The center has announced several relaxations when it comes to the reopening of workplaces and industrial units amidst the fourth installment of the COVID-19 lockdown. Many people have either already started reporting to work or will be doing so in the days or weeks to come. However, the question that still remains is whether or not there are enough effective workplace safety measures in place that can prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace as more and more people get ready to go back to work after a two-month long hiatus.
Precaution must be taken. So it is imperative that employers prepare for COVID-19 at the workplace taking into account the social distancing norms that are established by the authorities. Employees, at an individual level as well, need to take responsibility. If they feel the slightest of deterioration in their health, they need to bring it to the attention of their employers and get tested as soon as possible. By not doing so, they will be putting their own lives as well as the lives of their colleagues and family in danger. The social consequences of a case of COVID-19 in the workplace can be quite unfavourable for the entire company. This is why both employers and employees need to focus on precaution and planning when working together to find a safe way of resuming operations.
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But returning to work or opening offices amidst the challenging situation won’t be too easy. Employers will need to bring in health and safety measures for employees at the workplace while at the same time, preparing the right framework for getting their businesses back on track. It won’t be wrong to say that the workplace will have to evolve to function anywhere close to its capacity. Another area of focus for employers needs to be building trust in the minds of their employees regarding the health and safety measures at the workplace. People coming out of confinement after two months and still uncertain whether they should move out or not, would need assurance from their employers that their safety, health, and hygiene in the workplace will be number one priority.
Here are three important areas that employers can focus on to provide their employees a safe and healthy working environment and at the same time, get their business back on track:
1. Manage the number of people attending office. If employers allow offices to open at full strength, they will be running the risk of the spreading of the virus. This is why it is very important to manage the number of employees who are allowed to come back to work. More people coming to a shared workplace could create a health crisis of sorts.
Take a staggered approach to reopening. Rotate employees that work from home and work from office every week. But make sure that this division into groups is done on the basis of functional roles and social distancing. Even if there is a temptation, employers shouldn’t call more than 30-35% of their employees on the same day. They can ask employees to work in different shifts. As the government hasn’t said anything yet about traffic movement in the evening and in the night, it will be best for employers to allow people coming to office to only work in day shifts while letting employees that are working from home to work in any of the three shifts.
2. Employee safety should be the priority. If an employer is thinking about resuming operations, they need to first safeguard their employees’ well-being. Compliance with central and state governments’ orders that relate to workplace safety and protection of employees is a must for employers if they want to slowly bring their operation back to normal. Employers would be required to employ new protocols for sanitization and cleaning as well as adopting changed workspace layouts to ensure social distancing.
Employers will also have to create clear guidelines for thermal screening employees and visitors before they enter the office premises, the use of gloves, face masks, and other personal protective equipment, and rules employees need to follow to return to work after staying in quarantine for the designated period or recovering from the infection. Technology can help a great deal in not only contact tracing but also communicating with those who are suspected of being exposed to the virus. In both the scenarios, they can be advised to self-quarantine. But it is also very important to ensure the safety of employees’ personal data.
3. Workplace infrastructure needs also need to be reassessed. Many employers will find it very difficult to return to the way they used to operate before this disruption. It is highly likely that they won’t be able to provide their employees with the support and infrastructure that they need to be as productive as they are expected to. This is why businesses now need to look for platforms that can ensure better collaboration, communication, and connectivity in these unprecedented times.
Businesses need to identify and fix the areas of deficiency in their communication and technology infrastructure to not allow loss of productivity cripple their chances of survival. No wonder more and more businesses have already started investing significantly in these areas. Businesses have to maintain the right balance between providing their employees with a safe and healthy work environment and ensuring that operations gradually return to normal.
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There are many employees that are still not ready to go back to work owing to the risks involved. At a time like this, employers shouldn’t let negligence compromise with the health of their employees and the successful reintroduction to the workplace. It is essential for businesses to pay heed to the guidelines issued by the government and develop their own set of rules and guidelines to ensure that this reintroduction is as smooth as possible.
- “Covid-19: Return to work checklist for office workers” by Consultancy.in on 29th May 2020
- “Returning to the workplace after COVID-19: What boards should be thinking about” by Pwc.com