Businesses have been urged to create ‘COVID-safe workplaces’ ahead of the green light to resume operations. Different businesses will need to tailor their workplace plan based on their individual circumstances. From a health and safety perspective, here are some challenges with the transition back to “business as usual”.
Remote working was increasing at a great rate well before COVID-19 (“BC”). Indeed, BC it was estimated that in the next few years, up to 50 per cent of the workforces in the Technology and Information sectors would be working remotely full – or at least part-time. And most of this work would be done from home. But during the COVID pandemic (“DC”), working from home has morphed into the world’s largest work-from-home experiment. Thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, working from home is no longer a privilege, it’s a necessity.
An NBN study revealed 67 per cent of workers are likely to continue working from home. Now that many people have experienced working from home during the pandemic lockdown, many might not want to return to the office every day once restrictions are lifted. They and their employers might have found many work tasks can be done while working remotely. But although working from home has been a “seamless” arrangement for many, it seems most are looking forward to returning to the office, resuming face-to-face collaboration and meetings, and getting back into the hustle and bustle. Businesses have been urged to create ‘COVID-safe workplaces’ ahead of the green light. Different businesses will need to tailor their workplace plan based on their individual circumstances.
From a health and safety perspective, here are some challenges with the transition back to “business as usual”:
Getting to work: maintaining social distancing and hygiene if commuting via public transport? If you are driving yourself to work, where are you going to park the car? If you ride a bike, will there be shower amenities and if so, are they to be properly cleaned?
Working with others: How many colleagues will be in the workplace at one time – will you be able to maintain social separation in your central workplace? If ‘hot desking’ is being proposed, who is cleaning and how effectively (then add lift buttons, shared amenities, etc). And there needs to be lots of hand sanitisers and sterile wipes available throughout.
Maintaining mental and psychological health and well-being: Coming out of lockdown may be harder than going in. Much of the public health advice includes recommendations for social distancing and social isolation. Yet a Mercer earlier this year found that only 16% of employers indicated they were “addressing psychological health” in the context of COVID-19.
Beware the ‘catch up’: Look out for the pressure (real or perceived) to try to “make up the difference”, by working longer, faster or cutting corners in an effort to “get back on track”.
Returning to the office after the coronavirus lockdown might be a welcome step back to normality for many workers, but those who worry about the potential health risks are within their rights to keep working from home, employment lawyers say.