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Lessons Learnt From Covid-19; Getting Ready For A 2nd Wave

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted workplaces severely since it hit the UK in March 2020. The world was completely unprepared for the pandemic that occurred, businesses had to close, employees were placed on furlough leave, businesses operated on skeleton staffing levels, or they allowed employees to work remotely from their homes, sometimes without even the minimum equipment they required to do so.

Office layouts have had to change and a lot more awareness and support is required to help and support mental health issues amongst employees. The way in how people work, communicate, travel, and learn or train has all changed.

Covid-19 has proved to be a challenge and has been a lesson for us all, especially in the workplace, as no-one was prepared for what happened. Overnight the normal work life, as most people knew, changed dramatically and the speed to which the pandemic has affected workplaces is more than anyone could ever have imagined.

Managing a remote workforce has become the ‘norm’ for many leaders in business and preparing for the new normal has been difficult as we are finding new ways to manage.

Top Lessons learnt for businesses

The pandemic hit the UK overnight, many businesses were unprepared to deal with such a sudden change to the way they could operate, if they could operate at all. Following drastic changes to workplaces and the way people work, there have been some lessons employers have learnt. These have been identified as key areas and/or processes for businesses to have in place to ensure they can still operate effectively.

Seven of the top lessons learnt following the pandemic have been:

  1. Allowing or using remote work is crucial – Employers who already had working from home policies in place and frequent employees that already worked from home have managed better than those employers that did not. The pandemic has made employers understand how having a home working policy or flexible working in place can be beneficial to the business. Employees have learned and managed to adjust and adapt their working hours based on their home environment and circumstances, many found themselves working from home while also caring for their children who were not at school due to the schools being closed, therefore flexibility was required when they would get the work done, many holding meetings early evening rather than in a morning.
  2. Personal health and safety is vital – Many employers already had their main priority as health and safety but for those who did not, the pandemic has highlighted how health and safety issues should be a the top priority. Employers have looked at the layouts of offices, where employees sit, canteen areas, work areas and travel arrangements for business events, training and meetings. Sharing health and safety tips has become vital with employees to help ensure that all the basics are in place to help stop the virus from spreading further.
  3. Being able to perform digitally – The pandemic has driven over the need for business to be able to adapt to the unknown circumstances. This includes digital technologies. Different technologies have become important to businesses as real time remote actions have had to replace manual performances. The use of video conferencing technologies such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Blue Jeans  have all risen over the last few months, with many employees needing virtual training on how to use these packages as some will have not used them previously.
  4. Caring, listening and having empathy – Employers have developed new work cultures or new ways of dealing with their employees. Creating a transparent work environment and caring about their employees and listening to their concerns and issues they have has helped to put employees at ease during these changes. It has been important that employers have checked on their employees to see how they are coping and if there is anything they needed in terms of support, equipment to be able to do their job remotely or in a controlled environment.
  5. Continuity planning is vital – Businesses must plan for things going wrong as part of their normal operating processes. The business that had such plans in place were equipped to deal and respond to the changes that occurred overnight, the ones who did not, quickly managed to catch up and put some structures in place.
  6. Communication is key – The pandemic showed employers how internal communication with their workforce is vital, leaders were having to ensure that any communications reached the remote workers, furloughed employees or any still working on-site at the company premises. Many businesses found themselves using new methods of communication rather than just emails, newsletters or intranet sites to reach employees, these included WhatsApp groups or similar.
  7. The value of knowing your employees – With any employees working remotely for the last six months, and with communications being done virtually, it’s clear that employers need to know their employees. Knowing their lifestyle, personality and circumstances enables it to be easier to communicate with employees and keep them motivated and offer them the support they need. Understanding employees body language is also key as it is very easy to misunderstand someone’s communication when done virtually and remotely. The absence of tone or being able to get verbal clarity can make a communication that is meant as a good thing seem like it is sarcastic instead of genuine.

Top Tips for business to plan for a second wave

When Covid-19 hit the world there was no time to prepare, businesses found themselves in an unknown and unfamiliar situation with no time to react effectively. With daily cases rising recently and children have returned to school, certain areas have already been put back on lockdown and several other areas are at risk of going back into lockdown, it is important employers are prepared if there is a second wave.

With what we have learnt already from the pandemic, it is vital now that employers plan for worse-case scenarios. The knowledge we have now, and the lessons learnt need to be understood and used by businesses to plan and prepare themselves, so if there is a second wave, they are prepared for it. By doing this, if further lockdown happens and people are advised to stay at home, businesses will be better equipped to deal with the situation and cope more effectively, unlike the first time round when businesses were so unprepared.

Below are 13 top tips for businesses to prepare themselves in case there is a second wave of coronavirus.

Business continuity plans

Developing or reviewing the business’s continuity plan, this is a key document that helps businesses to keep operating and to meet its critical functions until normal operating conditions return.

A business continuity plan should cover the following:

  • Notification of an incident(s);
  • Management of the business’s response to the incident;
  • Return to normal business afterwards.

Robust health and safety management system

To identify and protect employees from the risks, employers must ensure that the Covid-19 risk assessment and standard operating procedures are all kept under review, to ensure that the correct control measures are in place for all employees. Close monitoring of how the control measures are working must be done and consultation with employees on any changes or modifications. Variations may be required if local restrictions are put in place in certain areas.

Ensure compliance with display screen equipment rules for employees continuing to work from home and for those that maybe requested to return to working from home. As well as ensuring all IT equipment are provided and adequate too.

Reflection and review

During the pandemic employers have learnt a lot regarding infection control and how to put control measures in place in the workplace to limit the spread of infection. Businesses must ensure that they review how effective the controls that were put in place have been and how these controls could be improved on built on.

Things to consider are:

  • What are the critical processes and how do these continue to be performed if there is another lockdown;
  • Who are the critical employees, and can these employees work remotely, if not what needs doing to allow them to work remotely;
  • If employees must attend site, will the site be safe and are all health and safety measures sufficient;
  • How will employees be communicated with.

Review contracts of employment

To ensure flexibility in the future incase this is needed if a second wave does hit, employers may wish to review contracts of employment to look at whether a lay-off and short time working clause would be beneficial to have agreed and in place.

Cost Saving measures

Look at what cost saving measures can be put in place across the business and ensure there is the flexibility to implement these measures.

Ensure resources are in place

Businesses need to review resources to see if there are enough stocks in place if another lockdown happens and there are further issues with supplies.  At the start of lockdown there was an issue with supplies of hand sanistisers, cleaning products, PPE and even toilet paper. Plans need to be made how a lack of resources and stock will be dealt with. If businesses can still operate during a second wave, then the essential cleaning products and PPE will be required to ensure safety for employees. It could be recommended that the suppliers are spoken to, to see what their continuity plan is to be able to continue to provide these supplies. Businesses may even look at how feasible it is to reasonably stockpile certain items on site just in case.

Training employees

It will be key for businesses to ensure that any plans made regarding the pandemic and if a second wave is to hit the UK that these plans are effective. Employees will need to be informed of the arrangements if worst case scenario does happen and they will need to be trained on what the plan is and how they contribute individually to the plan. With the lockdown in March there was no time to prepare, now businesses need to ensure that they are preparing incase another lockdown occurs, planning now will help to ensure that businesses can continue and survive.

Check on employees

Businesses in the future need to ensure they have a strong focus on employee wellbeing, the pandemic has proved that checking in with employees and being able to support them through hard times has improved the health and wellbeing of their employees. This can be done via Employee Assist Programmes (EAP) that offer support, counselling and advice to employees or through occupational health schemes. Also, it can be done on-site by promoting two-way conversations between leaders and employees, where employees feel they can raise any issues or concerns they have.  The importance of employee wellbeing and their work life balance will be crucial, the pandemic has reinforced to all that good health, family, friends, and a decent pace of life is important.

Flexible working policies

Workplaces in the future are likely to see a rise in the number of employees working remotely or requesting to work remotely, either on a full-time or part-time basis. Businesses need to ensure that they have flexible working policies in place and that employees are aware of these policies. By allowing employees to work from home it allows the business to limit the number of employees that are working in offices or in close proximity to each other, social distancing will still be required and by having such measures in place it can help to alleviate any concerns that employees have about the risks of being in the workplace.

Setting up employee forums

If there isn’t already a recognised trade union or employee representative on site, employers may wish to set up an employee forum for collective consultation purposes incase the impact of a second wave means redundancies become unavoidable.

Communication plans

If there is another peak in the virus and the possibility of another lockdown happening, employers need to ensure they have the facilities set up to be able to communicate with employees, they may wish to consider the following:

  • Creating an employee resource link on the company intranet page to help employees be up to date with any decisions or changes to practices the company has made, this could also be used to put risk assessments on for employees to view;
  • Making template communications for employees incase an outbreak occurs in the workplace this will save time getting communications out to all employees;
  • Ensure all employees contact details and their emergency contact details are up to date on their HR files.

Employers also need to ensure that they continue to communicate frequently to employees, and emphasise the importance for them to notify their employer asap if they are experiencing symptoms or have had a positive test and to self-isolate and stay away from the workplace. This will help to stop the virus spreading around the workplace.

Ensure a plan is in place to deal with an outbreak in the workplace

Businesses must ensure that they have a plan in place incase there is an outbreak of coronavirus in the workplace, this plan must include how they will communicate to employees, what will happen if the workplace needs to close, ensure they are aware of any employees who are high risk of contracting the virus, who will do and when a deep clean of the premises will take place.

If an outbreak does occur in the workplace companies should do the following:

  • Get in touch with your nearest Public Health England Centre as soon as possible as they will provide guidance on what to do;
  • Find out from the employee who they have been in contact within the workplace and communicate this to all ASAP;
  • Consider allowing all employees who have been in contact with the employee with the virus or suspected virus to self-quarantine for 14 days, this could include allowing them to work from home if possible;
  • Allow other employees to work from home where possible;
  • Look at whether the workplace needs to be closed for a period of time;
  • Arrange for a cleaning company to expertly clean and disinfect the workplace;
  • Set up regular virtual meetings to keep any remote workers engaged and involved in what is happening;
  • Decide on communication methods for all employees if they are off work, this could be emails, letters, text messages;
  • Consult with recognised trade union or employee representatives and keep them up to date with what is happening;
  • Consider the government furlough scheme, unpaid leave, or salary reduction as alternatives to terminations of employment.

If you would like further guidance on preparing your business, absence management policies, contracts of employment or any other HR matter please contact Clover HR on 0121 516 0299 or email us at info@cloverhr.co.uk

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