Getting back to work? Know how you can stay safe from COVID-19

It is imperative to be prepared for the new normal as offices open partially after a respite.

Getting back to work? Know how you can stay safe from COVID-19

With the government officially announcing the lifting of the lockdown, the Indian economy is open for business once again. After being confined indoors for months, this comes as a welcome relief for millions of Indians. However, there is also a lot of anxiety about what the future might bring. 

The spread of the pandemic is far from over; the number of COVID cases continues to be on an upswing. There is a gnawing fear in the minds of business owners and employees about the second wave of infections, especially after the monsoon. As a precaution, many businesses are allowing their employees to work from home on an extended basis. 

However, not all employers can afford to do this, especially in critical sectors like pharmaceuticals or manufacturing. They are instead banking on measures such as temperature screening and sanitisation to lower the risk of transmission as they resume operations. Any delay in the implementation of social distancing, for example, could have disastrous consequences. 

In this article, we shall take a look at the measures employers are expected to take in terms of sanitisation and workforce management, and the pivotal role employees have to play in ensuring its success.

Staggered shifts

Following the advisory issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), employers are expected to stagger shift timings in order to reduce overcrowding at peak hours. This will have a cascading effect on lunch breaks, where the number of people allowed into a hall will be limited to ensure social distancing. 

In states like Maharashtra, companies have been asked to ensure that the majority of their employees work from home with only 10% of staff operating out of offices. Restrictions have been placed on the number of passengers that can board public modes of transport at a given time.  

Related: How to work from home without feeling too overwhelmed 

Thermal screening

For the government as well as private offices, thermal scanning of employees and visitors is crucial. Hand sanitisers should be made widely available and used before anyone is allowed into the office premises. All non-essential meetings are to be postponed or conducted remotely to prevent asymptomatic carriers from coming into contact with large groups of people.

Common spaces

Thorough cleaning of common areas – corridors, entrance lobbies, elevators, escalators, meeting rooms, workstations, cafeteria etc. – should be carried out at regular intervals. High-contact surfaces like door handles, elevator buttons, stairway handrails, and office equipment (such as printers, copiers, and coffee machines) should be disinfected with alcohol-based cleaning agents. 

Housekeeping staff must be instructed to clean toilets regularly – particularly sinks, taps, and commodes. They must be provided with rubber boots, gloves, and multi-layer face masks, along with personal mops and scrubbers for the task. Employees should be encouraged to bring their own food or eat at their workstations as far as possible.

Related: What’s the cost of working from home? 

Seating layout

The authorities have stressed the importance of social distancing. A minimum distance of 1 metre is to be maintained at all times. Accordingly, open-plan layouts are making way for enclosed areas in many offices, with circles to remind employees of the minimum safe distance they should keep. Alternate seats could be removed to make the process easier for employees. Sanitiser sprays should be made available throughout work areas for use before and after work. Some employers have even asked their employees to bring their own mouse and keyboard.

Meetings and conferences

In-person meetings should be substituted with online interactions as far as possible. If unavoidable, all contact surfaces and equipment must be disinfected between sessions. The use of masks must be made mandatory. The number of people in a meeting room should be restricted to the bare minimum. In addition, files and documents should be digitised to prevent inadvertent transmission of the virus among attendees.

Isolation

If an employee exhibits flu-like symptoms, they should be isolated in a separate room and designated health authorities notified as soon as possible. Employers have been advised to approve leave of absence for employees who suspect they may have contracted the virus and want to self-isolate. 

Related: COVID-19: Some Frequently Asked Questions

As offices gradually reopen, a lot will depend on whether individual employees observe the rules laid down by their organisations. Some basic guidelines for employees are as follows:

Physical distancing

A minimum distance of 1 metre is to be maintained at all times. This is to avoid coming into contact with ambient respiratory droplets that are invariably released into the air during verbal interactions between people.

Social etiquette

Though it might seem strange at first, employees will need to avoid handshakes and physical contact with their colleagues in and around the workplace. Traditional gestures like namaste are back in vogue as far as social etiquette goes.

Frequent hand-washing

Washing hands multiple times during the day with soap for 20 seconds is recommended by WHO. Alcohol-based sanitisers are an alternative. Single-use paper towels or an air dryer can be used for drying hands.

Use of masks

Triple-layered surgical masks are believed to be more effective than cloth masks in breaking the transmission chain when working in close proximity with others.

Avoid using bio-metric access/attendance

With security personnel enforcing social distancing in offices, logging attendance via bio-metric access control systems can be temporarily avoided. However, employees will need to display their company ID cards to prevent the entry of unauthorised persons into office premises.

All this will bring about a profound change in the workplace environment, which will take some getting used to. While it is up to employers to enforce the guidelines recommended by health officials, employees also need to participate fully for the sake of their own health – as well as that of their co-workers. Here are some useful tips to prepare yourself financially during a pandemic.