Being in lockdown was an anxious time for everyone. So, one would assume that the easing of restrictions, schools being back in session, and employees returning to the workplace, would be welcomed. In reality, many people are still uncertain about what their post-lockdown working environment will look like and how they can stay healthy, safe and productive.
Even though Malaysia is performing well in its recovery from coronavirus, the threat is still on-going. In fact, we are still seeing new cases being reported almost daily.
With the unpredictability of the situation, it is easy to understand why some people are cautious about commuting, mingling in crowds and going back to business as usual.
There are initiatives and proactive steps that employers can take to continue to support their workforce and efficiently steer their businesses through this new world.
SUSTAINING A CULTURE OF TRUST
As with any health and safety hazard, employers must continuously assess the risks employees face from COVID-19 and do everything within reason to minimise these. It will require fully involving staff in ongoing decisions and precautions being taken by the business and listening and talking to them about what they do, how they feel and how best to manage risks.
It’s also important to remember that designing the post-lockdown workplace is not limited to physical health and safety issues. Businesses also need to keep a close eye on unseen issues such as mental health. The switch to remote working brought its own stresses and strains, but the return to a so-called “new normal”, whether temporary or more long term, also brings its own anxieties.
There may still be high levels of apprehension and fear about what the next day may bring, which makes honest and transparent communication even more critical. A culture of trust and collaboration between employers and employees will allay fears and produce constructive and productive outcomes.
MAINTAINING SAFE WORK ENVIRONMENTS
In line with our Government’s regulations, employers must follow guidelines on maintaining social distancing, handwashing and enhanced workplace cleanliness and hygiene. These risk-based controls include providing handwashing facilities at entry and exit points, enforcing the wearing of masks, introducing one-way systems in offices, keeping work areas and surfaces clean, and re-arranging workstations to keep people one metre apart.
To many, it sounds like office buildings are beginning to resemble hospitals, and they are not far off the mark. The European Union, for example, is considering implementing the IMMUNE Building Standard (IMMUNETM), a certification standard that recognises a building’s level of immunity to present and future health challenges, and its ability to minimise the impact of a pandemic. A first-of-its-kind open source global certification, IMMUNETM is inspired by technologies and procedures successfully applied in hospitals and ‘clean rooms’ and adapted for use in commercial real estate development.
Although IMMUNETM seems too far-fetched for many businesses in Malaysia, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs), it could be a guide to help businesses assess their current levels of health and safety preparedness and consider risk management practices currently in place and for the future. The reality is that there are key shifts taking place in work environments across the world, and it is in the best interest of employers to take a proactive stance to ensure a safe workspace.
REENGINEERING EXISTING WORK PATTERNS
Most businesses are also experiencing financial pressure as cash-flow challenges continue to loom. With the Government’s stimulus package coming to an end, companies must seek to balance financial considerations against commercial ambitions.
Retaining a skilled workforce in the new normal calls for agile and creative approaches to ensure business continuity and maintain trust in a company and its leadership. For example, organisations could consider focusing on rewards and remuneration based on deliverables output (based on achievements and targets), instead of time output (based on number of hours clocked). Adoption of tools such as Microsoft Teams can also help employees to collaborate more effectively and efficiently from different locations, as well as enable better management of resources; this can greatly help employees to deliver results.
In terms of work schedules, employees could be organised into clusters of cross-functional teams and given shorter work hours or compressed work weeks. If physical distancing in the office is a constraint, employers might consider making working from home a permanent feature for employees who would prefer it and for job functions that don’t require a physical office presence.
Implementing new working patterns demonstrates that employers’ prioritise their people’s health and safety and may even lower operational costs in the long run.
BE CATALYSTS FOR CHANGE
Having a “COVID secure” mindset is the first step in a much longer journey back to the workplace. The coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on the world of business and stimulated debate about how we work. This has created both a challenge and opportunity for companies to rethink how they deliver productive, but also safer, healthier and even more sustainable working environments.
Written by: Loh Wei Yuen, BFP FCA, Head of Malaysia, ICAEW