How to Deal with Coronavirus in the Workplace
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How To Deal With Coronavirus In The Workplace
We understand that the emergence of COVID-19 and its rapid permeation throughout the UK has sadly had a devastating impact on our whole society. The virus has infiltrated into every aspect of our daily lives; from influencing what time we leave our homes in the morning (if we do so at all), to catching up on the latest, and most upsetting, statistics every night… The virus seems to be at the forefront of everybody’s minds.
As it stands, COVID-19 has spread to 123 countries since the first death related to the outbreak was announced back in January. Within just ten days of this announcement, occurrences of the virus were reported in many other countries. Just two months later, the results of this global pandemic are continuing to shock us each day. The unprecedented rate with which coronavirus has spread throughout the world has left us in an extreme state of concern.
On an international scale, businesses and organisations have been tasked with responding rapidly to the changes that this virus has introduced to our everyday routines. Unfortunately, the state of the situation right now has left many of us pondering over our uncertain futures. A global pandemic of this scale has not yet been experienced throughout most of our lifetimes, and many of us are left in a state of confusion, perhaps even panic, concerning what may happen next.
As a company specialising in creating office environments, many of our valued clients have unfortunately been impacted by the outbreak of the virus. Working within an office environment involves regular contact with others, however many of us have been advised to practice social distancing. This inevitably has an impact upon the way we conduct our everyday tasks, particularly within the office.
Due to this, we have conducted the background research necessary in order to put together this list of recommendations on how you should deal with COVID-19 within your own workplace. These are arduous times for all of us, though we endeavour to provide you with the most up to date information surrounding how you can continue to help your business thrive.
Encourage Agile Woking from Home
This is perhaps the most vital recommendation we can give to our clients concerning how to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It is also in sync with the latest recommendations provided by the government, which advises employers to encourage working from home wherever possible. This can be done by the majority of office employees, depending on which industry you are working in. Thanks to the internet and the progression of innovative new technology, the prevalence of agile working has steadily been on the rise for the past few years – even without the emergence of the virus.
Conference calls are a great tool to utilise as people are working from home, as you won’t have to cancel those essential business meetings. Luckily, we’re living in an age where this type of communication is frequently preferred, so this shouldn’t throw your clients off too much.
Concentration may become an issue as employees are working from home. As the latest news has announced that schools will be closed within the UK for the foreseeable future, there may be a lot of confusion surrounding the issue of childcare. Older members of society are most vulnerable to the virus; so, they cannot, and should not, be called upon when it comes to caring for your children. Instead, parents will have to implement other techniques that allow children to learn alongside their working parents. We respect that each child is different, and every parent has varying responsibilities regarding their careers. Luckily, schools have provided learning packs for children to focus on during the outbreak. An ideal situation would be to set your children up to focus on these tasks, while you take the time to concentrate on your work-related obligations.
Teaching from home may seem like a strange situation to be faced with. However, a number of successful parents do home-school their children, while still retaining the ability to thrive within their careers. There’s certainly a level of balance involved, whereby respect between the child and adult is of importance. There may be a few bumps in the road, however, you can all work together in order to create a harmonious learning and working environment.
Provide The Right Support For Those Working From Home
If employees are working from home, it’s important that you provide them with the right equipment they need in order to work productively. Many employees will already have some of this equipment in their homes, however you are responsible for the provision and maintenance of this equipment if they do not. They’ll likely need a laptop or PC, sufficient home internet, and perhaps a printer. Online resources and programmes, such as Skype, Microsoft Office, access permissions and video conference equipment should also be provided and installed successfully.
Focusing on employee wellbeing is another aspect that should be considered as people work from home. They may feel cut off or distanced from their co-workers, particularly if they are practicing social distancing or having to self-isolate. As a company, there are a number of ways that you can boost employee morale, even as the workforce conducts tasks from their own homes.
Working from home can be tricky. It’s important that you encourage regular break times, urge employees to stay hydrated and ultimately, keep in touch with their fellow co-workers. Instant messaging platforms provide a great way to do this. Other software, such as Microsoft Teams, should be considered too. It allows employees to check in with their teams through instant messaging services, where they can collaborate and brainstorm new ideas as they work. Maintaining a positive attitude throughout this outbreak might be a difficult motive to comprehend… However, it’s vital that we all pull together during such a time, looking out for one another and engaging with our co-workers and friends.
Practise Social DIstancing
Despite the recommendations for working from home wherever possible, this simply cannot be achieved in some workplaces. For example, tasks may require the use of specialist equipment that you don’t have access to at home. Some companies also can’t convey the necessary information relating to their products over the internet, such as those working in industries that require the use of tactility or scent.
In these situations, social distancing must be practiced. The standard advice issued by the government suggests that by minimising interactions with others, and maintaining a safe distance between individuals, we are reducing the possibility for the virus to spread. While the spread of the virus cannot be altogether eliminated by practicing social distancing, there are a number of ways in which you can support your employees in advising them on how to work in this manner.
The government have advised against gatherings of people. Wherever possible, face-to-face meetings and interactions with others should be reconsidered and cancelled. If viable, these communications could be rearranged to revolve around video conferences or a simple email. We understand that video chat simply doesn’t have the same impact in forming connections as a face-to-face meeting does. Despite this, we are positive that you can continue to conduct business as usual without having to make actual contact with others.
Implement Flexible Working Techniques
Flexible working within offices has recently been on the rise for a number of reasons. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, offices were switching up how they operate in order to give employees more freedom and a better work-life balance.
The workforce should be advised to avoid busy commuting times while travelling to and from work, such as rush hour. As a result of this, your office working hours may need to become more flexible. Some public transport services may also be shut down within the coming days or weeks. If this occurs, working from home appears to be the best solution. It’s imperative that you and your company begin to implement strategies that allow employees to work in a more flexible and agile manner.
As you change the way your office works, you should make these changes to your hours obvious to clients and customers, too. This means that they won’t be trying to contact you while nobody is in the office.
Support Self-Isolation Practises
The advice released by the government seems to be changing day-by-day as our country continues to experience the rapidly growing ramifications of this unprecedented virus. The advice released within this article are accurate with the advice given as it currently stands at the time of writing, on 19 March 2020.
Please keep in mind that the actual medical definition of ‘self-isolating’ is different to working from home without symptoms or the virus. Self-isolating is the practice of limiting yourself from social interaction with others for 7-14 days. You may be asked to self-isolate if you have come into contact with someone who has the virus, or if you are exhibiting any of the symptoms associated with COVID-19. You might be asked to self-isolate by a government official or health practitioner who suspects you have contracted the virus. If so, you can then ask for a medical certificate that explains why you have been asked to self-isolate. Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) must be given to those who have evidence stating they have been told to self-isolate, and they are therefore not required to undertake any work tasks during this time.
It may be tricky to obtain a COVID-19 test or medical certification as health professionals become overwhelmed with requests. If this is the case, you should act according to your own current state of health and situation. You should not go into work if you are exhibiting symptoms or have come into close contact with someone who has the virus.
Follow Strict Hygiene Guidelines
While hygiene is always a key consideration within office environments, the rules for keeping a clean and sanitised office workspace have ramped themselves up a little in the previous few weeks…
Both employees, customers and clients – basically anyone entering the workplace – must be encouraged to implement strict hand-washing routines. They should be advised to wash their hands for 20 seconds on a regular basis. As the majority of social media is focused on ways in which we can reduce the spread of the virus, you may even find a variety of songs you can sing as you wash your hands!
Equipment and objects that are regularly used should be frequently disinfected and cleaned using effective cleaning products. Wherever possible, you should be providing your employees with antibacterial handwash as they enter and leave the workplace. Despite the panic concerning a lack of antibacterial products within supermarkets, it’s important to remember that these products are not meant to replace efficient hand-washing techniques.
Be Open and Honest
Times like these can be scary, and people may not want to come forward in admitting they are suffering from symptoms or the virus itself. You should therefore aim to encourage honesty at all times, for the good of your whole workforce. Management should remain approachable (or email-able, for those practicing social distancing!) and have a respectful attitude towards any member of staff who may be suffering.
One great idea for combating the difficulties associated with COVID-19 within the workplace is to implement a discussion each morning. For example, one office has recently implemented a ‘hands up’ service, whereby those needing essential products for their children or health maintenance can request that others contact them or purchase such products if they come across them in supermarkets. Baby milk formulas, hay fever tablets and paracetamol are just some examples of the products your employees may be struggling to find outside of working hours.
Maintain Great Communication Efforts
Employers should ensure that everyone knows and understands the workplace’s response to the virus. Each morning, there should be a de-briefing on how management plan to continue with the day (or following days). Due to the uncertainty of events to come, daily meetings are essential. Even if employees are working from home, these should be conducted via online video chat services such as Skype. Misinformation is another issue to consider here. As people are rapidly spreading information concerning the issues related to the virus, it’s essential to maintain clear and honest communication efforts with your entire workforce.
Managers should be informed carefully about the symptoms of the virus. Those exhibiting symptoms within the workplace should be discreetly taken aside and informed about self-isolation practices. They should be encouraged to work from home, potentially even sent home from work if they are feeling unwell. Management should remain vigilant in their efforts to keep staff safe; no sign of the virus should be ignored.
Employees should also be encouraged to communicate with management staff concerning the wellbeing of those they live with at home. While they might not feel as though they have COVID-19 symptoms, there can be a 14-day incubation period, within which symptoms do not become obvious.
Care For Your Vulnerable Employees
The members of our society most vulnerable to the devastating effects of COVID-19 are those suffering from long-term health conditions. These employees should be encouraged to stay at home as the virus continues to spread, working remotely wherever possible. This is because they are at a much higher risk of developing complications if they do contract COVID-19. These individuals, as well as their employers, should take all means necessary in order to ensure that they are limited to potential exposure from the virus. It has been recommended that social distancing measures should be taken very seriously in these cases.
Here is a list of vulnerable individuals, as official government advice currently stands:
- Those aged 70 or older, whether they experience underlying medical conditions or not
- Anybody suffering from respiratory issues, including asthma, bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or emphysema
- Anyone diagnosed with chronic heart disease, kidney disease or liver disease
- Those with neurological conditions, including Parkinson’s, motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Those with spleen issues, such as sickle cell disease – or if the spleen has been removed
- Anyone with weakened immune systems due to HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy or steroid medications
- Pregnant women
While the recommendations made within this guide have been developed in accordance with the UK government’s official recommendations at the time of release (24th March 2020), advice may be changing on a daily basis. It’s essential that as a business, you and your employees are continuously informed on how to deal with COVID-19 within the workplace. Due to the evolving nature of the outbreak, government advice is likely to continue to develop. While we have done our best to recommend advice that is in keeping with the official government response, the strategies that we have mentioned may become updated over time.
As always, it is essential that if you are feeling extremely unwell, you should consult a medical professional. Please continue to keep updated with the emergence of new advice from the NHS and our government. If we all come together and support one another during this outbreak, we can surely overcome some of the issues we are facing right now. We send this message with the sincerest, most heartfelt hopes for you, your employees, and all of your families and friends.
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