There is much about the COVID-19 virus that is as yet unknown and even now, it continues to surprise virologists and the patients alike. In these uncertain times, there is but one certainty – that the world as we know it has permanently changed. It is not all doom and gloom. In every crisis lies opportunity and businesses that are sophisticated enough to adapt will surely thrive.
Lockdown restrictions are being lifted and employees are being encouraged to return to work. However, it would be a mistake to think that person would simply pick up from where they left and continue contributing productively in a team-based environment. Teams are based on trust. An employee trusts his colleagues, trusts his company, and finally trusts society at large. It is this trust that must be protected from our baser hunter-gatherer nature which is as always, singularly focused on self-preservation.
Here is a step by step guide for top management to welcome the workforce back, in the times of COVID 19. The focus is on specific targeted action rather than general platitudes. Please note that the following steps have to be taken before a resumption of on-site operations at usual employee strength.
1) Appoint a Chief Health and Safety Officer
The newly minted CHSO should operate at the power level and have the agency of the other chiefs. He/she will be immediately responsible for:
a) Formulating a COVID-19 policy specifically and an infectious disease policy in general. The policy should lay out companies’ intent to fight infectious diseases and protect the interests of employees, partners, customers, and shareholders.
b) Conducting a health and safety audit of the companies procedures guided by the above policy. Then prepare a report with suggested amendments/additions to company procedures/manuals for infectious disease readiness.
c) Preparing simple but authoritative training material on the COVID-19 virus in particular and infectious diseases in general. Material may be text and /or video-based and should educate its target audience about what the virus is, how it spreads, and how it can be contained. It should seek to dispel myths about the virus and provide clear procedures on what to do if a person suspects himself or some other person to be afflicted.
d) Conduct a physical examination of company offices, workshops, messing, and other facilities and adopt a risk assessment based methodology to calculate the risk of virus spread and necessary enhanced measures to mitigate the same. Prepare an action plan with simple checklists and procedures for enhanced measures.
e) Consult with the other chief’s / heads of departments/senior managers with the express purpose of developing remote work procedures for the maximum possible number of workers. Develop a work schedule and workflow accordingly.
The CHSO must consult with experts and must possess necessary resources (human and financial) to complete such an undertaking.
2) Supercharge employee medical benefits
Be guided by the new infectious diseases policy and undertake to enhance employee medical benefits by providing blanket coverage for COVID testing and treatment for employees and their families with no limitations. New contracts and agreements
3) Psychological counseling
In-house mandatory counseling by professionals may be required to deal with enforced social isolation and the fear of getting infected on return to work.
4) Enhanced Employee Grievance and Suggestions procedures
Employee grievances relating to any matter related to COVID must be handled directly by the CHSO with strict timelines and transparent resolution procedures. A procedure must also to be developed for the incorporation of any employee learning or suggestion related to infectious disease management into company manuals/procedures/work schedules after due deliberation and consultation by the CHSO with relevant department heads.
The entire idea of these exercises is to keep the management team and all employees on the same page at all times. Employees must feel safe and secure coming to work and the management must walk the talk by allocating appropriate resources leading to tangible outcomes that reassure employees.
Once the above steps have been undertaken a summary of the same to be prepared by the CHSO and transmitted to all employees at their homes. Virus education training and psychological counseling sessions must start immediately after, while the employees are still at home. The dedicated grievances and suggestions communication channel to the CHSO must remain transparently open at all times to all employees. Perhaps all such communications can be hosted on a forum software running on an internal server for maximum visibility and reassurance.
Make no mistake about this – COVID 19 is inevitable and companies must set aside some cash to meet the inevitable emergency head-on whenever it occurs next, instead of depending upon the mercies of the government. Employees will then surely know that the company does have their back – now and in the future.
Does your business budget cover the above steps? If not, get in touch with us to help you design one.