Considerations for Re-Opening the Workplace
Ron Williams (Courtesy photo)
The virus called SARS-COV2, causes a disease known as COVID-19 which is having a historical and unprecedented impact across the globe. Because this transformative pandemic has touched or altered everyone in the world’s life or lifestyle the return to normalcy is but a faded memory. The reality is, we have a global brave new normal in almost every facet of life.
This novel virus has created some novel challenges in the workplace, which is forcing local, state, and federal officials to make difficult decisions between lives and livelihoods. When businesses reopen there must be three universal beliefs; 1) the work must get done in different ways, 2) the workplace must change in many ways and 3) the worker must be safe and secure in every way.
While medical experts and scientists try to determine will there be a seasonal connection to a rise or decline in confirmed infections as well as what other factors can impact the spread of the coronavirus, there is an uncomfortable and unfortunate “competing priority” between business and science. The “competing priority” is, businesses need to get people back to work and the economy back up to speed which is in total contradiction to the scientific fact that COVID-19 infection spreads when people mix together.
More so than ever before organizations will be dependent upon its leaders to influence and inspire, engage, and encourage, move, and mobilize ordinary people to get extraordinary things done. Leadership must explore all options before re-opening the workplace. In times like this leadership behaviors will define who and what an organization really is.
In my recommendations for re-opening the workplace, I am recognizing the fact that all organizations and industries are not created equal and are affected by organizational size, scope and scale as well as capacity and capability.
- Organizations should have committees assigned to focus on specific functions of the workplace, like transportation, retail, education, childcare, health, operations, safety, security, construction, and customer care. Within each committee, there can be subcommittees.
- Re-opening the workplace should be done in stages; Stage 1- is bringing back the senior leadership team, Stage 2- bring the management team back, and 3) Stage 3- is bring back only the essential staff and everyone else stay teleworking until further notice. These stages could be in two-week intervals.
- Upon re-opening, the number one concern and priority is the safety and security of the worker and customers. The mantra must be “Safety First”. For the first time, many workers are coming into the workplace having the fear of experiencing physical and emotional harm that could be life-threatening. This fear can affect a worker’s mental, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
- Leadership should be trained in trauma-informed care. This involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the potential trauma of losing a loved one to the coronavirus, the fear of catching the virus, and the fear of spreading the virus. Workers who have been traumatized need support, open-mindedness, compassion, and understanding from their leaders. Managers need the required skills to promote healing, recovery, and wellness and the ability to recognize symptoms and behaviors of trauma. Leadership must promote a culture of safety, empowerment, and healing.
- Managers should have a working knowledge of the grieving process; 1) Denial and isolation; 2) Anger; 3) Bargaining; 4) Depression; 5) Acceptance. Workers who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them. Everyone grieves differently.
- Depending upon the worker’s role and responsibility organizations must provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect workers and customers from exposure to the virus in places of business.
- Leadership is going to have to be more flexible in scheduling and telework. The challenges getting to and from work are different now. Parents with kids at home are having to make adjustments with school out and daycare closed.
- Workplaces must be sanitized daily, this includes every workstation, ceilings and walls must be wiped down. Everyworkstationmust have hand sanitizers.
- Workspaces must be six feet apart. The number of people in conference rooms, restrooms, lunchroom/break rooms and meeting rooms must be determined.
- Social distancing measures must always be reinforced, temperature checks during the workday, reduced work hours, 6-feet apart spots on floors, wristbands that beep when distancing measures are violated.
- High-risk workers should be informed to change their clothes when they get home and leave their shoes outside.
Leaders must set examples for being socially intelligent and emotionally intelligent while protecting the safety and security of workers and customers.
Ron Williams is the author of “Effective Leadership”. He is a former executive, entrepreneur and Chief-of-Staff for Human Resources in the District of Columbia. Currently, he is a coach and leadership whisperer. Contact him at [email protected]