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The COVID-19 pandemic has presented new and incredible challenges for millions of workers around the globe. In just a matter of weeks, the workforce at large has quickly and strategically navigated the sudden shift to remote working, while maintaining the symbiotic relationship between business continuity and employee well-being.

As we look ahead, our clients across the globe are grappling with how they can plan, communicate, and transition hundreds to thousands of employees back into the office with new guidelines and policies to maintain the health of both employees and the company. They’re asking: How do we start planning the transition back into the office when the time comes? What can we start doing now?

For many organizations, implementing an effective outcome starts with those on the front lines: the IT, human resources, real estate, facilities, and service teams who support teams remotely and accommodate the critical staff who still remain in the office. These teams are challenged with the logistics of planning and implementing new ways of working that balance business continuity with employee safety — now, and in the months to come.

  1. Introduce a shift pattern and fix shift groups to reduce the number of contacts each staff member has and to ensure that where contact is unavoidable this occurs amongst the same people. This also applies to staff required to share a vehicle, travel together or stay in onsite accommodation as part of their role.
  2. There are many different ways to re-organize shift patterns such as splitting the workforce in half from one to two shifts. To ensure that all necessary skills are covered on each shift, conduct a skills audit to understand what is required to manage the daily workload, whilst complying with Health and Safety requirements (such as the need for First Aiders onsite). To support you, we have developed a skills matrix template which can be accessed here.If it is not possible to cover all tasks and processes on each shift, it may be necessary to adjust operational delivery or timescales, or to redeploy resource from less critical areas of the business. A good rule of thumb to cover all the skills your business needs is to have three people trained up for each essential skill in your business. This will help create a diversity of skills across your workforce and ensure resilience even in the event of employees required to take a leave of absence. Read more about multi-skilling your workplace on our factsheet.
  3. Communicate and engage with your staff during a consultation period prior to implementing any new shifts or groups to ensure change is managed effectively. In addition, remember to review employee contracts to ensure shift patterns are designed in accordance with your legal obligations (consider full-time vs. part time employee requirements). In some cases, you may have external and/or temporary personnel supporting your permanent in-house workforce (e.g. vehicle drivers) and it is crucial that these staff members are also briefed on new ways of working.
  4. Stagger work start and finish times, avoiding the usual peak hours when public transport could be congested. Transport for Greater Manchester have released guidance to help keep individuals safe whilst using public transport. Support is also available for other travel methods including cycling, through the Cycle the work.
  5. Extend the time between shifts. Allow the previous shift to leave before the next shift arrives to minimize contact at “pinch points” such as entrances, exits, break rooms, change rooms, timeclocks and others.
  6. Allow extra time per shift for cleaning, both during and at the end of a shift. HSE has published guidance on cleaning your workplace to reduce the risk of the spread of coronavirus. The government has also published guidance on cleaning in non-healthcare settings including general principles of cleaning during the COVID-19 pandemic and principles of cleaning after an individual with symptoms, or a confirmed COVID-19 case has left the setting or area.
  7. Consider using one-way systems with appropriate signage to minimize contact especially at bottlenecks such as entrances and exits.
  8. Ensure social distancing is always adhered to including during shift handovers. The Growth Company has developed a signage pack for businesses to download and use in the workplace to further promote appropriate social distancing measures.
  9. Do not share items (tools, pens, materials, handheld devices and others) and if possible, allocate these to individuals. If devices must be shared between shifts, ensure they are properly cleaned between transfers and a drop-off-pick-up process is established to reduce the risk of transmission through worker contact.
  10. Avoid having staff facing face-to-face where possible and opt for working side by side or facing away from each other. You can also establish physical barriers to separate workspaces (clear plastic screens or curtains) and further minimize contact. Don’t forget to also consider appropriate arrangements to minimize risk of transmission during staff breaks. Key suggestions include the following:
    • Use safe outside areas where possible as risk of transmission is lower
    • Provide more regular breaks for staff to wash their hands more often
    • Stagger breaks so that fewer people are in the communal areas at one time
    • Repurpose other rooms such as meeting rooms and use as break areas
    • Reconfigure seating so that people can maintain distance
    • Encourage employees to stay on site during working hours

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