Who is ready to return to work? There is a lot of talk and indication that the restrictions in Australia are going to be eased as soon as next week. The press conference held this week by the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison spoke about businesses returning to “business as usual”. We need to consider what this going to look like post restrictions and what needs to be considered by organisations.
For me personally, apart from being worried that my work attire won’t fit me anymore due to my iso-life diet of home cooked food and indulgences, the post restriction world has me pondering what businesses will need to do to manage their risk.
As all organisations have an obligation to provide a safe workplace, measures will need to be put in place by employers to help manage the risk and the spread of the virus. At this point in time, I do wish I owned a hand sanitiser company because I feel this product will need to feature prominently in our post restriction world. Think hand sanitiser on every desk and at the entrance of each worksite. Hot desking as well, will need to be subject to cleaning and hygiene measures like never before.
A lot of businesses have in fact noticed some benefits to having teams work remotely such as increased productivity and efficiency. With the introduction of video conferencing as the norm, so much time and expense are being saved in travel. Salespeople and consultants have adapted to doing their work via zoom, so is there a need for this to change? I would posit not.
Businesses also need to reimagine what business as usual looks like, having all team meetings in conference rooms, would probably pose a virus threat – so getting teams to log in through a video conferencing app on their phones or computers might be an option.
The government have also recommended staggering start times in order to ensure public transport isn’t crammed at the same time and you may want to think about asking employees to exercise caution in getting into lifts together.
We would also recommend exploring the possibility of having half the team working on site one week and the other half working on site the next week to limit the exposure of spreading the virus to the whole team.
Another scenario to consider are the parents of school aged children who still have to stay home for remote learning. What are the expectations and flexibility provisions for these employees?
For those employers with JobKeeper enabled directions in place, employers will need to consider if they still require these directions, or whether they can return their workers to their pre-pandemic terms and conditions of employment.
A very real likelihood with the easing of restrictions and returning to work is that there will be a spike in cases. Businesses need to think about what a potential outbreak in their workplace would look like. What are the contingency plans? How do you manage employee leave entitlements? And does your business have the ability and agility to have your team self-isolate? In businesses that are office based, we anticipate that this would be fairly easy – however those that are customer facing like restaurants, retail stores and child care facilities, an outbreak can be detrimental to “business as usual” and lead to a shut down for 2 weeks.
Every business is different in their specific needs so there will be no one size fits all approach. However, we recommend the following steps for all businesses to be prepared:
- Consider your health and safety obligations to your workers
- Stock up on hygienic and cleaning supplies
- Have a contingency plan for a COVID-19 outbreak in your workplace
- Consider what worked well for your business in the remote working lockdown and integrate some of those processes in your everyday practices
- Consider the individual needs of your employees (caring responsibilities)
- Check your legal obligations with your workplace instrument (Awards or Enterprise Agreements) to consult for any major workplace changes
As life begins to return to normal, all businesses would benefit to work out what the “new normal” will look like for them. Whilst mitigating risk is paramount, its also a golden opportunity to implement some of the benefits of remote work in terms of flexibility and productivity for many.
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