By Aline Ayoub
On March 24, the government of Ontario requested the closure of non-essential workplaces due to the COVID-19. As a result, restarting the economy will be guided by the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health and public health officials. Flexibility and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances are essential to the small businesses and employers continued success.
Throughout the 3 phases outlined by the Government of Ontario, to help businesses and services restart, key factors the government will consider include the risk of spread of the virus and the ability to implement protective measures to keep workplaces safe.
Things Can Change
As the situation evolves, phase 1 will authorize businesses that were ordered to close or restrict operations to open. This includes selected workplaces that can immediately meet or modify operations to meet public health guidance and occupational health and safety requirements. For example: nurseries, garden centers.
If the initial loosening of public health measures is successful, opening more workplaces, based on risk assessments, which may include some service industries, and additional office and retail workplaces, is planned in phase 2. And finally, if the loosening of public health measures continues to be successful, all workplaces will be able to reopen.
Reopening in 3 steps: Hands on DEC(k)
As small business owners and employers, you need to plan today for business as usual when old rules no longer apply. This article outlines how to achieve this in three steps for reopening for business. Our model is no less than helping you reopening for business in 3 steps, hands on DEC(k).
Step 1 – Deprogram
In our previous article, we discussed how the disruption created by the pandemic is not new. In fact, the issues small businesses and employers are going through are amplified by COVID-19. What is new is that questions and challenges surfaced in 3D as a result of the pandemic.
In fact, so many of my clients have been reluctant to allow their employees working from home. Others have been reassessing the physical layout of their workplace, or have not been proactive with creating a culture of continual learning. Many clients were thinking partnering with other businesses in order to provide a better offering to their clients, or form agile teams to accomplish specific tasks, to cite a few. Now, these questions not only are surfacing again, but require immediate attention in order to allow businesses to survive.
To prepare for opening for business, deprogramming is the first step you need to make. In short, this means creating a new normal.
Continue doing what worked for you prior to reopening. However, compare what you’ve accomplished to your organizational values and make sure changes which were made are aligned with your values. If not, make necessary adjustments in order to stay true to your purpose.
Rework the organizational structure and identify roles suitable for remote work, versus those required to be performed at the office, versus those you consider hybrid. Once you do this, assess the strengths and weaknesses of the team in the context of the restructuring and working methods. Develop training for employees who will have to acquire new skills in the context of a virtual workplace.
Step 2 – Experiment
Assemble a task force
First, develop a multi-disciplinary team comprised by members from your health and safety committee, health professionals and senior leadership in order to plan, prepare and monitor the reopening of your workplace. Assign to that work force the role of overseeing the conduct of risk assessments, ensure a consistent approach to all aspects of the reopening, help develop and implement workplace controls to minimize the risk of contamination and plan for the logistical and technological challenges of returning employees at work. In doing this, they should track and monitor alerts from credible sources such as the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization.
Look for opportunities
Remember, we are learning to navigate the rapidly changing landscape in real time. Therefore, it’s important to be humble and challenge every change you make, rework the plan as you move forward, readjust and have your task force consistently challenge the outcome of the plan and monitor the changes to legislation. Designate one person on the task force to make sure the plan is up to date and is flexible.
Integrate all the good things you had in mind before the pandemic. For example, sustainability and a more inclusive workplace. This is the time to ask yourself how will you build the right capabilities? How do you create a culture that will embrace sustainability? How will you be building diversity?
Look for opportunities to keep your employees employed. You want to take advantage of that and keep in mind this pandemic will eventually end and your employees will remember how you treated them and how you responded to the crisis.
Consider the demographics of your employees. You might have to emphasize washing hands or staying at home employees at greater risks or employees with children. Consider your workplace infrastructure. Such as plexiglass or additional hand sanitizers stations, ventilation system. You may want to consider the usage of non-surgical masks if physical distancing of 2 meters cannot be maintained.
Continuously assess the risks of your processes. Make it easy to implement and easy to adjust as necessary.
Step 3 – Communicate
Make sure you communicate your plan to your employees not by sending an email. Choose to schedule online meetings to communicate every step of your plan. Be transparent and let them know the plan can change based upon a new outbreak inside or outside the workplace. It’s important to communicate to your employees the measures you will put in place to ensure a safe reopening of the workplace is evidence-based and rely on the information obtained by the World Health Organization and Ministry of Health guidelines. Avoid too complicated communication.
Let your employees know how they will access the workplace. Communicate the controls to access the workplace. If there is only one access, how will you mange this? Communicate how you will stagger the entrance of those employees required to work at the office. Communicate how you will deal with symptomatic employees. What are the guidelines and protocol for returning to work? Communicate what type of risk assessment you will be pitting in place. Will there be any alternate working arrangements?
What you do today is setting the line for brighter days. You need to care for your employees and support them. In order to help you get things moving forward, give us a call today at 416-368-0720 or email us at email@example.com.