workplace, while Covid-19 is still a threat’, identifies the key areas that businesses might consider based on BASDA members’ collective feedback – both as employers and employees (noting that many areas are not mutually exclusive).

This straightforward guide is relevant to businesses of all types and sizes and offers independent, ‘jargon-free’ guidance on key areas of consideration for all businesses when returning employees to the workplace while Covid-19 remains a threat. It offers practical direction on areas to consider including phased return, adhering to social distancing, health and wellbeing of employees, re-orientation programmes, rebuilding workplace morale and scenario planning.

As guidance evolves, so will the guide, incorporating changes and emerging risks as they arise.

Set out below is a short precise of each of the pertinent areas all businesses should consider. However, the guide itself offers lots more detail including questions a business should ask and action. Download your free guide at www.basda.org/bsg

Phased Return

  • Business need
  • Risk asses return options
  • Employee needs and capabilities
  • Re-orientation for employees

While the government are encouraging a return to work for those who cannot work from home, for many businesses a phased return to work for employees will be the best (and indeed only) option. Managing the preferences and individual circumstances of employees will be critical to protecting health (both mental and physical) and challenging for employers. Businesses are strongly advised to risk assess the return of employees, including re-orientation for such employees, to the workplace to identify health and safety risks and take appropriate steps to remove, manage and mitigate any such risks.

Social Distancing

  • Business premises types and considerations
  • Working area reconfiguration

With longer term social distancing requirements inevitable, best practice guides that each business review the current needs along with the physical boundaries of the building they operate out of and be proactive in reconfiguring workspaces to adhere to strict social distancing requirements.

Hygiene Standards

Maintaining and demonstrating a rigorous cleaning schedule and continuing hygiene procedures will be vital to employees’ wellbeing and safety.

  • Re-opening canteens/restaurant facilities
  • Risk management

Businesses should consider when it is appropriate to reopen welfare facilities such as a workplace canteen. Offering a food service of some description discourages employees out of the office to the high street, therefore reducing potential risk. However, the introduction of additional external personnel to the workplace brings incremental risk.

Health

  • Employee wellbeing

The risks to an individual’s health from this pandemic may be psychological as well as physical. Many will be anxious about the potential return to the workplace, have had financial constraints or have experienced self-isolation challenges during lockdown.

  • Induction/reorientation
  • Reintegration into workplace

As different cohorts of employees (those that continued to work at the office/workplace, those that worked from home, those that were on furlough) return, they will face new ways of working, new policies and new measures on health and safety. An induction/reorientation process should be developed and undertaken by businesses to help employees adapt.

Rebuild workplace morale

The psychological component of returning to office life requires as much focus as the practical one. For some employees that have been away from their workplace a period of adjustment after returning may be required. Much may have changed in the interim. Invest efforts to rebuild workplace morale.

Communicate in a united way with your employees

  • Two way communication and consultation

Ensure all employees in leadership or management roles have consistent messaging and communicate regularly and openly with their people about the situation, how it is impacting the business and what this means for them. Businesses should invest time to consult their employees and understand their concerns on an ongoing basis. This ‘two-way’ process ensures employees are listened to and know that they can be heard in ways that could support and/or lead to change.

Educate your prospective visitors

  • Minimising non-essential visitors

Ensure you are updating all visitors on the steps you, as a business, are taking to keep them safe. Importantly, consider how to minimise non-essential visitors to a business premises.

Scenario Planning

  • Plan for all future potential scenarios

Businesses should prepare for a future potential shut-down scenario if an employee tests positive at one of their work locations. Develop a plan and process allowing speedy implementation on what to do if someone becomes ill with suspected COVID-19 at your business premises.

Embed your learnings

  • Lessons learned

The changes demanded by Covid-19 will have identified many gaps and challenges; however, do not overlook any benefits that may arise. Smart businesses will identify lessons learned and embed such learnings into how they conduct business in future including the fact that Disaster Recovery is no longer only about moving a number of key roles into another building located elsewhere.

BASDA Comment

As government authorities strive to implement business reopening measures, employers are now having to plan to move employees back into the workplace, and probably on a phased basis, as Covid-19 restrictions are modified. This is placing an onus and potentially a significant burden and risk on employers to do the right thing as they bring their workforce back (cognisant that the ‘remote working model’ may be with a number of employees for some time to come).

We have leveraged our members’ collective insights, as they themselves serve hundreds of thousands of businesses – sharing matters here from both employer and employee perspective – addressing current key concerns and considerations in order to bring this free, invaluable reference aid to market for businesses of all shapes and sizes. We anticipate that as government guidance and restrictions evolve so too will this guide, ensuring it is a live and timely document for those businesses that use it as a reference point.

Return to work programmes are essential for businesses to develop now in order to enable to enable seamless transition and integration of employees back into the workplace. Businesses are encouraged, as early as possible, to embrace the likely ‘new normal’.

This free updatable guide is available to download at www.basda.org/bsg

• Kevin Hart is a Chair at BASDA

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