Creating a healthy workplace during the pandemic | Kim Scheepers

Kim ScheepersSouth Africans, like all nations in the world this year, have stepped into an “alternate reality” because of the advent of a novel coronavirus, Covid-19. This new normal includes working from home, longer working hours, sometimes reduced salaries, Zoom or virtual meeting fatigue, and an increasingly blurred line between their professional and personal lives. As a result, we are operating at a higher level of pervasive stress. Along with the threat of this serious illness hanging over our heads, there are social and economic effects too: Businesses are suspending contracts, retrenching staff, or entering into business rescue, and many have closed their doors overnight leaving a widening unemployment gap, and a flailing economy.

Now that the initial shock and wave of infections has passed, certain sectors have been allowed to operate throughout and others are now able to open their doors again. They do so under strict safety guidelines published by government.

New standard operating procedures and protocols have to be implemented, which are complex and overwhelming for both employers and employees. Here are five tips to managing the return to work in these new circumstances, aimed at alleviating stress and ensuring an easier integration back into company-based working life.

1. Change management
Employers need to arm themselves with knowledge of the law, government guidelines, and can even bring in professionals who are equipped to guide their company through the pandemic. Through embracing the change, employers will be able to lead their employees through this complicated process, giving them the tools to operate within this new framework. HR professionals can guide and encourage management to be the change and to lead by example.

2. Communication
Experience in managing Covid-19 change for our clients has not only been about protocols and procedures, but sharing knowledge incrementally with employees through all forms of communication. We believe that important information can be best conveyed using visuals or slides, which is not as overwhelming as sharing an intimidating “standard operating procedure” document that talks to any number of policy documents.

Companies can aim to provide an inclusive model where sharing is encouraged. Surveys can be used to gauge not just the physical but mental well-being of all employees. As this is a new experience for everyone, employees need a platform where they can voice concerns or questions regarding their safety and that of their co-workers and families.

Another great way of sharing information is video. Videos can compiled and sent to all employees to explain procedures including screening, sanitisation processes, personal protective equipment (PPE) conformity, social distancing, and food handling protocols. In doing so, employees are better mentally prepared before resuming their duties.

3. Computer competence
The last few months has seen an incredible shift in the importance of computer competencies and the technologies that enable remote working, and collaborating at distance. Well run, integrated IT departments have been able to sustain (and even improve) the digital and technical skills of workers. You will need to assess the technical skill level of your own staff, and perhaps provide training on the use of different online meeting platforms or other tools.

Going forward, these remote working tools may very well still be used on site. Along with many companies expected to adopt a more flexible policy around working from home, people sitting in the same building will continue to have online meetings to ensure social distancing and reduced exposure.

As technologies and programmes improve, training and maintenance will need to be continued for the optimum success of all employees.At work thinking

4. Common courtesy and care
Colleagues, management, security, and support staff all come from different walks of life and are exposed to other members of their community who may have co-morbidities or be immune-compromised. Protocols and procedures are put in place not just for the company, but for everyone’s security – and ultimately the whole country’s health.

You can encourage responsibility and care through programmes and training in best practice, and by example.

In addition to the correct procedures for creating a healthy, protective environment, you want to nurture a company culture of colleagues respecting each other, and evening see each other as more than just an employee. By emphasising the humanity of all, your staff will be more inclined to protect themselves and each other in the workplace.

5. Creativity
South Africa prides itself on its ability to laugh, especially in tough times. Our sense of humour is – I believe – directly proportionate to our level of stress. We dance when we are angry and sing in protest. As businesses, we need to channel that creative energy for good.

Be creative in campaigns to ensure that each business community can identify with the current protocols, and implement them into their daily lives, being ambassadors for change. Acknowledge the stress that we find ourselves in, embrace it, and allow employees to find their own unique and creative ways to express it.

You could, for example, implement a “change starts with me” campaign to promote the use of PPEs, hand washing, and practicing safe policies and procedures, or create an inclusive campaign emphasising personal resilience, and the strength in the core of the company – its people.

In conclusion, the government has indicated that this pandemic is here to stay, with some saying for a duration of at least two years. Businesses have the ability to manage these changes as our country’s health shifts, and support their staff. You can both use innovation to ensure the safety of employees, and keep an eye on your bottom line.

“If you focus on results, you will never change. If you focus on change, you will get results” – Jack Dixon.

Kim Scheepers is an associate at Bespoke Group Africa and Managing Director of Cagro Consulting Services which provides HR & administration assistance to companies of all sizes -

Posted on August 07, 2020