The right way to keep your office safe — or re-open your office safely — an HR expert explains best practices

With the recent disruption of operations, HR and Professional Employer Organizations (PEO) have had to adopt innovative measures to help their organizations adapt to the new normal. It has been the most challenging period for even the most experienced professionals in the field. The focus of HR professionals and PEOs in Canada has now shifted to the reopening of workplaces, which was pretty straightforward before the crisis.

Reconfiguring the workplace

According to Mike Salveta, President, Managed HR at Pivotal HR Solutions, the first thing HR has to do is to “develop a real, actionable ‘return safely’ plan.” The best plan for safe reopening should include mapping of the workplace and office function to meet public health obligations and requirements.

Mike Salveta

“Think of things like meetings. What does a safe meeting look like in this new normal?” asks Mike Salveta. “Can you take a room made for twenty and host eight instead — conferencing in the others with Zoom? Or better yet, break into smaller, more productive teams? Think through the workflow, with safety in mind. You may be surprised to find that the safety rules actually also enhance productivity. Where before you had big meetings where little was accomplished, now you might find you have small, nimble — and safe — teams.”

 

Coronavirus Covid-19 requires HR Managers to rethink safety in the workplace.

 

All workspaces and common areas — from the reception, front office space, meeting rooms, kitchen, and so on — have to be remapped with the appropriate traffic flow, chair spacing and physical barriers to limit casual interaction. The goal is to vitalize the workplace with necessary, productive interaction. Areas with fluid traffic or bottlenecks like the elevator, lobby, and reception require extra attention. Mike Salveta suggests installing Plexiglass barriers in the reception area and rearranging the lobby to create the required space between seats. Plexiglass need not be intimidating — or a barrier; it can increase the sense of “comfort and safety” for your team. Stress levels go down, productivity goes up.

Access to essentials

“Next, optimize your team’s and visitor’s access to PPE; think about installing hand sanitizer stations strategically in your office space,” says Mike Salveta. HR Managers — or your outsourced HR team — should ensure there is an adequate supply of PPE masks for teams, and also their visitors.

 

 

Scheduling teams

HR professionals have to convince their employers to allow for scheduled working arrangements. The workforce has to be divided into teams that work in shifts. Teams working during peak periods should be slightly larger to provide extra coverage, while smaller teams can cover non-critical periods. Proper scheduling can “minimize the number of people in the office and people coming in through the bottleneck and entry points,” says Mike Salveta.

“Ideally, half of the team — where possible — should be working from home at any one given time,” he adds. “Even if that isn’t possible, rethink the flow of every activity in the office. Do you need so many people in a conference? Do you need a work-group of six on a project? This is about safeguarding your team, but you may also find you are creating more efficient work flow and more efficiency.”

 

Ideally, where possible, half of your team should work from home to allow better social distancing in the workplace.

 

This requires an in-depth analysis of the tasks on the roster to identify which tasks can be done remotely. Admin staff and employees tasked with projects that can’t be done remotely have to be scheduled to ensure they are physically present in the office while maintaining health and safety obligations. Apart from the nature of the tasks, HR should also consider the preferences of each team member. Even if the task can be done remotely, it is still important to consult with each team to ensure all members are comfortable working remotely.

Communication best practices

Effective communication is key during this trying time. The last thing the HR department needs is unfounded speculation in the workplace. “The key is to communicate with your team,” says Mike Salveta. “Let them know why you are doing what you are doing. Make them part of the process. Explain it is for their own safety.” One-on-one conversations can help HR understand the specific needs of each employee. Virtual staff meetings offer the most viable communication channel to reach out to most employees directly and then schedule in-person meetings for those with unique needs.

Constant communication with staff working remotely can help them stay connected to the organization. Mike Salveta says, “When your team works from home, either some of the time, or all of the time, the key thing is to stay connected. Everyone should be as accessible — by phone, online or text — as they would have been in the office down the hall. There’s no reason why working from home should make people less accessible. In fact, chances are they’re more accessible.”

Plan for the worst-case scenario

Regardless of the robustness of safety measures, HR should have a plan in the event of infection in the workplace. Contact tracing should go beyond the staff. One key element of managing this is “logging.” Mike Salveta explains: “Every single visitor, even couriers, entering your office or building should be required to log in with their name and telephone number.  This way, if the worst case scenario happens, HR can inform anyone who has been potentially exposed. It’s as much for the safet of visitors as team-members.”

Rules that guided the awarding of sick leave should to be revised to allow sick leave to anyone who gets ill — even if they’re already out of sick time. Finally, any policies and plans for safe reopening should comply strictly with Canadian public health directions.

The role of HR is to address any fears and uncertainties facing the staff.

“What’s important is showing that you care,” Mike Salveta says. “Showing with your actions that you’re taking this seriously. Being part of the solution, not the problem. Your team, and your visitors will appreciate it.”

Knowing that the employer is committed to their safety can address any discomfort or uncertainty of returning to the workplace. Recognizing that it is not business as usual is vital for HR professionals and PEOs in Canada to open their employers’ offices again safely.


Do you have HR-oriented questions about managing your office during the Covid-19 crisis? Ask the experts at Pivotal HR Solutions:

Contact Pivotal

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