Here is an overview of the risks HR and Senior Leadership teams need to address at an individual and organisational level before employees are welcomed back into the workplace, with a focus on the systems and strategies which mitigate them.
What are the major risks in return to work plans?
The primary concern of HR teams as offices reopen must be the ongoing health and safety of employees. As the pandemic developed, our understanding of viral transmission within corporate spaces increased, and there are now solid benchmarks against which HR teams must measure workplaces.
The impact of indoor air quality
The most significant factor in the spread of COVID19 is the build up of aerosols within the air, to which COVID19 attaches itself and then passes into bodies via respiration. As such, it is the responsibility of HR, Facilities and Senior Leadership teams to ensure that the risk of this occurring is minimal by providing a workplace in which occupancy, social distancing and indoor air quality are not only monitored, but controlled.
Secondly, HR teams need to be taking every step possible to maintain business continuity should the situation worsen once again. This means centring workplace strategies and design around resilience, with an increased focus on developing employees’ remote and digital capabilities.
Accepting the way we work has changed
Finally, HR and leadership teams need to acknowledge that employee expectations have shifted over the course of the pandemic. Attitudes regarding remote and flexible work have changed, with 80% of employees believing that they shouldn’t be asked to return to the workplace if they can work effectively from home, and 74% of employees wanting to see a shift in employment contracts to reflect results given, not hours worked.
Furthermore, employers are now expected to play a more active role in ensuring the financial, physical and mental well-being of employees, who feel that their flexibility and willingness to adapt throughout the course of the pandemic needs to be recognised and equalled.
To ignore this shift would serve only to alienate employees in the long term, and quickly become a negative differentiator when attracting and retaining talent.
The question then is, what policies and systems do HR teams need to introduce now to minimise these risks?
Steps to take
Providing 14-16sqm per person is ideal to prevent viral transmission, Colliers reported. Adhering to this will require teams to rethink their office design, workplace policy and implement systems to ensure that limits are not exceeded and the office remains safe.
Introduce booking systems
Limitations on capacity will necessitate remote work as an option within return to work plans, leaving employees free to decide for themselves when and why to journey into the office.
Introducing booking systems enables employees to access the spaces they require at a time they feel comfortable, both in regards to capacity levels within the office but also in their commute, as rush hour can be avoided.
Furthermore, introducing a centralised system booking system reduces the risk of communications regarding space limitations being missed, as Facilities and HR teams are able to release and withhold spaces as guidelines change. The system itself becomes the go-to point of communication.
Leverage occupancy data
Leveraging occupancy data in conjunction with a book system further enables HR teams to monitor capacity in real-time, and respond immediately to any spikes. Furthermore, teams are able to fine tune their return to work policy, as they’re afforded a birds eye view of departmental behaviour throughout the week, allowing them to plan evidence based shift rotations and stagger employee’s access to the workplace.
Additionally, the way employees interact with the office will change moving forwards, as they think critically about why it is they need to access the office. Understanding how assets are used throughout the workplace by monitoring their occupancy enables teams to replace under-utilised spaces with those which are more highly sought after, resulting in the workplace being shaped around employee behaviour.
Providing the correct spaces for employees will not only enable them to access spaces more freely throughout the week, reducing build up within the workplace, but also increase employee UX as difficulties accessing space are minimised.
Monitor Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
An additional level of employee safety can be introduced by monitoring the IAQ within your buildings. Temperature, humidity and CO2 levels are all linked to viral transmission, and the ability to react immediately to increases allows teams to get ahead of risky environments by closing spaces as needed.
Furthermore, analysing occupancy and environmental data in tandem takes the guesswork out of health and safety policies, as patterns emerge between occupancy and IAQ enabling HR and Facilities teams to make informed decisions moving forwards regarding capacity and shift patterns.
Foster resilience within the workplace
From an organisational perspective, implementing a workplace strategy in which remote work is ingrained as standard, such as hybrid work environments, reduces the impact any further lockdowns or crises may have on business continuity.
By providing employees with the tools, training and support they need to work as effectively from home as they do from the office - essentially expanding the workplace to encapsulate the home environment - businesses remove the reliance on the office for the majority of employees.
Not only does this mean that employees are able to continue under any circumstances, but those for whom the office is a necessity will be able to safely access the space they require at any time without worry.
The combination of the above factors will result in a highly resilient workplace, in which employees are reassured of their safety, and seen to be valued by their employers as they’re enabled to work how, where and when they want.
Provide a safe environment for your employees by monitoring the Indoor Air Quality of your buildings in tandem with occupancy levels
Limit the number of people accessing the workplace at anytime by introducing booking systems to manage capacity levels
Foster resilience within the workplace by moving to a hybrid work model in which employees are able to work from home at their discretion
Leverage occupancy and booking data to create a fit for purpose workplace placing your employees needs at the centre of your centre
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