There has been a huge impact of the novel COVID-19 or Coronavirus on the way workplaces operate. Meetings that seemed inevitable once are now being rethought, working remotely is the new normal, and telecommuting and video conferences are an everyday affair. With the increasing work-from-home scenarios, consultants and employees are working together for organizations, thus lending a new definition to the hiring scenario as well.

Now that the lockdowns are officially on the verge of being lifted and quarantines are about to end, the question remains: how do we survive in this pandemic-ridden world. Of course. Covid-19 still exists and will do until scientists find a vaccine. So how do we create a workplace environment which is safe and hygienic, in the midst of it all? How does one put a work shelter in a place where the employee is healthy as well as productive?

How does one create effective CoronaVirus office reopening guidelines and actually ensure its implementation? Let’s find out.

CoronaVirus and the work scenario

CoronaVirus has brought about a lot of changes in the way we work, a notable one being the ability to work remotely. This has turned out to be both a blessing and a curse.. For instance, there is a big pro in the form of cut down on transit time and cost which is a huge relief, especially for those who reside in cities. On the other hand, since most of us have never worked in an extended way from home, this has also led to some teething issues which were to be expected.

Nevertheless, with quite a few months into the lockdown, organizations and employees have made working remotely the new normal. Now, people have dedicated desks and workspaces set aside at home, with their routines set. With time, working remotely has been proven to be more beneficial.

To sum it up, the following are the changes that CoronaVirus or the novel Covid-19 virus, as it’s called, as brought to work-life:

  1. There is the scope of greater flexibility than before
  2. The focus is more on the work rather than on the rules
  3. Destigmatisation of the concept of working remotely
  4. Relaxing rules and regulations in favour of productivity

However, no matter how lucrative working remotely sounds and feels like, it is not possible for every industry to adopt it seamlessly. While the digital world has gone online and remote, many physical industries are still grappling, and as a result, incurring heavy losses.

So, as the world gears up to lift the lockdown and face this mid-crisis situation, it’s time to take another look at how offices can be reopened in a safe and hygienic manner so that there is a productive and safe shelter in place.

Returning to work in the midst of Covid-19: How to start functioning?

Working remotely has been working well for certain organizations with telecommuting and digital connections in place. However, for many, it is not turning out to be so fruitful. As countries around the world are slowly lifting the lockdown to bring back the stable routine, the question is, how to do it in the most effective manner.

CoronaVirus has brought a plethora of lifestyle changes with it, and while those have been implemented individually, it needs to be seen how it will be taken care of on an organizational level.

The key thing to keep in mind is that offices cannot be opened to desperately bring things economically back to where they were. The changes have to be slow and steady to first bring shelter in place, and then create it in such a manner that the employees are at their productive best.

The first step towards normalizing workplace functioning is to consider whether or not the employees are ready to accept the new culture. Since the pandemic is not yet over, the hygiene practices remain the same. If only, they need to be followed even more regressively, given the number of people who will be under one roof.

Covid-19 or otherwise, it is essential to ensure that the employees are ready to embrace the new set of rules. This is a little difficult because we aren’t talking about corporate rules, we are talking about personal ones. As per various studies, it has been found that human behaviour is shaped by six major factors; social support, scorekeeping, environment, practice, morality, and peer pressure. These factors, combined with persistence, form human behavior. These are the factors that need to be tapped upon to push the employees for a better post-Covid office scenario.

Thus, to start functioning post lockdown, you have to first make sure your employees are ready to accept changes through these six factors.

Mid-CoronaVirus workplace reopening tips

After ensuring that the employees are absolutely in agreement with the newer and safer practices, the organization should actually start the implementation. The Covid-19 office guidelines should be in place. It is not only essential to have employees follow the practices, but also important for them to understand that it is for the overall well-being. They should be responsible and accountable enough to call out on their colleagues as well, in case the latter does not follow the Covid-19 office protocols.

Here are some tips that the organization needs to follow before reopening the office in the midst of Covid-19:

Tip 1: Covid camps

Covid-19 camps refer to the training that will be provided to the employees. These Covid-19 camps are essential ‘boot camps.’ These are meant to break old habits and introduce new ones and are introduced by incorporating the six behavioural factors mentioned. The key things to look for are deliberation, moral messaging, and leadership.

Tip 2: Covid Fire drills

Another important thing to do is to introduce drills. These would be a form of covid-19 employee training. All the organizations have fire drills, it’s time to include Covid-19 drills. Employees must be asked to follow a set of rules and it can be foreseen like a drill for at least a month. Periodic rounds should be taken to ensure compliance.

Tip 3: Score-keeping

Covid-19 employee training, or constant drills, will be more effective if incentivized. One good way of doing that is by way of keeping scores. This is one of the most effective ways in which the organization can ensure that the employees are following all the practices. Teams or individuals can be given scores on the basis of how well they adhere to the newly formed practices. The ones with the higher score can be treated to a token incentive.

Tip 4: Encourage politeness and accountability

These are adults we are talking about. It is not easy to get them to do things. However, with a polite attitude, they can be made to follow this new routine which is as much for everyone else’s safety as their own.

Organizations should be absolutely cautious while reopening their spaces post the lockdown. We repeat for it is imperative; the Covid-19 scare is not over yet. However, until the CoronaVirus vaccine is not discovered, we have to find a way to live our life around it. Since our work life is an important part of the scenario, we need to create a shelter in place so that the employees’ professional lives are as safe as their personal ones.

Covid-19 care at the workplace: Healthy employee practices to encourage

Since the inception of Covid-19, if there is one thing which has been constant, it is the instructions to maintain cleanliness and hygiene, in and around. That’s all that needs to be done to make sure that your organization is a safe shelter in place.

Following are some WHO-recommended practices that can get you started on creating a healthy work environment for your employees.

Clean and hygienic

The first, foremost, and basic thing is to maintain clean and hygienic surfaces. Make sure that every place, surface, furniture, and device that your employee comes in contact with daily, is clean. Use a disinfectant to clean it regularly. Touch is one of the major ways of spreading Covid-19 and regular usage of a disinfectant to clean surfaces is the best way to keep the infection at bay.

One unique aspect that can be incorporated here is the sneeze guard for the front desk. This is made of plexiglass. Plexiglass or sneeze guard is a surface which is installed between two individuals so as to prevent any chance of virus transfer. Places such as Walmart have already installed plexiglass sheets or glasses at their counters across the country. The same can be done in organizations as well, between desks, adjacently or in front.

Hand hygiene maintenance

Another constant suggestion that has been coming from the medical professionals is about the maintenance of hand hygiene. This is not just plain washing of hands. Instead, there is a specific technique of rubbing and washing each groove and surface of your hands at regular intervals to keep the virus at bay. By far, this is considered the best practice to fight the novel CoronaVirus. Make sure that as an organization you have soap and water handy, and alcohol-based sanitizer dispensers across the premises.

Respiratory hygiene

After hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene is the most important aspect that employees not only need to be aware of but also practice correctly. Make sure that there are face masks available and that they are used by the employees. Disposable tissues and the correct and safe means of disposing of the gear should also be accessible.

Work from home

Mandate work from home when an employee shows the slightest sign of disease or discomfort. Ensure that a mandatory quarantine period is observed. Also, encourage the employee to get tests done so that the virus is caught early on if indeed he or she has caught it. Work from home is the best practice to follow in this case so that others do not catch it. CoronaVirus is highly infectious and spreads quickly.

Also read: The complete guide to remote working

Travel guides

Avoid business travels as much as possible. However, if it cannot be deferred at all, issue guidelines that should be followed diligently. Ensure that the employee observes a mandatory quarantine period after returning from the trip. Work from home should be allowed.

Keep medical kits handy

Make sure that your office infirmary is stocked with sufficient kits and medicines. Ensure that basic medications such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, etc are there, along with masks, gloves, tissues, and other Covid-19 recommended and required material.

Precaution is better than cure. Covid-19 may not have found a cure yet, but following the aforementioned practices will definitely prevent its occurrence in your organization, ensuring its aim of creating a safe shelter in place is achieved.

Work in the time of CoronaVirus: Some additional tips to keep in mind

Meetings and travel are essential in the case of a few businesses. However, while conducting them, a few things can be kept in mind, especially in the times of CoronaVirus. Let’s tackle them one at a time.

Points to keep in mind while conducting meetings in the time of CoronaVirus:

  • Can a face-to-face meeting be avoided? Can it be done virtually, instead?
  • Find out if the meeting can be attended by the bare minimum people. The fewer the people, the lesser the chances of any infection spread.
  • Make sure that your meeting room is huge enough to maintain safe levels of social distancing. Ventilation is also important.
  • Your meeting venue should be well-stocked with masks, sanitizers, gloves, and other essential Covid-19 kits.
  • All the surfaces should be cleaned with disinfectants before and after the meeting.
  • Maintain a list of attendees and keep it handy, just in case even one shows signs after some time. This will ensure tracking all those who have been in contact.

Points to keep in mind while traveling for business in the time of coronavirus:

  • The first thing is to check the Covid-19 history of the place to which the employee is traveling.
  • Make sure your employees are equipped with the knowledge of action, in case of any medical emergency.
  • Every employee should observe mandatory quarantine of 14 days upon return.
  • Like in the case of meetings, the employee list should be maintained and retained, lest someone starts displaying symptoms after some time. It will help in tracing contacts.

Covid-19 kits for work

We cannot emphasize more on the fact that preparing your office for reopening in the midst of CoronaVirus is equivalent to creating a safe space where your employees do not keep looking over their shoulders. For this, it is imperative to have a Covid-19 kit in place. This not only comprises basic hygiene materials for each employee but also posters and signages for the organization.

Here’s what a good Covid-19 kit for organizations should contain:

  • Illustrated colorful signages that issue instructions and precautions in bold letters.
  • At a micro level for employees, it should contain masks, gloves, and sanitizers. There should be signages at desks at well, apart from common spaces such as the pantry and washrooms.

Covid-19 kits for work should be creative and informative. A great example of this would be the Resuming Business Toolkit suggested by the CDC. This contains an Employer Sheet, a Restart Readiness Checklist, a Worker Protection Tool, a Returning to Work Infographic, and other useful resources in the form of checklists, FAQs, and help links.

Here’s one of the posters from their toolkit on maintaining social distance:

There are many other ready-to-use posters that you will find in the toolkit.

What if CoronaVirus still enters your workplace?

Precaution is good, but it doesn’t ensure complete defense from the virus. If, even after doing the aforementioned, the novel CoronaVirus still enters your community, here’s what can be done.

  1. Put a plan in place. Make sure you have enough space to put the affected person in isolation, post which he or she can be safely sent to the hospital.
  2. Discourage stigma surrounding the patient at any cost. This demoralizes other employees who may refrain from speaking about their own discomfort.
  3. Create a list of people who have come into contact with the patient and create a safe space where they can be told so. They then need to get themselves tested. As a precaution, ask them to self-quarantine, even if the tests turn out to be negative. Work from home can take care of the business.
  4. Create a plan which not only addresses the pre and mid-Corona concerns but also the mental health state post it.

CoronaVirus is here, is real, and is not going away anytime soon. The question is: how prepared are you to reopen your workspace now that reopening imminent?

What precautions is your workspace taking? Do tag us on @HarmonizeHQ and let us know.