How to ease the containment measures and progressively return to normal business
Guidelines for employers
Employers have a duty to promote safety and well being within their organization. While the containment measures may be eased after a certain period of time, it is essential to maintain good practices and healthy behaviours during several months in order to prevent a resurgence of the virus. This is also why only a progressive return to work, in addition to preventive measures, is the best option. Under no circumstances should all employees be allowed to return to work at the same time. Teleworking must remain the principle if the conditions for social distancing cannot be safely applied.
1.General recommendations and health issues
- Most infections occur through direct contact (more than 15 minutes at less than 2 meters distance or handshake) with a person who is not yet symptomatic (1-2 days before symptoms appear). Therefore, avoiding physical contacts is crucial.
- The second source of contagion is symptomatic people. It is therefore necessary to insist that people stay at home as soon as the slightest symptom appears. Many patients have as their first sign a loss of taste or smell followed or not in the days that follow by cough and/or temperature, sore throat, shortness of breath, etc.
- People can get infected without knowing it. Asking for a medical certificate of good health or a negative test before coming to work therefore creates a false sense of security and is useless, if not a waste of time and resources.
- Only a very small percentage of infections occur through contact with a contaminated object. In this context hand hygiene and coughing and sneezing into a disposable tissue and throwing it away right away is crucial for prevention.
General recommendations before return to work
Keeping in mind the health issues, these recommendations should be followed:
- Before allowing any employee to return to work, make sure that they are not sick. Employees who present symptoms should stay at home and provide a medical certificate.
Evaluate the need to clean the premises before return to work:
- if the premises have been free of any staff during more than a week, cleaning may not prove necessary as the virus does not normally survive on surfaces more than a few days. The same may be applied if nobody in your staff has been infected.
- in any other case, and in particular if infected persons were present on the premises during the last 5 days, a complete cleaning should be carried out: surfaces and objects potentially contaminated with body fluids, door handles, electric switches, telephones, computer keyboards, work stations, toilets, etc.
- If not already done so, place gel alcohol-based solutions dispensers on doors.
- Be reassuring with your teams but advise them to continue to implement good hygiene practices and social distancing as much as possible. Advise them to speak to the HR department or to a doctor or psychologist in the event of anxiety: ASTF services (22 80 90-1) or the government hotline (8002-8080).
- Ensure that official containment measures are lifted and all risks of resurgence of the virus and of contamination are ruled out before allowing all employees back to work.
2. Progressive return to the workplace
If you allow some employees or teams to return to their workplace before the end of the official containment measures, the following measures should be taken:
Who can come back to work first?
- Those who are healthy after being affected by the Corona virus after the end of the quarantine period
- Strategic functions and functions who need to be operational at the workplace
- Ensure that vulnerable employees stay at home (pregnant women, staff with known health problems, …)
Which specific hygiene measures to undertake?
- Provide face masks and alcohol gel to all employees in the workplace Promote regular hand-washing and good hygiene practices
What cleaning measures to undertake on a day-to-day basis?
- Ensure that the workspaces as well as door handles, electric switches, telephones, computer keyboards, work station, toilets are cleaned everyday
What about social distancing?
- Implement social distancing in all cases and situations
- Avoid the return to work of all members of a team. Split the teams
- Limit the number of people in offices and common spaces. Employees may also alternate days of work
- Make sure there is a free space of two meters between two work stations
- Avoid team meetings, coffee breaks or lunch with more than a few employees while maintaining a distance of at least two meters between people
- Avoid group meetings and trainings and prefer online meetings instead
The Ministry of Health issued some recommendations to be applied in the financial sector:
3. Guidelines for split teams (home-working vs. on-site working)
Current mix of work-from-home and social distancing, combined with economic anxiety is driving stress and reducing productivity amongst the employees. The following guidelines aim at managing teams remotely as well as split teams.
Any lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities, decision rights or objectives is amplified in a remote environment. This is why it is important for a manager to:
- leverage technology team to empower remote work capability: online articles, collaboration tools, training on appropriate channels
- clearly define tasks and outcomes, set clear expectations
- clearly define milestones, decision points as well as priorities
- share documents
- practice transparency
- regularly monitor progress on any projects being completed by remote workers so you can foresee any issues that staff are facing and need extra support with or just so you are fully aware of how well your remote staff are progressing
- trust your employees by giving them greater autonomy and flexibility to achieve the objectives
- respect working hours
- set how and when the manager or the HR department can be reached
- communication is key: employees should use frequent face-to-face and voice interactions. Managers should be encouraged to clarify job requirements regularly, so the employee and the employer are sure to be on the same page. Employees should be encouraged to communicate any problems they encounter immediately with their manager.
Isolation as well as split teams can degrade morale, performance, motivation and cohesion of teams. Containment measures may also generate a range of symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety, sleep and concentration problems. This is why it is crucial to maintain links between team members and to ensure the good mental health of your employees by:
- organising regular remote team meetings
- using real-time discussion tools while working on documents or projects
- taking care of your team by contacting them individually in order to check for any special difficulties in the working conditions
- finding out about personal situation and personal working conditions
- organising on-line coffee-breaks for socialising
- sharing ideas on the new way of life and the new way of working
- advising your team to follow ASTF recommendations on containment resources:
- in order to deal with a situation of stress and anxiety of an isolated employee, checking they are aware of the emergency call number at the occupational health service: employees experiencing psychological distress and need to talk to a doctor or a psychologist may phone to the ASTF services (22 80 90-1) or the government hotline (8002-8080).