All across the UK, people are celebrating the return to normality as COVID-19 restrictions are eased, and in some countries, abandoned entirely.
This of course comes with several challenges for businesses as offices begin to open and staff return to work.
Indeed, Nicola Sturgeon’s recent announcement that all remaining level 0 restrictions will be eased on Monday 9th August sees the final restrictions in Scotland on hospitality hours and social distancing scrapped, although the requirement for face coverings will remain in certain areas, like nightclubs and busy events.
We’ve outlined some of the most important policies you should be implementing and communicating across your business to ensure the safety and wellbeing of your staff, as well as your compliance with government rules and guidance.
1. Cleaning, Hygiene and Handwashing
Although not a requirement by law, a hygiene and handwashing policy has been advised by HSE. Putting signs around the workplace and in the bathrooms promoting good handwashing practice is a good place to start, as well as implementing hand sanitizer stations at various places to encourage regular sanitization.
Additionally, you may need to increase how often and how thoroughly your office is being cleaned, and ensuring all surfaces are cleaned regularly. Take some time to identify which surfaces are touched frequently, for example doorknobs and handles, and ensure these are cleaned more frequently. If you provide accommodation for staff, this also will need to be cleaned regularly and up-to-standard.
Ensuring all your staff are aware of the cleaning policy is just as important as implementing one – be sure to send out regular communications to keep them up-to-date on changing policies and store the documentation in an easy-to-access place online like your Youmanage system.
2. Flexible Working Policy
If your business went into full work-from-home mode during the pandemic, it’s likely that you found significant benefits from employees working flexibly – better work/life balance, higher levels of morale and increased productivity to name a few. However, you may find that many employees are itching to get back to the office as well, for the social aspect of working life. So it’s important that you outline very carefully what your flexible working policies are and ensure employees are willing to stay in line with it. A blended approach between home working and in-office working seems to be the most popular choice for businesses.
Again, ensure employees are aware of these policies as they won’t be able to adhere to them without knowledge of the exact specifications.
3. Ventilation and Air Conditioning In-Office
For those employees who are returning to the workplace, how will you ensure there is increased ventilation in order to promote health and avoid the spread of illnesses like COVID-19? You can do this by using:
- natural ventilation – fresh air comes in through open windows, doors or air vents. This is also known as ‘passive airflow’, or
- mechanical ventilation – fans and ducts bring in fresh air from outside
Undertake a risk assessment to identify poorly ventilated areas and decide on the steps that can be taken to improve them.
4. Face Mask Policy
Although face coverings are no longer a requirement in most areas, you may choose to continue a relaxed version of your in-office mask policy.
Official government guidelines suggest the following regarding masks:
“We expect and recommend that members of the public continue to wear face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet. For example, on public transport.
You should use your judgement in deciding where you should wear one. Businesses, including transport operators, can also ask their employees and customers to wear face coverings. You should check with operators of services, venues, and settings that you use.”
You may face some conflict over this, however, so it’s better to encourage the wearing of masks rather than trying to enforce it in enclosed areas. Stressing the importance of hygiene and health in the workplace might help to encourage employees to adhere to the wearing of masks at work, even on a short-term basis.
If you opt to abandon the wearing of masks entirely, make sure employees are aware of this and the correct documentation is uploaded to your cloud HR system.
5. Vaccination and Test Policy
Just a few days ago, CNN fired three employees for coming into the office unvaccinated. They said that they have a “zero tolerance policy” on the issue and therefore any employee who defied the rules was sacked. This might be an extreme manifestation of a vaccination policy, but you can certainly implement one in your business, although you may receive backlash or conflict from employees around it. And, although many US companies are imposing similar rules, in the UK this could be considered unfair dismissal, or employers could also face a discrimination claim. Some workers might have legitimate medical grounds such as an allergy preventing them from being vaccinated, for example.
Vaccination policies are proving to be an ethical minefield for businesses, with no clear “right answer”, and there may be a period of unrest as businesses adjust to the requirements of their staff in regard to vaccinations. For now, the safest route is to encourage and guide, as opposed to making vaccinations mandatory or otherwise.
Storing your policies and documentation
It’s important that employees can access this documentation and receive a notification email when it becomes available. You may also wish to set up read-receipts to ensure that they have definitely read and understood your policies and therefore consented to them.
Within Youmanage, you can store company documents and employees can access them from anywhere, at any time. You can also set up notifications so they remember to read new or updated policies, as well as setting up read-receipts.