The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has been massively destructive for many businesses across the country. In Part 1 of this series, we discussed how business continuity plans can help you navigate these times and hopefully get you back on track sooner once the economy begins to open up. Part 2 will deal with the impact of the pandemic on workers and how you can be ready to get everyone back to work.

These have been uncertain times for business owners and workers alike. While no business wants to be struggling, a loss of profits typically means that workers start to worry. While some difficult decisions may need to be made, having a good grasp on how to proceed can help make the process a little easier.

Preparing your workers to work from home

In this day in age, the ability to work from home is something many companies use as an incentive to recruit the younger generation of workers. While this isn’t realistic in every industry, it is becoming more and more common. Whether you already allow people to work from home or not, moving workers out of the office because of a pandemic is going to be slightly more challenging than just offering flexible work arrangements. Let’s be honest. This situation is going to be longer term then a couple of weeks, especially because not everyone will be able to just duck into the office if they’ve forgotten something. Here are a few things that can help facilitate this process:

  • Access: Before they make the transition to their home office, make sure they have all the equipment they need to be just as productive as they would be in the office., including access to any software or internal networks or drives that they normally have access to. Keep in mind that workers from different departments will likely have different needs, and each one needs to be treated as a priority in order
  • IT Support: It is also important to have some kind of IT plan in place in case things go wrong. This doesn’t mean having someone available to do house calls. It just means having a plan in place in case an employee needs additional access to servers and networks, or need additional equipment. Workers may think their home office is sufficient, especially if they are used to completing tasks in the evening or on the weekend. However, it may not be ideal for long term, full-time use. Figure out what the company will be responsible for, and how you will help workers get their home workspace up to par so they can maintain productivity for the foreseeable future.
  • Communication: It is important to have a communication plan in place before workers start working from home. It should include immediate team or project communication, as well as corporate communication. You should be in touch with your workers at least once a week to let them know what your expectations are between check-ins and what is happening within the company. Things like tips on working from home, the company’s health, any changes to payroll or to salaries, new controls and policies that are being implemented, and updates on when you expect them to return to the office should all be discussed regularly and openly.
  • Personal Support: Ensure your workers know that you will continue to support them to the best of your ability as members of your team. Examine sick-leave policies to ensure they match public health guidance. Remember to update your sick day policy to include changes to the Employment Standards Code, which allows full and part-time employees to take 14 days of job-protected leave if they are required to isolate or are caring for a child or dependent adult who is required to isolate (they are not required to have a medical note). And encourage them to keep in touch with each other regularly to avoid boredom and disconnection.

Getting workers back in the office

Once this is all over, life will need to return to some kind of normalcy, and this will include going back to the office. It is very likely that some businesses will go back before others depending on how essential they are deemed to be. There may still be some restrictions and government recommendations in place to reduce the chances of another big outbreak, so there’s a few things you’ll want to consider when you start bringing people back into the office. There are 3 main categories of control measures to be aware of in these circumstances.

  • Engineering controls: These control the hazard at the source. Examples include:
    • Barriers or partitions between staff
    • Changing ventilation
    • Cleaning
    • Forcing sick workers to stay home,
    • Enforcing social distancing with markers placed 6 feet apart in common areas
    • even putting tape on the floor (reference markers) to remind people of the 6 feet rule (remember the show “WKRP in Cincinnati”?)
    • And minimising or restricting the number of visitors in the workplace at any one time
  • Administrative controls: These controls change the way workers, volunteer and customers interact. Examples include:
    • Policies for physical distancing
    • Limiting or staggering hours of operations to reduce the number of people in the workplace
    • Promoting good respiratory etiquette and proper hand hygiene
    • And limiting the number of people in shared spaces, such as meeting rooms and lunchrooms, by reducing the number of in person meetings and staggering breaks.
  • And lastly, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): PPE controls the hazard at the worker, volunteer or patron level. Examples of PPE include:
    • Gloves
    • Eye protection
    • Face protections and masks

It is important to consider the hazard level and the appropriate level of hazard protection (if any) before selecting or offering PPE to anyone in the workplace.

In conclusion

The pandemic has changed a lot about our world, but it doesn’t mean that we cannot learn to work within these new parameters, or that we will never get back to business as usual. It may take some time, but keeping your workers informed and supported will help make the transitions out and back into the office relatively seamless.

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