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Re-opening your Workplace After Covid-19? Key Factors to Keep in Mind

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ARC India

December 20, 2020

The current Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on workplaces across the globe and India is no different. In this country, the extent of the spread of viral infection, fatalities and illness has forever transformed or temporarily closed many workplaces and this has resulted in a large number of unemployed or furloughed workers. Those who are most susceptible to the virus and its effects are generally the medically vulnerable and elderly. However, stay at home orders, physical distancing and isolation have resulted in drastic health and social consequences for employees of all age groups, with an asymmetric impact on those who are more disadvantaged. While some businesses and offices in the country are beginning to reopen, they are all set to maintain extraordinary rules pertaining to physical distancing, use of PPE, physical guards and the like. Though the efficacy of such measures in the work environment is not still fully known, yet in the initial period, we are to observe how the employees are adopting to and functioning under these circumstances.

Some of the issues that we consider commonplace in the return to work approach, i.e., the idiosyncratic nature of work and health generally mirrors some of the challenges of inviting workers back to the workplace. Some of these factors include individual vulnerability to diseases, requirement for job flexibility, susceptibility to environmental hazards, differences in working patterns and organizational support. After having been subjected to work from home for such a prolonged period of time, it would be natural for employees to feel sceptical in returning back to the workplace. They might need some good amount of time to adjust to and adopt the new normal. And not to forget, the fear of the virus still keeps lurking around. Therefore, in these times, it is important for employers to consider each employee individually rather than churning out policies catering to the group all at once. Individualized and customized approach will go a long way in making your employee feel comfortable in this new normal.

Employee factors

Just like illness and injury have variable impacts on workability, the Covid-19 crises is likely to hit employees differently because of threat of the viral infection, organizational perceptions and a constant fear of the uncertainties posed by the new normal. The pandemic outbreak has created a new kind of workplace hazard which appears to be a significant source of stress for a large number of employees. This becomes especially true when rates of infections are at its peak while it is deemed necessary to reopen businesses and for employees who are vulnerable in particular. Reopening workplaces during the Covid-19 crisis is actually occurring against a backdrop of heightened level of psychological distress across the Indian community and returning to an uncertain working environment after several months may just add on to the stress factor. However, since people would now be finally stepping out of their homes and meeting their colleagues after such a long time, the social stigma associated with Covid-19 may alter after interactions with colleagues happen. With all basic precautions being taken, people might gradually shred off the uncertainties associated with venturing outside and gradually be accustomed again to their workplace. Employees are required to re-engage in order to gradually allow re-adaptation.

Workplace factors

The new fear of the unseen infection hazards might initially seem difficult to manage for an initial period using just traditional safety trainings and return to work management strategies. The Covid-19 crisis has resulted in the need for employers to offer flexibility to their employees. Employees too will be having different job modification requirements. During these times, the need for the implementation of proactive employee policies and workplace safety practices, is even greater. Moreover, the extent to which employees will have discretion to balance between the risks related to the virus in comparison to the need to be present at work. In this regard, managers will be required to enforce and monitor new working arrangements and address a wide range of effects of not just the virus but of physical distancing and maintaining basic hygiene as well. Workplace flexibility will be required to support safe return to work and this will vary by occupation and industry. A large number of employers are also beginning to experiment with a phased return to work approach in the initial days to judge the degree of employee acceptance to the reopening. A lot of businesses are deviating from the traditional methods of communication with their employees and preferring to communicate via health and wellness signs and social distancing posters and banners. These signage when put up at the common areas easily attract the attention of the employees and visitors. They also reinforce the belief among your employees that you are implementing measures to ensure their safety at work. In these pandemic times, as businesses reopen, ARC Document Solutions have come up with a wide range of unique and customized collection of return to work posters and signs, available in multiple languages and sizes.

The Covid-19 pandemic will definitely challenge our existing conventional practices and the reopening process will see certain variations across workplaces and communities. But as we step into the new normal, successful reopening of workplaces will require significant changes to organization safety and health policies and a more flexible approach towards welcoming the employees back.