The coronavirus pandemic has affected every business in the country. Most have been shut, others have continued trading in a reduced capacity and some have reallocated all their staff to work from home or taken advantage of the Government’s furlough scheme.
But we are now entering a period where a managed, staged return to work for many businesses is likely.
And with that comes the inevitable question: What do I need to do?
Let’s start with a public health warning. Any advice we offer is subject to change. This is a fast-moving, unprecedented situation with new developments almost on an hourly basis.
That said, there are some things which businesses should be planning for right now.
It is almost certain that the restrictions are going to be eased gradually rather than in one fell swoop, and that issues such as social distancing will remain a key part of life for some time to come.
So, you’ll need to consider all the health and safety implications of a return to work: Can you keep staff 2metres apart? Do they need Personal Protective Equipment? Are some staff better continuing to work from home? What will happen if one of your staff falls ill with the virus? What happens if a member of their family contracts it?
There’s regularly updated advice on the Government’s website and the Health and Safety Executive also have a useful guide on what you should be considering here: https://www.hse.gov.uk/news/coronavirus.htm
Internal communications and consultation with staff will play a crucial part in getting things right too. Work with your HR and health and safety teams to make sure you are implementing all the safety measures you can – and let staff know about it with regular briefings. Your workforce will need to have a clear understanding of how they are now expected to work and what to do should they fall ill.
A thorough audit of your workplace will also be necessary to ensure you can maintain social distancing – the 2metre gap between people – at all times. This does not just apply on the shop floor, but also in meeting rooms, shared spaces such as a canteen or reception area and toilets. If it’s not possible to keep a full workforce socially distanced, think about introducing shifts so that you have smaller teams in the building at any time.
It will be necessary to have a thorough clean of your premises if they have been shut for a while – and then ensure that staff have all the hygiene equipment they need to keep their workstations clean once you get back to work. This might mean providing anti-viral cleaner for wiping down keyboards, phones and shared equipment on a regular basis.
If you think you need to introduce PPE take a look at the Government advice here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/wuhan-novel-coronavirus-infection-prevention-and-control/covid-19-personal-protective-equipment-ppe and also keep checking on whether or not you should be seeking testing for your workers.
It’s almost certainly the best practice to limit meetings to virtual get-togethers, but if staff do need to travel to other premises consider what additional equipment they might need to stay safe, and talk to them about the proper procedures in advance.
The return to work will mean a period of readjustment for many members of your team. They will have been furloughed or working from home and might well be concerned about now mixing with colleagues in a shared environment or using public transport to travel to work. Try to make sure you have arrangements in place so that staff can talk about these issues and take advantage of return-to-work policies if necessary.
To this end, it might be a good idea to have a series of induction sessions to brief returning staff on the changes and update them on new procedures. The world has changed a lot in the past few months and we should not take it for granted that everybody knows just what to do now.
Do all this and you will have also cracked the biggest issue – ensuring that staff feel supported and looked after. Make sure everyone is treated equally and the different needs of different staff are catered for. This will help reduce any conflict between staff.
Through all this, communication with your staff is key. Aim to engage regularly, honestly and transparently and show them that you are working with them to make the workplace as safe as possible for each of them.
And if you need any help or advice, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.