The curve may not be flat, but at many levels of government both in Canada and around the world, discussions about restarting the economy and reopening businesses are beginning. Strategies are starting to develop that will see people eventually get back to the office, stores, factories and other workplace locations they are used to going to for work.
As the new guidelines are developing, expect to see social or physical distancing and other forms of protective measures becoming a significant part of any get-back-to-work program.
What will these types of programs look like for organizations?
How can an individual who has spent the better part of March and all of April indoors begin to ready themselves for a return? Some clues can be found in the way other countries are dealing with the aftermath of COVID-19 lockdown.
In Austria, the aim was to start small and build from there. The European country only had small shops of 400 square meters open at first. These openings were under guard for security. Masks were mandated in these shops and on public transport. If the Austrian restart went well, then the country would look to open hotels, shopping malls and restaurants in two weeks.
Meanwhile, in Denmark, that country embarked on a more conservative staggered approach. What they wanted to do was avoid overcrowding in public areas and on public transit. The staggered approach also means people will be going back to work slowly and in different sections of the economy. Again, this is to avoid any mass gatherings.
The province of Ontario recently released its guide called “A Framework for Reopening the Province.” In this guide, the Government of Ontario’s goals are slightly different than those of Austria and Denmark. The Government of Ontario framework has the same overall priority, which is to protect the health and well-being of all its citizens. Ontario will have a focus on supporting healthcare workers, essential workers and businesses who have been working throughout the lockdown. Ontario will also have a staggered reopening approach, which will have three phases and between a two-to-four week evaluation period for each. You can read more about Ontario’s plan to reopen the province by clicking here.
Here are some tips to get yourself ready
Physically going back to work should start with you. Do your self-assessment to see if you are well enough to venture back to the office, shop or factory floor. If you are sick or not at 100 percent, inform your manager or company human resources professional and stay at home. Chances are you have not been tested for the Coronavirus. And, more than likely do not have the virus, but coming in with the sniffles will not lead to co-worker confidence in that the workplace is safe. Do your self-check, and don’t take any chances.
2. Spacious and clean work areas
Social distancing will continue in the workplace. Expect to be two metres or six feet from the next person. This will impact the lunchrooms and company lounges across the country. Don’t be surprised if they are closed off entirely. Expect to get staggered lunchtimes for employees and capacity levels, similar to what supermarkets are doing today. If you are in operations, it might be a good idea to review the current floor plan. Also, don’t be surprised to see shift cycles of being at home and work in workplaces with limited space. This means you might be working in the office on Monday but at home Tuesday. And, you will be asked to clean your area before you leave for the day thoroughly. And, if you keep a photo of your kids at your workstation, you may be asked to remove it. Overall work environment cleaning will increase dramatically and may occur during the workday.
3. Call ahead in-person meetings
Many great ideas got started around the water-cooler. Water cooler collaboration will not return immediately. And, the water-cooler may not even be available when you return. At least not right away. If you have a thought that you want to share with a co-worker, you’ll be asked to give that person a heads up electronically either via email or some other collaboration app before you walk over to that other person’s work area to brainstorm if allowed at all.
4. Workplace shifts
Government-imposed mandates on limiting the number of people in groups will have its place in any return to work policy. Get ready to have more Teams, Zoom, and WebEx sessions, while you are at the office. Do not be alarmed if your favourite co-worker is not at work when you arrive. There might be a return to work order where you will be placed in a shift. There will be several situations that arise where an individual will feel unsure of themselves returning to work after the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. Employers will have very little choice but to accommodate them, especially early on.
5. Conference room capacity
Meeting rooms will have capacity limits. Those limits will be posted on the door. You may be asked to join a meeting inside your own office via a Teams, Zoom or WebEx session. If you do use the room, you will be asked to clean the room and wipe it down immediately afterwards. This will pose a unique challenge to in-person meetings with guests, and you may need to co-ordinate more online sessions. What could lead to an awkward situation is having guests go through a temperature scanner before they enter the boardroom. If your company or organization currently does not have any video conference technology, you may have to invest in a solution to have the use of meeting rooms.
6. Proper hand hygiene
Don’t be surprised to see several hand sanitization stations throughout your workplace, especially at entrances. Also, your organization will ask you to sanitize your hands before entering any area of the office, factory floor or retail space. Currently, people are wearing gloves to go to the supermarket. Gloves may not be appropriate for your working environment, but you can envision a situation where you may have to ask patrons or guests of your workplace to sanitize their hands before entering.
As you prepare yourself for a physical return to your previous workplace, do not expect the old norm, we’ll have to adjust to a new norm. As with all these decisions, organizations must take, they must be cautious and well thought out to protect the health and safety of their employees. Here at Jolera, we’re here to help with any concerns about organizing your company’s return to work. You can contact us anytime, and we hope you are staying safe and healthy.