The stakes have never been higher as business leaders are challenged to create human physical safety plans prior to reopening after the COVID-19 shutdown. From safety and PPE (personal protective equipment), workspace conditions, social distancing to employee health scenarios — outcomes are a matter of life and death.
A portion of companies may have emergency business continuity plans, some even for an influenza outbreak, but these guides are requiring a massive overhaul. Complexity is added as simultaneous implementation strategies attempt to create a business-as-usual environment. Though it seems businesses of every size and sector are conceding business as usual no longer exists. From HR, IT, sales to supply chain, every division has been impacted. This new normal can be evidenced by China’s re-entry, leading many firms around the world watchful for lessons learned.
Leslie Michelson, CEO of Private Health Management, suggests the current situation is non-binary. What is effective for one business may increase risk for another. More importantly, public health resources are continuously being updated as data and research emerges. This translates to businesses making decisions based on a set of criteria that varies by industry while also adhering to federal, state and local guidelines. Management consultancies, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) have issued recommendations to help plan, prepare and respond to the novel virus.
These strategies can be sorted into three categories.
- Mitigation assessments
- Employee and testing policies
- COVID-19 communications
Whether or not a business has maintained essential employees in a physical location, a framework is essential for deciding when and how people can safely return to their worksites. Additional factors may include multilocation facilities and deciding if all products and services are immediately available.
- Mitigation assessments
Caroline Walsh, VP, Team Manager, Gartner, underlines the return-to-workplace challenge is human and not just operational. She notes the planning will require a cross-functional leadership team in order to raise the levels of health and safety when reopening physical locations. Suggested actions:
- Create a re-entry (and re-exit) task force and playbook
- Administer a risk assessment by role and standardize PPE
- Update facility hygienic, social distancing and travel/commuting policies
- Evaluate worksite redesign, engineering controls and airborne infection control technology and systems
Some firms are creating the position of a COVID-19 intelligence agent whose role is responsible for a recovery scorecard that is established to monitor and support the door-to-door health and safety of employees.
- Employment and Testing Policies
Business will most likely require a legal review and modification of employee handbooks once stay-at-home orders are lifted. Suggested actions:
- Amend handbooks with a COVID-19 section
- Review all policies related to time spent out of the office (sick, remote work, family and medical, leave of absence, vacation and paid time off)
- Decide upon time tracking and contact tracing procedures
- Schedule trainings to review updates, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act
More specific rulings related to front-line workers, emergency responders and healthcare professionals also need to be taken into consideration as applicable. Suggested actions:
- Provide testing and monitoring guidelines based on confidentiality, privacy and disclosure laws (ADA, EEOC)
- Define the firm’s definition of elevated temperature and fever
- Keep diversity and inclusion mandates at the forefront of employee selection for testing
- Utilize self-reporting of symptoms, transmission and contraction
- COVID-19 Communications
It will be important for CEOs and leadership teams to provide clear and consistent communications, including two-way channels where team members can ask questions and submit complaints about health and safety (before, during and after) reopening. Suggested actions:
- Produce more frequent (virtual) town halls, video streams and digital communications
- Give local management/HR the ability to respond quickly with mobile apps, i.e., WhatsApp or WeChat
- Conduct an employee survey about mindset, levels of trust and safety
- Ask for improvement ideas and engage team members to join task forces
- Acknowledge heightened stress and celebrate small wins
- Encourage transparency, emotional intelligence and mindfulness at all organizational levels
Be it retail giant Amazon with dispersed on-site employees or all-remote software firm Basecamp, companies are creating pandemic plans and forecasting re-entry timelines. The key will be flexibility, agility and iteration.
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