Do you feel the breeze? That is because winter is on its way and soon it will be time for warmer clothes, hot drinks, cosy environments with an open log fire, and lots more indoor activities with colleagues, family, and friends.
At the same time, offices might need some adjustments this winter due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to researchers, SARS-CoV-2 might not be a seasonal virus but it might swell in winter. Growing evidence suggests that a small seasonal effect will probably contribute to bigger outbreaks in winter, on the basis of what is known about how the virus spreads and how people behave in colder months.
In addition, whether a seasonal pattern emerges at all, and what it will look like, will depend on many factors that are yet to be understood, including how long immunity lasts, how long recovery takes and how likely it is that people can be reinfected.
To stay safe in the new normal during winter, what can organisations prepare? Read on…
The health and safety of employees in the workplace is always paramount, but never more so than when ensuring a COVID secure environment. By now, the management team should have considered the risks involved in using shared facilities, workstations, and in working in close proximity to colleagues. Where interactions and equipment sharing is unavoidable, it is imperative that employees are provided with hand washing/sanitising facilities, and protective equipment if necessary. These steps should support the overall reduction of ‘bug’ and ‘virus’ transfer in the workplace, such as the common cold.
Sketch out scenarios for how your organisation will deal with disruption. Continue to keep employees informed and engaged with your organisation’s response, practices and protocols with regards to COVID-19, as well as any enhancements plan to put in place for the winter period.
Moreover, prepare for the likelihood of employees missing work due to ill-health and/or self-isolating. Other common bugs that typically make the rounds in winter can emulate the symptoms of COVID-19, so where it might have been fine previously to take medication and keep a respectable distance while getting on with the workday, regulations now require us to self-isolate for at least 10 days, where the symptoms are the same as COVID-19 such as high temperature, a new continuous cough, or a loss or change to sense of smell or taste. Don’t forget to have a workload plan in case there is staff shortage.
Remote working has always been an option since the outbreak became worse in the first quarter of 2020. And it can always be a good option when this pandemic has not yet ended. When asking your employees to do remote work, make sure all relevant employees have the appropriate equipment, technology, access to systems and networks and Internet connection to be able to carry out their roles from home or elsewhere. Also ensure that they have easy channels of communication for reaching colleagues and managers, both to be able to do their work, and to maintain a sense of human connection if working in isolation.
Regular users of public transport know the challenge of staying healthy during the winter period. If you have employees who regularly travel this way, it is better to ask them to work remotely to lessen the amount of time they need to spend in environments where viruses typically spread. The ultimate protection for them is to ensure they do not have much contact with the outside world during winter since SARS-CoV-2 might swell during cold season.
If the management team has not yet provided initiatives that focused on healthy living, eating, effective exercise regimes, and practices in support of mental health, this is the right time to provide them. In addition, increasing employee’s awareness to take the flu vaccine and give information about it, such as where to obtain it, could help minimise other sickness like seasonal flu.
All in all, preparing for winter in the workplace during a pandemic goes far beyond the simple sanitising of shared surfaces on a regular basis. It involves much strategizing, scenario planning and contingency creation.