COVID-19 and the Workplace

Limit contact with clients: It is important to keep channels of communication open with internal stakeholders while limiting or avoiding direct contact. The simplest way is by conducting meetings by phone or video conference, rather than face-to-face, and liaising over e-mail.

Empower your employees: Set up a workshop to dispel the myths, discuss concerns and showcase best safety practices. For those concerned that they might know of someone infected or be infected themselves, it’s very important that they follow health and safety protocols, and this is the perfect platform to explain these. Any concerned employees should stay at home and contact their GP via the phone with a list of symptoms. The GP will then direct them to the correct hospital as not all hospitals are equipped to deal with COVID-19. For those who wish to continue working in office, supply staff with bacterial wipes, liquids or sprays. Display posters to promote hand-washing. These can be downloaded from www.who.int. Provide as much information as possible to avoid panic.

Keep the office sanitised: The WHO has established that the virus can be spread through droplets from an infected person on surfaces in the workplace such as desks, tablets, computers or telephones. Ensure that all work surfaces are clean and hygienic. Wipe with disinfectants regularly.

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Check staff travel movements: If any of your staff have returned from overseas, including countries such as Italy, Hubei Province, and any area under containment measures in the last 14 days they should avoid attending work and self-isolate.

Re-evaluate your crisis plans: For employers who have already planned for influenza outbreaks involving many staff members, planning for COVID-19 may involve updating plans to address the specific exposure risks, sources of exposure, routes of transmission, and other unique characteristics of respiratory infections (i.e., compared to influenza virus outbreaks).

Special leave: The main reason for taking leave in relation to COVID-19 would be as a precautionary measure – either self-imposed isolation (quarantine) by an employee, or forced leave imposed by an employer in order to limit the risk of infection in the workplace. Keep in mind that this form of ‘special leave’, however, is not regulated by law.

Setting up from home: We are seeing companies like SAP temporarily closing their doors as a precautionary measure and this is set to continue. During this time, business must continue, and a continuous workflow is key. Make sure that your staff have access to WiFi, that a WhatsApp group is set up for open lines of communication and that your staff know who to contact should there be any issues. Provide them with the equipment needed to work from home and clearly outline what is expected of them during this time. Consider other optional communication platforms such as Skype, Zoom and Teams.

Collaboration and structure: Keep staff engaged and set up regular collaboration meetings between the various stakeholders. Keeping staff accountable during this time is critical. It’s easy to ‘slip off the radar’ or feel disengaged when working from home. Allocate duties, ask for regular report backs and set up ongoing collaboration meetings between your various stakeholders. Clients should be well informed of the current work dynamic and that staff should make use of the communication platforms provided to engage with clients as they normally would.

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