As you consider returning your operations and staff to your business’s workplace you need provide for a range of factors and how you will deal with them. Risk assessment and management is essential. This COVID-19 Business Return to Workplace 4 step plan can be utilised by any business, with considerations around your primary mode of trading, the wellbeing of your employees and how your business offerings may have changed.
Before you start formulating a return to work plan you will need to consider what federal, state or territory, or local guidelines and regulations apply to your organisation and people. First check if any of the Safe Work Australia enforceable government directions apply to your workplace. You should also refer to, and implement if required, the national COVID-19 safe workplace principles before returning your employees to your work site.
An essential part of your plan is ensuring that your business meets the stipulated conditions for preventing spread of the virus. Some resources available to help with developing a regulation-compliant plan for your business are the Workplace Risk COVID-19 Guide and the Australian Government Business Planning Workbook which provides a useful template to work from.
In your return to work planning you will need to include a site-level weekly work schedule that enables your business to meet customer or client needs while also ensuring your employees’ safety in compliance with relevant guidelines and regulations. Key performance indicators that are audited regularly should be built into your plan at each step.
The plan should include risk assessment and management components with processes for worker re-entry, dealing with potential COVID-19 transmission, and protocols for managing customer and visitor presence at the relevant site(s).
In approaching bringing your staff back to the workplace first identify which employees are most critical to operations at a physical site and which can continue to work remotely. One return to work option might be to stagger weeks in office and at home among team members or allow remote work on alternating weekdays, as long as you have the technology to support this. Don’t overlook analysing long-term cost savings – or other impacts – that may be involved.
A change management approach to support your organisational objectives may be necessary to your new operating environment and you will also need to establish an incident management team, tools and processes to achieve your return to the workplace goals.
You will need to have communications ready to release on topics such as employee return timetables, safety protections and how your organisation is supporting workers and customers.
Following current and future local, state or territory and federal guidelines, document the steps you are taking to prepare your site(s) and communications to employees. Business operations and facilities design may require adjustments as well as occupancy limitations to maintain compliance with best practice guidelines.
The measures you take should detail implementation of social distancing in the workplace, which may include engineering controls such as physical barriers, increased ventilation and altering task performance to reduce exposure, and administrative controls such as alternating at-work schedules or replacing meetings with virtual communications. In addition to checking existing employee safety systems, for fires, for example, all buildings should be properly cleaned and disinfected in accordance with government guidelines prior to re-opening and specific cleaning protocols should be developed for various locations and surfaces.
Establish controls to maintain 1.5 metres of separation (based on 4sqm per person) or utilise physical barriers in public spaces, equipment and bathrooms; post infection control and social distancing guidelines throughout the facility; and prohibit access to areas where employees can congregate together (lunch rooms, cafeterias, large meeting spaces).
You will also need to provide for employee health screening procedures and isolation of those who may be infected, as well as the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitising products for staff who may come into contact with customers, vendors or the general public.
Safe Work Australia has provided information on how to clean your workplace to keep it safe. They have also put together this checklist to help employers implement good hygiene measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
You may consider using contact tracing for employees and visitors to help reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. Safe Work Australia has provided guidance on the use of the COVIDSafe App. If infections do recur you will need to have exposure-response communications ready to go to any affected employees and customers.
Before allowing a return to the workplace you will need to ascertain that you can meet all government guidelines and requirements, and be clear about the preventative measures you are introducing.
You will need to have the information necessary to facilitate efficient, data-driven decisions, and an action plan developed to reduce the possibility of re-introducing the virus to employees, contractors or visitors. Safe Work Australia has provided information for key decision makers to consider for ensuring that your employees comply with their duties and obligations.
Your technology may need to be augmented or updated to enable your new mode of working. Beyond your own site and operations, you will need to make allowance for interactions with business partners and external provision of services, as well as supply chains activities to and from your work site(s).
Along with provisions such as physical barriers, additional signage, markings on the floor and hands-free sanitation and disposal equipment, your plan should include provisions for training in new processes, policies and operational procedures during the transition back to workplace and ongoing afterwards. You also need to consider those who are vulnerable due to individual factors – should they be returning to the workplace?
You will also need to make arrangements for on-site monitoring such as taking employees’ temperatures, isolating suspected cases and notifying those at risk from exposure. Have a contingency plan in case of a renewed spike in COVID-19 infections during or after the return to work transition.
Once you have established a time frame for re-occupying your location, employee-specific policies, procedures and controls need to be implemented to ensure the wellbeing of your people.
In addition to logistical measures to manage the risk of infection you may also be undertaking restructuring and redundancies: you need to consider the impact on your business culture and how these changes may affect staff emotionally and financially as well as physically. Have you obtained input from a human resources expert on your policy changes and how they are to be communicated and actioned?
The mental and emotional health of your employees should be a factor in your planning. Ensure your line managers put people first and are equipped with the messages, tools and skills to help their teams face potentially increased personal challenges during this time (bereavement and loss, child care and school closures, financial stress, etc). Some staff may be reluctant to return to the workplace and will need reassurance.
You may need to introduce new policies or programs to address these issues, identify those under stress and help employees feel safe and comfortable. Having an inventory of training in new resources for managing stress, in addition to workplace safety and disinfection protocols, can help facilitate a supportive workplace culture. You may also want to assess your employee benefits program in terms of contributing to this.
Our team of specialists can work with you to help with HR and industrial relations consulting; recruitment; employee communications strategy; employee financial literacy and wellbeing programs; team and leadership workshops; staff engagement surveys and pulse checks; group insurance policy reviews. Connect with an expert or download the Return to Workplace 4 Step Plan
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