Be prepared: First steps to getting back on your feet when the lockdown ends
It seems like it’s been very long since the whole country has been under lockdown, and it looks very likely that it may be extended another couple of weeks. Or perhaps, there may be a phased return to a regularised schedule. Nevertheless, assuming that the lockdown will be lifted in the near future — whether next week or next month whether fully or partially, we will all eventually have to get back to work. The Coronavirus has indeed created a new world order, and things may never be as they were before. While it will, of course, be a relief on many fronts to get back, we have to be prepared for things to be different.
First of all, are all of us going to be confident that the situation has normalised, and we can get back to work, get back to social contact? I’ve been contemplating over this myself for the past week and I feel so unsure. How can we manage hygiene in the office? How do we ensure the employee travel to work safely? What do we do to continue to remain safe while in office? What do we do if someone shows symptoms after reporting to work? Like me, I’m certain lots of questions will be swimming in your heads and a lot more in the heads of your team members. Needless to say, we have to be extra cautious.
Until the government decides the definitive course of action early next week and comes out with detailed protocols, here are a few things we can begin to think of and do to be prepared.
# Prepare to manage attendance:
It is unlikely that the office will get back on its feet with a 100% attendance. In fact, given the severity of the situation, it is very likely that the offices will be requested to work at 50-60% capacity or even less. Chances are that even if there the directive allows for at least 50% attendance, organisations may not see 50% attendance. One of the reason could be that everybody isn’t made equal and some may be more anxious than others and may stay home even if work is expected to resume. Another reason could be the way our workplaces are structured. Some offices may have lesser space between work stations than others, and to keep with the social distancing norms, you may have to go with lesser attendance than what the directive states.
As the company and management, it is your duty to be accomodating in such times. A good way to deal with this is to check in with your teammates and make a roster that is workable so everybody can take equal turns. It is not necessary that one policy might work for the entire company, you will have to work on a team by team basis as well. It depends on the situation, nature of your work, deadlines, and order of priority to get back on track. So devise a plan that works for your team, and ensure the smooth transition into back-to-work mode, and keep track of it.
# Set protocols of sanitisation and distancing:
It is important to introduce a sanitisation drill in the office. For example, washing hands as soon as one enters, and using sanitisers to disinfect the office equipment like keyboards, desks etc, every hour. Wash hands every time you touch a doorknob or press the elevator buttons. Don’t hug or shake hands with anyone. If you want employees to wear masks, and use gloves make it a rule. If you expect them to carry hand sanitisers and hand soaps make it mandatory. It is probably safer to use your own hygiene products currently, but the office can also provide what is safe and necessary.
It is also extra important to ensure no crowding of common areas. Make a rule if necessary, that no more than a certain number of employees can be present in the cafeteria or pantry. If it is safer, make sure people eat at their desks and do not congregate. Ensure proper disposal of waste. Ensure that toilets are properly disinfected. Make sure that all the rules are properly followed, and ensure that people adhere to the rules. If necessary make it a reportable offence if some employees do not take it seriously, impose fines, appoint a vigilance officer or take other such steps to convey the severity of the situation.
#Ensure communication around Corona:
Taking off from the earlier point, it is important to come up with clear communication ahead of getting back to work. People will have several doubts regarding safety measures at work, what protocols of social distancing will be followed (this is going to be a reality), cleanliness processes around the office.
It is highly recommended that you send out an email with all the protocols your company will choose to follow. Will the company provide the necessary sanitisers, wet-wipes and other hygiene equipment? Draw up FAQs specific to ‘back to work’ after the lockdown if possible.
It is also important to have the rules posted in all visible/accessible areas of the office like the notice board, the entrance, the lift lobby, the elevators, and the washrooms and pantry and cafeteria where people can be constantly reminded. Using posters or even temporary printout will help employees be mindful about what they touch and it will provide the much needed ‘sanitisation’ & ‘handwashing’ prompts that will prove extremely important in today’s times.
# Have a helpline:
People are going to have several doubts. If you have not already thought about it, let me tell you that once the lockdown is lifted, you will find a large number of employees engulfed with ‘fear’. Fear for their safety, fear for the safety of their families, fear to stand up and acknowledge the fear, fear of losing their job should they feel they cannot make it to work, fear of losing out to another colleague, etc. These are natural feeling and the organisation will have to take the onus onto themselves to address these feelings. If these feelings are not addressed, you are going to have a large number of employees with ‘poor mental health’ reporting to work with compromised productivities.
Ensure you have a point of contact or a team that is answering all queries, almost like a counselling cell. Employees doubts can range from the coronavirus symptoms, or what to look out for in the office, or how to identify or deal with possible symptoms in case it arises after a person has joined back work. It could be about a simple lack of clarity on the protocols laid out itself. Whatever it is, it is good to have a communication point person or a team dedicated to dealing with this temporarily. This team can also keep track of the protocols and make sure everybody is complying.
The idea is to ensure that there is a go-to person or team or platform where the employee can access information and get questions answered without hesitation. And a heads up, there will be many questions.
# Shrink your expenses:
There is no telling when exactly things will be back to normal. People are already nervous as they are being furloughed, benched, the situation is uncertain and jobs are unclear. While many of the organisation leaders I have spoken to have only spoken in the favour of their employees, and want to do what it takes to keep things rolling. But the fact that there is financial pressure can’t be taken off the table.
I never thought I’d say this but now is the time to cut corners where you can. It may be a good time to reduce paper usage, electricity usage, promote digital communication as far as possible. Definitely avoid travel. Give up extra space. Pull back the frills. Consider going fully into work from home mode. Do what it takes to keep company expenses low, whilst retaining employees. We have to all prepare for an extended crisis, and managing money now will enable you to go on for long.
The harsh reality is it is going to be a struggle getting back to normalcy and a regular work routine immediately. It will help to have some order in the chaos, by putting forth simple rules for your employees and teammates to follow. This will give a sense of being in control, and this promotes a sense of calm and confidence, both extremely important in these times. This is the first part of how we can tackle the end of the lockdown and slowly get back on track. In our next article, we will highlight more ways for us to be prepared as the situation over the lockdown unfolds.
At Yellow Spark, we design processes your company can follow to come out of a crisis, like a lockdown. To know more write to us at email@example.com
Author Profile: Deepam Yogi is an adventurer at heart, socially conscious in her gut and professionally a strategic consultant. She co-founded Yellow Spark to support organisations to build workplaces that people love being a part of. Deepam describes herself as a shy yet opinionated writer and firmly believes that most answers to complex issues lie in simple communication.