As COVID-19 begins to retreat (and I say that cautiously), organisations across the world are looking at how to resume operations fast and efficiently. However, while the risk is now lower than it was before, the experts seem to think that COVID-19 is something we are going to have to learn to live and work with for a good while longer. With that in mind, we need to find ways to manage the risk. As business leaders, we have many responsibilities, and now helping to minimise the transmission of COVID-19 is amongst them. And that goes for everyone who works for us, our employees, contractors and business partners share that responsibility too. So, the question is how we manage the new challenges while getting the wheels turning again.

Planning for Safety

The first step we need to take towards planning for a safe return to work is to understand our responsibilities. And, in a constantly changing environment, we need to stay abreast of government recommendations and industry guidelines daily. For example, we need to know how close we can get to each other, what we should do when we can’t keep that distance and what are the latest preventative actions we should take. This may include providing personal protective equipment (PPE) or carrying out temperature checks as workers enter and exit your site. Most importantly it needs to be relevant to your operations and defined in a carefully designed policy.

Your management team should be acutely aware of state-based laws and should plan processes and procedures accordingly. Depending on the size of your organisation, you may even need a new team in place to take responsibility for it. The current situation in relation to re-starting the economy is complex. While one business may be able to open, another may not, depending on the state, industry and specific work activities. Where work can go ahead, new processes and procedures will need to be in place to keep staff and the public safe. And, those processes and procedures need to be clearly communicated to workers and closely monitored. Ultimately, no-one will be able to return to work until there is a clear plan in place as to how risk will be mitigated and the necessary measures implemented, managed and maintained.

Trialling A Phased Return

While we are all eager to get back to normal, normality may, in fact, be a fair way off. A phased return is a way for us to slowly resume operations and to ensure workplace health and safety comes first. This is the approach we have taken in my business. An example is having all staff return to the office three days per week, working the remaining two from home. This allows us to reduce the number of people in the office on any one day, which in turn allows the staff to better maintain social distancing. By scaling operations and resuming activities in stages, we can fine tune the measures we put in place, ensuring they are working effectively. With fewer people on-site, it will be easier to control and reduce risk. Consider starting by reviewing which workers are business-critical and will make the largest impact by being back on-site. Remember, not only are we trying to rebuild our organisations, but we are trying to support the emotional and financial wellbeing of our workers without compromising anyone’s safety.

The other consideration when it comes to phasing the return of workers is whether they need to return at all. Some workers may only be able to do their job when they are physically there. Those who are responsible for moving people and products, building structures and cleaning might be essential on-site. However, office-based employees might be perfectly capable of working from home. No doubt, during the lockdown you have trialled remote ways of working and your workers may have surprised you with their productivity. This however is not a simple decision to come to, with many studies outlining the effects working in isolation has on mental health, your organisations culture and collaborative outcomes. Unfortunately, video conferencing just isn’t the same, but remember, if remote working has been successful for your business, you don’t need to rush everyone to be ‘physically’ back.

Communicating with Your Workers

If your plans for resuming operations are to run smoothly, you need to have your workers on board. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a novel challenge and we have all been affected in different ways. Many workers may have struggled on a personal level, be it financially or emotionally. It is vital that you clearly communicate your plan to resume operations and give them the opportunity to voice their concerns if they are to be on board with your efforts. Remember that the transition away from the workplace has been hard on some and the return could be similarly demanding.

By involving your workers in the return-to-work plan, you can build a shared responsibility for workplace health and safety. Every business needs to adhere to the rules, and without the support of your workers it will be incredibly challenging. And don’t forget about your contractors, they need to be involved too if on-site workplace health and safety is to be effectively managed.

Managing Operations in the New World

After much thought and review of so called ‘best practice’ it is obvious that there is no single answer for how any business will return staff to the workplace in the new world that has formed around us. We are all paving the way and working out the best way for our own organisations. What is vital, however, is that we consider our options, make a plan and take a steady approach to the execution. That way, the return will hopefully be sustainable in what is an extremely fluid regulatory environment.

Who knows, you may even come out of this crisis stronger than before. With a unified team, a considerate policy around flexible working and improved relationships with your workers and contractors, you could boost your productivity and your profits.

For over a decade, Conserve has helped organisations overcome contractor management challenges. We can help you develop a contractor management service that will be not only effective but will make your organisation safer, while minimising your overall risk. Request a demo now or visit the Conserve page for more great content.

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