Lockdowns are getting relaxed and employees are slowly returning to the office. But the workplace will not be the same again. Post-COVID-19 there are guidelines to follow for a safe workplace. Read on to understand what exactly does back to the office after lockdown means for the human resources department.
Work from home was sudden and happened overnight with COVID-19. Since then, the business environment has changed drastically. Organizations shifted to remote working and the human resources department geared up to manage this new scenario. The complete human resource management functions became virtual, right from recruitment to interviewing, onboarding, performance appraisal, training including the online engagement programs and rewards and recognition. Now, business is planning to restart office and we have to deal with the challenge of back to a changed office after lockdown.
Transitioning back into the office is not easy. We need to look at things from a different perspective, considering the threat of COVID-19 infection. The rapid and asymptomatic spread of coronavirus requires us to be on guard always. In this environment, personal hygiene and social distancing should be adhered to strictly. The human resources department is facing a stupendous challenge here as it is unchartered territory for all.
Guidelines to manage to transition back into the office after lockdown
The risk of COVID-19 gets eliminated only with a vaccine, and this would take time to happen. Hence, all employers might have to ask their staff to return under difficult circumstances.
While calling back the staff, it is important to recognize the apprehensions they would have for their health and safety. Implementing strict safety guidelines at the office is essential to reassure the staff and build trust in the workplace.
Let’s see how you can manage the new workplace after lockdown.
- Return to office should not be forced – First, not all employees would be in a position to return. Some might be stranded in their home towns and would prefer to stay back till the pandemic resolves. There could also be a section with child care responsibilities. Again, some employees might be pre-disposed to respiratory illnesses. Collect inputs from the employees regarding their convenience to return. Work from home options should continue for those who are genuinely unable to return.
- Call back staff only for critical functions – Do not bring back all the staff at once. Those employees whose presence is essential in the office should return first. Implement a rotating shift to minimize crowding and encourage social distancing.
- Ensuring safety and hygiene at the office – The guidelines issued by the authorities should be strictly adhered to in the office. Social distancing measures should be in place. Place the desks wide apart in a way that employees do not face each other. You should make distancing mandatory in common areas such as canteens. Provide hand sanitizers and face masks to promote hygiene. Also, ensure that the workplace is frequently sanitized with special attention to surfaces like doorknobs and desks. Check the temperature of anyone who enters the office. These measures will convey your commitment to providing a safe workplace.
- Limit crowding within the office – Events, meetings, or social gatherings should be limited. Consider conducting all meetings in virtual mode alone. You can even conduct social events such as birthdays virtually. Visitors must be allowed only if it is necessary.
- Provide safe transport – Those employees who do not have private vehicles would find it difficult to commute to the office. Many prefer to avoid public transport. You should arrange safe transport for your employees to avoid the risk of them getting infected during travel.
- Clear communication and feedback – All safety measures implemented at the office must be communicated to the employees. Seek their inputs on the situation. The employees could point out any loopholes that you should improve. Collect feedback periodically and also address the concerns of the employees immediately.
- Prepare for employees testing positive – If any employee tests positive at the workplace you might need to consider a temporary shutdown. Have an exit plan ready for such situations. You will also need to ensure the safety of other employees who were exposed to the COVID-19 positive employee.
When you are opening the office, be on constant vigil to ensure workplace safety. Ensure strict compliance with safety measures. It is also important to keep an empathetic communication throughout. Your employees should have confidence in you and trust that you have their best interests at heart. Forcing employees to return or exposing them to health risks would leave a negative mark on the organization. The human resources department needs to plan and implement the required measures after consulting with all stakeholders.