by Libby Roberts
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented many challenges for employers and as restrictions ease across Australia, the challenges around returning to work are just beginning.
Many businesses have struggled during the shutdown. Employers have coped in ways such as forced leave for staff or, in some cases, termination of non-essential workers. So although no one wants to see a spike in outbreaks, it is understandable that business owners are keen to welcome their employees back on-site.
How then should employers approach the imminent return of their staff to work? Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can prepare your workplace so that everyone feels comfortable.
1. Have a plan and communicate it
Have a return to work plan and ensure that employees have access to it. The plan should include up-to-date health information from the Australian Government, and policies and procedures surrounding how you will manage the risks of COVID-19 in your business. Safe Work Australia provides a range of industry-specific information to assist employers with this.
2. Implement practical measures to manage staff
Consider how you will manage having your workers back on site, and consult with them on plans for safe work and hygiene practices. Measures include:
- Ensuring your workplace adheres to social distancing rules by maintaining at least 1.5 metres between desks, and one person per four square metres. Limit numbers in meeting rooms and consider having set times for staff to use kitchens and other shared facilities.
- Consider staggering the start and finish times of employees to assist with social distancing, or perhaps rostering staff with surnames A-K on alternate days to those beginning with L-Z.
Offer the option of working from home where possible, especially for vulnerable employees, or if you rely on hot-desking.
- Discourage car-pooling between staff.
- Place hand sanitiser stations around the workplace and encourage staff to use them regularly.
- If workers have to share equipment, make sure they can disinfect it before each use.
- Holding only essential meetings, and doing so via video conferencing, phone, or outside in the open air if possible.
Modify your roster or staffing to reduce staff interactions (i.e. smaller groups, staggered rosters)
3. Maintain a clean workplace
Ensure the company that provides your cleaning services has appropriate processes in place to deal with COVID-19. Make certain surfaces are disinfected daily, as well as workstations. If your cleaning service is not contracted on a daily basis, and you’re not able to increase the frequency of cleaning, this booklet released by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland contains routine cleaning advice for a variety of industries.
4. Offer PPE where necessary
Provide masks and gloves for your staff if appropriate. Remind your employees of their personal duty of care to maintain their own health and safety.
5. Consider ways to restore positive morale
Be mindful that COVID-19 will have impacted your employees in numerous ways, and some may be returning to work with feelings of uncertainty. Here are some ways you can reinstate a sense of positivity:
- Acknowledge that COVID-19 has been unsettling for everyone, and all concerns and feelings of loss and discontent are normal.
- Take care not to be negative when wording internal communications to staff.
- Consider options for team building while adhering to social distancing. Seek input from your staff for ideas.
- Restore motivation within your staff by showing a positive view of the future. Tell them about plans for your organisation moving forward.
6. Keep communicating with your staff
As you prepare your employees to return to the workplace, it is important to keep the channels of communication open. Staff will feel valued and reassured when they know what’s going on, and can raise any concerns they have.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that these are challenging times for everyone. Planning and open communication will be key to a successful return to the workplace. If you’d like help in preparing your employees to return to work, contact us.