How to manage a safe return to work
Business leaders are increasingly focused on keeping employees, customers and communities safe as they return to the workplace after 18 months of pandemic disruption. In a recent Qualtrics webinar – Managing a Safe Return to Work. In a recent Qualtrics webinar – Managing a Safe Return to Work – we took a closer look at managing a safe return to work, while also considering the impact on customer and brand experience.
Business leaders are increasingly focused on keeping employees, customers and communities safe as they return to the workplace after 18 months of pandemic disruption. In a recent Qualtrics webinar – Managing a Safe Return to Work – we took a closer look at managing a safe return to work, while also considering the impact on customer and brand experience.
Our panel included Employment Law Partner at Holman Webb Lawyers, Alicia Mataere; CEO & Chief Medical Officer at BioU Medical, Dr Nicholas Lonergan’ and Head of People Experience at Qualtrics, Jacqui Walker. The session was led by host Qualtrics’ Head of Growth & Strategy, Steve Bennetts.
We heard how it’s never been more important for employers to have an open conversation with staff. Walker said that employee sentiment, desires and concerns have changed during the pandemic, so there’s sure to be some uncertainty to address as they return to the workplace. Likely questions will include how to sign in, where to sit, and what to do about transport.
Lonergan highlighted the importance of staff engagement in overcoming anxieties: “We have a crystal ball of sorts because we’ve seen what the UK, US and Israel have done in this situation, as they are six months ahead of us. As people in those countries returned to work, we saw spikes in the Delta variant. It’s important to be proactive about managing outbreaks, using booster shots and other measures.”
Get employee buy in
The panel said employers must clearly communicate expectations around vaccination status and other considerations related to managing the return to work.
“You have an obligation to provide a safe workplace. That gives you justification to have this awkward conversation about whether a person is vaccinated,” Mataere said. “There has never been a greater need for consultation and communication with staff. This is harder when not face-to-face, but get employee buy-in and explain the valid reason for needing to know.”
She added that seeing certificates is the only way to know for sure if someone has been vaccinated, advising employers to treat this sensitive information with the utmost confidentiality.
Lonergan also emphasised the importance of open dialogue: “Employees don’t always understand why you’re asking about vaccination status. You need to tell them it’s for their safety and others because vaccination lowers the risk of passing it on to others.”
Having recently navigated this situation and returned to the Qualtrics office herself, Walker said most people were happy to provide personal information, providing they know why you need it and what you plan to do with it.
Walker encouraged employers to have transparent conversations with workers, explaining lines of defence and using simple surveys to gain feedback about what they want and how they are feeling.
Create a safe environment
Lonergan says businesses need to tell people to stay at home if they are showing symptoms or are unwell, to avoid creating a culture where staff feel they need to come to work while ill.
It’s also important to put a suitable check-in process in place, which may include using QR codes, temperature checks or completing a declaration, Mataere advised. Workplace instructions about how to wipe down desks and where to sit will also prove useful.
Walker encouraged leaders to look at measures employed successfully by organisations that had to keep workplaces open throughout the pandemic and consult with global offices and local legal counsel to ensure compliance with relevant privacy legislation, and health and safety regulation.
Monitor the situation
One thing we’ve learned during the pandemic is that circumstances and legislation is changing quickly. Staying up to date, particularly as rules may differ between states, is essential but can be challenging.
For Walker, leaning on the expertise of others is key: “The biggest part is using the information available around you and calling on the experts. It’s never a one-size-fits-all policy. We’ve taken an approach of choice and consent.”
Lonergan advises employers to stay on top of state-based guidelines, particularly as we learn to live with the virus. He is watching with interest as we move out of lockdown because modelling suggests cases will increase, even with high vaccination levels.
“Businesses need to ensure transmission doesn’t occur in the business. Do the simple things – social distancing, washing hands, telling staff not to come in if they are ill,” he said.
“As legislation loosens we need to get people back safely to the workplace. Asking people about symptoms, and telling them to get tested and stay away if they feel unwell, is the most important action you can take.”
The key takeaway
The panel agreed that clear employee communication is the number one priority. Information obtained through listening to them provides employers with insights to minimise the risk of business disruption and reputational damage.
Walker said Qualtrics employees had been happy to use the recently deployed Qualtrics Vaccination & Testing Manager. This allows businesses to securely store data and engage with the workforce, gauging opinion on what lies ahead, including how they feel about receiving a booster shot.
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