As a People Team, we’re used to the fast-paced nature of a growth-stage company and its changing priorities. But it’s safe to say that nobody was prepared for a global pandemic as one of those priorities.
We were monitoring the news regularly as we started to hear that COVID-19 was quickly becoming a real concern in countries such as China, and then closer to home in Italy and Spain, but even then I didn’t comprehend the effect this would have on the world as time went on.
We’ve been incredibly quick at adapting and reacting to the changing updates of our respective local governments, and have been regularly updating our teams on the latest protocols, advice, and support. This last month, to ensure that we’re fully supporting our employees, we’ve treated COVID-19 as a “health and safety risk,” meaning we’ve assessed all potential “risks” to our employees, documented our findings, and published a plan to our employees showing everything we’re doing in our power to keep them safe.
Here are the key directives:
- Not putting pressure on people to return to our offices: We have made it 100% clear to everyone that they are not expected to return to work - in the UK, in the US, or in Australia - until we are completely out of this pandemic. It’s unrealistic to think that we will be business as usual until a vaccine is found and rolled out to all. However, some employees are within walking distance from our offices, and some suffer from the isolation of living alone. They’re keen to return when things ease, so we’ve been prepared for this case.
- Ensuring social distancing in our office: This has been a case of revamping our seating plan, assessing potential “high traffic areas,” and creating one-way systems in public areas such as the kitchen.
- Asking employees to bring their own water bottles and hot drinks cups if possible, and bringing food and snacks that can be kept at desks and require little or no prep: Sounds simple, but it’s again an important step in keeping contact minimal and localized to assigned areas.
- Acting on personal symptoms: We’re insisting that employees experiencing any symptoms do not come into work and follow their respective Government guidelines. It’s as simple as that. No one should feel pressure to be present at work if they’re feeling ill, but this is an absolute 100% must during COVID-19 to lessen the risk of spread. If you’re feeling ill at work, leave immediately and call your manager on your way out.
- Acting on close-contact symptoms: The same goes if anyone in your household is experiencing symptoms. We’re insisting that employees self-isolate for 14 days.
- Hand washing and sanitizer stations: We are asking all teams to wash their hands immediately upon arrival to the office, and then regularly throughout the day. Handwashing and social distancing appear to be the best way to protect from the virus.
- Limiting the number of people in meeting rooms, and encouraging people to use their own laptops or phones for Zoom meetings: We have communal conference phones in our meeting rooms, and we want to mitigate the possibility that this will be a high contact point when people eventually return.
- Face masks: Government advice on facemasks differs worldwide. In Australia, their usage has not yet been encouraged unless you’re sick. In the UK, the government is still debating their effectiveness, but they’re a must when traveling on public transport and protecting others while in public. Meanwhile, in the US, it is suggested that masks are the latest accessory any time you’re out and about. We have advised that our teams are free to wear these in the office should they wish, and if they do not, they must dispose of them properly in a sealed bag in a bin Then wash your hands; we cannot say this enough!
All of the above and more was published to our employees this week. We want to give employees the time and opportunity to process, read the information, and put forward ideas and concerns. Ultimately it is key to understand that people are scared and it’s our responsibility to make them feel as comfortable returning to work when we do eventually return to “normal” - whatever the new normal will be!