Part 2: Getting Back On Your Feet After Lockdown Ends
It’s official now that the lockdown has been extended till May 17 in the country. This would mean that all of us would be under lockdown for nearly two months starting from March-end, and we have to adjust to the new normal in the days to come. We don’t know when things will normalise or be as they were before, and the uncertainty is only growing. But we will slowly have to get back to work, and on our feet, and learn to cope with the situation.
In last week’s blog post, we looked at a few steps to help us begin to wrap our heads around the situation. We will need to plan and prioritise attendance, we will need to set sanitisation protocols, ensure clear communication among our employees, have a helpline to clear doubts, and importantly also shrink expenses to keep afloat. The last point is especially relevant as so many people are not sure about their jobs anymore.
Still, there are a host of unanswered questions and doubts that crop up. Like how do we manage social contact once we start going to the workplace? How do we ensure people travel to work safely? What do we do if someone happens to test positive in the workplace? There will be some situations that will pose real dilemmas once we start going to work and it helps to think about various scenarios in advance and be prepared.
As part of a plan to ensure the smooth transition into back-to-work mode, here are a few more things we can cover:
# Put out clear rules about coming back to work well in advance
First things first, it is most important to put employee safety first. Acknowledge that not everyone will be able to come back to work the day shop opens. Some people may be living in RED zones, some may have to travel via a RED zone, many others will not have access to immediate transport and most importantly, you don’t want anyone even with mild symptoms to show up at work.
Prepare a return to work schedule for employees and provide the rules that need to be followed well in advance.
For instance, we are recommending to our clients that it be made mandatory that employees download the Arogya Setu app and make available their health status before entering the office. Another thing to ensure, if someone lives in a containment zone, allow them to continue work from home.
Whatever protocols you choose to implement, it is very important to make sure it is shared with employees well in advance, multiple times and via multiple platforms so that it is well read and well implemented. Lastly, ensure strict adherence by making any violations of these protocols punishable, as without forfeit employees may not take these matters seriously. Appoint a vigilance officer if need be or temporarily assign this role to a responsible employee.
# Run health and safety training
Make sure every employee attends a module of health and safety training prior to reporting to work. These trainings should focus on including maintaining personal hygiene standards, and all social distancing and hygiene rules to be practised in the office premises as prescribed by an authorised institution like WHO and the government.
The module can be an online, pre-recorded or even run for the entire organisation via a virtual town hall. Such a module should include details of the protocols being set. For example if the organisation is providing personal protective (PPE) gear, inform the employees during this training about how to use it, how to wear it, when and how to dispose of it, pretty much like the air hostess demonstrates the seat belt drill before each flight. If you are to institute temperature checks on entry, demonstrate the process during this training.
Under health and safety, you could consider bringing on board different professionals such as dieticians who can provide employees with immunity-boosting tips, psychologists who can guide employees to deal with stress and anxiety & physiotherapists to support employees in dealing with aches and pains.
Such training modules once conducted should also be made available to employees via the intranet or email or website to go back to for the next few months at least. I’d go to the extent of running short clips on closed-circuit television within the office.
The idea is to focus on the all-round health and safety of the employees so that when they do report to work, they are in the best of their health and ensure that they are not putting themselves, their families or colleagues at any risk.
# What do you do if someone is displaying symptoms or tests positive after returning to work?
Despite setting up schedules, rules, and conducting training there will still be a risk of encountering the coronavirus. And hence, we have to take the necessary steps should one of our employees display symptoms. Not only must you display great sensitivity, but also work at great speed as time is of the essence and you need to take action immediately to stall it from spreading. Wouldn’t you agree that it would be good for the management, HR, team leaders to be trained ahead of time to deal with such a situation?
So what are the broad action areas to plan for? Firstly, make it amply clear that employees shouldn’t be afraid to report themselves in case of doubts. Secondly, immediately connect with the employee and communicate with as much empathy as you can muster. If need be, write a script before you speak with the employee. Next, ask the employee with symptoms to self-quarantine at least for two weeks. Once quarantined, Double-check if the situation is valid, by offering them tests at verified centres and help them patiently recall their interactions and identify co-workers who they may have come in contact with.
That I would say is phase 1. For phase 2 you need to gradually inform all co-workers who may have come in contact with the employee, starting with the immediate team. Next, without raising panic explain to them that they may be exposed to the virus by coming into contact with another employee. The co-workers must also be advised to self-quarantine for two weeks at least. It is more humane to keep the identity of the person who has tested positive confidential while informing the concerned persons and make sure you offer full company support in whatever way to everybody.
Also, people who have been exposed will be nervous. Make sure they have access to a helpline or someone to talk to openly if they need to. Finally, follow up with all the concerned persons and keep a close track on progress.
# Zero tolerance to discrimination
Taking the above point forward, as with every crisis, there will be confusion and uncertainty around the situation. There can be rumours, there will probably be people who are paranoid about safety, and there may be misunderstandings. This can well be avoided with proper communication.
As mentioned earlier, a helpline and a point person to be able to discuss issues at the workplace specifically regarding the Coronavirus will help. Make sure that all employees can access this facility, and also make it clear in black-and-white that discrimination against any employee based on rumours or here say (considering keeping the confidentiality of any cases arising in the workplace) will not be tolerated. This can be included or appended as a clause in the organisations diversity policy if necessary or a new policy can be drafted and circulated so it is addressed.
# Continue practising social distancing
As we discussed in Part 1 of getting back to work post lockdown, it is unlikely that the office will get back on its feet with a 100% attendance. Discourage gatherings for meetings, especially for lunch breaks etc. If you need to put shifts in place, make sure there’s a time gap between people leaving and entering the office. If you have a lift, keep a cap on the number of people who can enter at one go. Encourage use of staircases. For some time, avoid allowing non-employees and other visitors in the office space. It may be some time before public transport is up and running. So, ensure that you provide a pickup and drop with a limit on the number of people using the facility if this is affordable, as this is also safer.
Finally, keep a close track. Both of what’s happening around the world, and with how your policies are working. Many countries that have been badly affected including China and now Italy is slowly removing their social distancing restrictions and are trying to get back on track. No one has all the answers. It may be good to watch and observe what is happening in these countries, and look up the internet to see what kind of policies the companies there may be putting out and get a leaf or two from their books – especially with things that seem to be working there. It is not sure yet, how and when we will be completely out of the woods, but we have to start getting back to normal sometimes, and being ready makes all the difference to prevent any mishaps.
At Yellow Spark, we can help your company get back on its feet following a crisis like Coronavirus. To know more please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Profile: Aparna Joshi Khandwala is a passionate HR professional. She co-founded Yellow Spark to work with like-minded people who believe in the power of leadership, which is the only business differentiator in today’s time.