With the new return to work policies amidst the ongoing pandemic, HR leaders must work harder to ensure the safety of employees when they come back to the office. Several arrangements should be made, such as who is going to come back to work, what kind of health protocols should be prepared, and how the office is going to implement physical distancing.
The truth is, not all employees can return to work even after the isolation ends because there is a lot to consider before allowing employees to work on-site again. Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. the president and CEO of SHRM admitted that some workers will require more time to recover from this pandemic and some should not come back to work quickly, such as older employees or those with existing health conditions. Asking these employees to work on-site again might make them more vulnerable to new COVID-19 infection.
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For healthy workers, HR leaders must also consider their readiness to come back to work. CIPD research found that COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on people’s mental wellbeing. Stress and frustration rise during the pandemic and it will take years for individuals to cope with it even after the pandemic is over. Owing to this, employees become more concerned with their health and some are not emotionally ready to expose themselves to the outside world, including offices.
While challenges to accommodate employees to be ready to work on-site again will be unyielding, some employers will still require their employees to return to work due to some job responsibilities that cannot be done remotely. In this case, HR department must revisit their office space and design which will protect the privacy and safety of employees, such as the old cubicle offices.
For now, open offices where employees can work elbow-to-elbow could pose a higher health risk. Employers must also consider adjusting their office, such as installing ventilation systems that flow air from the ceiling down rather than the floor up. It will be safer for on-site employees. If needed, employers could extend the flexible work from home safety measures or even moving headquarters to a new building with better air circulation.
Employers can also adapt plastic shields so people can still collaborate without the need to talk through a wall or from a video meeting. In addition, employers might need to give each employee a bottle of hand sanitiser and a mask. Rising awareness to wear the mask all day long and not touch the mask unless washing the hands with hand sanitizer first is also needed.
Another adjustment an employer can do is to change the knob door into something with Bluetooth or a key fob. This will lower the transmission and risk of touching surfaces that might contain a virus.
A virus-free office environment is a pipe dream, hence, do not expect your risk goes down to zero, said Dr Rajneesh Behal, an internal medicine physician.
The nature of COVID-19 is almost like flu and we know that flu spreads in workplaces among healthy working adults. A 2016 analysis of various research papers from around the world found that around 16 percent of flu transmission takes place in the office. One of the best ways to reduce this transmission would be providing paid sick leave that encourages ill employees to stay home. Besides, the adjustments to keep people safer will definitely need a lot of investment and the cheaper solution for many employees would be to allow employees to continue to work at home, hence, employers can keep people safe and saving money at the same time.
Read also: Return to Work: Advice from Experts for HR Leaders