Working through the global pandemic and the next normal (Part two)

In Part I we looked at BSI’s remote audits and training offerings; in this post we discuss what the next normal looks like.

As countries and communities around the world have begun to “re-open,” businesses are looking at how that will work best for them, their employees, and the general public. In many cases, government mandated limitations exist, such as social-distancing measures that affect the number of seats, and the layout of those seats, in restaurants, and the number of customers a store can allow inside their facility, and more. But, as the past couple months have shown, and the aforementioned survey confirmed, many companies will continue to allow telecommuting as an option, if not the only option. Twitter, for instance, recently announced that it will allow all employees to work from home “forever.” Other major corporations, such as Facebook, Shopify and others, have made similar statements.

Although reopening is the phase most countries seem to be in as the wider economic implications of the pandemic seem to now outweigh public safety concerns, business as usual is likely a thing of the past. In the US, a majority of people seem to have accepted that wearing face masks in public, and social distancing, is the new normal. A recent survey by Gartner had similar findings to BSI’s survey; “a March 30 survey of 317 CFOs and business finance leaders that found 74 percent of those surveyed expect at least 5 percent of their workforce who previously worked in company offices will become permanent work-from-home employees after the pandemic ends.”

Returning to office has challenges

Even if many workers do return to the office, there will likely be some major changes in office layout and flow. The open office environment, once hailed as the key to increasing collaboration, is actually a breeding ground for germs and infections. As a recent FastCompany article illustrates, many companies are already planning for staggered work schedules, changes to the layouts of seating, increased cleaning schedules, one-way hallways, the removal of communal coffee machines, the addition of plexiglass screens around desks, improved HVAC units with greater outside air circulation, washing stations in foyers, and more. But, buildings, especially high-rises, will still have to tackle the problem of elevators and stairways. Both are typically tight confines and will require special considerations… and a lot of patience as capacity is decreased to allow for greater distancing. Building tenants may need to coordinate their work schedules to keep traffic moving, and this doesn’t take into account restroom facilities and potential limitations, and liabilities, there.

With all of the above taken into consideration, working from home might seem more appealing. However, companies will have things to consider here as well. Many computer security protocols require computer passwords to be changed every 30, 60 or 90 days. However, that change may not be able to be done through a VPN connection.

Here again, BSI is at the forefront having recently released a living document; “Safe Working During the COVID-19 pandemic – General guidelines for organizations.” The first version is in response to formal guidance the UK government has released and is intended to evolve as feedback and input is received from the public. Although this document incorporates UK Government guidance, the information and recommendations within it are generally applicable to any organization that needs to manage the risks related to COVID-19, regardless of location.

In addition, BSI’s Consulting Services has developed a “Return to Work Playbook” – a 60-page guide with all of the information and resources organizations need to begin to reopen. This same guide is being used as BSI and our employees begin to return to the office and is available by contacting BSI Consulting Services at 1-800-862-4977 or consulting@bsigroup.com.

Ergonomics are just as important working from home

In an office, an employer is expected to provide adequate and safe office equipment; desk, chairs, monitors, etc. that adhere to proper ergonomic standards. But, as employees continue to work from home, companies still have obligations to ensure the well-being of their staff. Key considerations for organizations include:

  • Providing guidelines and training to employees on how to set up their home offices
  • Providing virtual ergonomic assessments to help with questions and next level support
  • Providing a “help desk” model that people can reach out to with questions and quick responses
  • Providing a way to purchase items. Options include: provide and purchase everything including furniture; provide a stipend that the employee can spend and expense; an approval process for ordering items; or some companies aren’t providing anything, and they are asking employees to purchase their own items as needed
  • Provide a checklist for them to review and sign off on like other company policies.

There are some risks for organizations that do not assist their employees with ergonomics:

  • Not meeting “General Duty Clause” (In California or EMEA not meeting those local regulations) which can include fines
  • Possible issue with public image concerns of not taking care of employees
  • Increased workers compensation claims
  • Increased turnover of staff
  • Increased quality issues

Although nothing seems normal the past few months, there is precedent on some scale for how organizations, and governments, are reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, wars, famines, and other large-scale events have tested our effectiveness and resilience throughout time; however perhaps not on this scale in our lifetime. BSI has proven we can support your through this crisis, with standards, training, remote auditing, health and safety consulting, supply chain intelligence, and more.