If your company is planning to return back to a physical workplace, then ensuring the mental and physical safety of your employees just got a whole lot more important. It’s essential to recognise everyone will have different views about returning to the office – some employees will welcome the opportunity to get back into the office, while others will be more anxious and have a number of concerns.

Seeking feedback from employees and asking about their thoughts and preferences on returning to the office is a good opportunity to understand whether you’ve covered all basis with planning for the new normal, both from a physical and environmental aspect.

Here at Revelian, we asked staff to complete a survey in order for their personal preferences to be incorporated in our planning. Their answers will directly contribute to our return to office plan and policy. It covered topics such as public transport – do employees commute to work using public transport, and if so, are they comfortable doing that? Also understanding if some employees were happy to continue working from home, which will allow for a more slow, staggered and measured approach. You can access a copy of the survey here.

Complying with social distancing regulations in the work environment will introduce new challenges. This includes addressing areas in the office where clusters of staff are likely to congregate – the lunch area, meeting rooms, coffee breakout rooms etc. Other newly introduced safety measures could include daily cleaning and hygiene by each staff member.

The new normal may include measures such as:

  • Limiting the number of team members in the office/shared spaces to comply with the 1.5 metre distancing rule (including kitchen)
  • All employees being responsible for sanitising their work areas
  • Using hand santiser on entry and exit of the office, and after touching shared doors/facilities
  • Limiting or removing shared items in the kitchens
  • COVID-19 response and hygiene training
  • Health declaration checklists
  • Not attending the offices if unwell
  • Possibility of imposing a mandatory 14-day quarantine if staff come in contact with a positive case or becomes positive themselves

There are many positive aspects for having staff return to the office, such as; camaraderie, more social connection, communication, great workspaces, a break from home, or it may just make it easier for employees to do their jobs. For this reason, complying with newly introduced measures is a small price to pay.

Compliance and active contribution to the goal of reducing the spread can decline as people tire of burdensome procedures and requirements. To help keep your staff and customers safe, you will need to go beyond just expecting compliance, you’ll need to be persistent and insistent. Connecting the hygiene procedures in place to your organisational values and the broader national picture is a way to achieve active participation amongst staff.

Another avenue to foster active participation in the workplace is by empowering leaders to make the calls they need to make in their context. The level and extent to which you empower your leaders to make these calls may vary across industries, but is effective way to maintain safety, health and wellbeing.

Even if you are doing all of that, you will see different levels of compliance from employees. Often these differences are associated with personality. For example, people who have an external locus of control, by nature, are more likely to believe that outcomes, such as the coronavirus spread, are due to things like fate, luck or chance – things that are beyond their control. For people who have an internal local of control, they’re more likely to believe that they themselves can influence what happens through their own actions.

Some personality factors can play an even stronger role when people are at home. People may be quite used to following safety rules when they are in the workplace but relax a little and exhibit more of their preferred or natural personality at home. If that includes personality characteristics that place someone at risk of injury, then that could have a bigger effect at home than at work.

One of the things Revelian has done with clients and partners is to help recruiters, managers and leaders to better understand the personalities of their candidates and staff and how these factors influence their safety behaviour. If that’s of interest to you, then feel free to get in touch.

For staff looking to work from home on a more long-term basis, there’s an obligation to ensure employees are safe, as far as reasonably practicable, in their home offices. Work and safety laws still apply to home workers. Therefore, it’s important to ensure they are working in a safe environment.

How confident are you that employees have their home-based work environment set up correctly, to good ergonomic standards, and without risk of tripping over cables or damaging their backs and necks because they’re slouched on the couch with their laptops balanced on their knees? Whilst there’s a need to trust that remote working employees are doing the right thing, companies have an obligation to ensure that they are doing so in a safe environment and manner.

Helen Worrall, Revelian’s Senior Assessment Consultant who has studied ergonomics, put together a video for our staff that articulates things to consider so that your home office is set up properly from a health and safety aspect. We encourage you to share this with any employees who are continuing to work from home in the immediate future.