Right now, all over the world employers are wrestling with the same big question: What’s the best way to redeploy workers and resume business amid ongoing pandemic uncertainty? At a recent Next Gen Manufacturing webinar, Hire Dynamics EVP Kim Wallace shared a snapshot of current challenges and provided practical advice to help businesses navigate a way forward.
It is a tenuous time for businesses. Many employers face pressures to advance their openings – and significant obstacles if they do. Fear of losing revenue to a competitor drives some to consider reopening to beat their rivals to market. Yet many supply chains are still interrupted. While shipping from China has restarted, some essential items are stalled in warehouses or by transportation delays. Labor supply, too, is fluctuating, affected by local mandates that shift week to week, by health issues as sickness rises and falls, and by fear and uncertainty among workers and consumers.
Because it truly is an unprecedented scenario, there is no established manual for this. Yet there are emerging safety principles, established communications guidelines and pandemic-specific planning considerations that can help. One sound principle to begin with is to avoid extremes – don’t reopen without a plan yet don’t be overly rigid in enforcing one.
Employees may not be as ready to return as you would like. Let them work through their concerns. Many may face childcare, transportation and health complications at unprecedented levels. Listen to their concerns and make informed forecasts. How many will return? Which positions might you need to fill? How can you accommodate skilled and valued workers who cannot resume work immediately? As you work to balance these considerations, be flexible on paid time off.
Consider ways to use the insurer-based healthcare and wellness programs you have in place. These can provide reliable information and services, in many cases including mental health benefits, that support employee health and are accessible from home. In these times of extraordinary uncertainty, stress management is a vital factor in workforce resiliency. Give employees clear information and access to tools and services to help them stay informed and feel empowered to make choices.
Re-Examine Safety Preparedness
The “new normal” for safety is going to look different — from the layout of the workspace to the ways workers enter and move around in it, to the ways they interact with each other.
- Facilities: Plan for a redesign that accommodates workstations spaced 6-8 feet apart or partitions between them. Consider access and entry points to shared areas such as lunchrooms, smoking areas, rest rooms and timeclock procedures. Allow adequate time to upgrade workstations with barriers. Consider ways that local, OSHA and ADA requirements affect the plan. For example, identify vulnerable workers and accommodate their needs into workflows and emergency procedures. Include clear, proper signage to share new best practices for safety.
- Equipment: Stock supplies – at least a 14-day supply – of PPE, antibacterial wipes, thermometers, safety vests, glasses and related items. Order now if you have not already. Plan for both employee use (like taking temperatures at entrances) and for visitors (who may need PPE upon entry).
- Additional Staff: If you are adding protocols such as deep cleaning the facility — including HVAC, equipment and common areas – you may need more workers, including health screeners or medical staff. If you add shifts or stagger start times, you may need to add more workers.
- Training: Some workers may have concerns about returning to work while others may not voluntarily embrace social distancing or the use of facemasks. Clear communication, consistent protocols and training can help build a culture of safety compliance. Training should cover new emergency management procedures (such as evacuation routes) and use of PPE, including how to dispose of it to avoid contamination.
Research, Reforecast, Reboot
Every great plan begins with listening. Gather all needed parties in your organization to divide tasks for proper plan development for your company. Learn the best practices of others. Take in the advice of healthcare experts, suppliers, customers and employees. When you have incorporated comprehensive insights as best you can, it is time to reforecast business goals — and communicate what people need to focus on.
Pay rate planning is going to involve some changes. With unemployment potentially offering workers up to $25 an hour through July 2020, some businesses are raising pay – with appreciation or hero pay rates ranging from two to five dollars an hour higher than usual. Others are giving perfect attendance bonuses along with other benefits and greater flexibility overall. Know your workforce and what they may appreciate. Is it providing free lunches, or simply finding new ways to recognize and thank them for their contributions? Transparent communication is one quality all workers appreciate; keep the information lines open and share updates as promptly as you can.
Complete planning – including how you will communicate it. Make full use of established intranet or employee communications tools to provide information and access to resources. If employees will be released or furloughs extended, outline the reasons for this and provide access to resources for these workers.
Two Weeks Out
Announce the overall restart approach and timing. Begin hiring to fill any vacancies. Use multiple communications channels to describe the phases planned for the workforce return — including which positions will return first, which positions can continue to work remotely (now and going forward). Explain anything else workers may need to know (such as changes to workplace dining options or on-site childcare). Notify workers of any required orientation and training programs and how to take part in them.
The Week Before
Conduct orientations, introducing new workflows and retraining in the new protocols. Be proactive and comprehensive in supplying information. If masks or gloves are required, show how to wear them properly to get the full benefit. Don’t assume anyone knows how to use PPE; instead, provide demonstrations and interactive training. Prepare for resilience by cross training workers for key roles and functions.
Week/Day of Return
Welcome back workers! Convey that they are valued, that their safety matters. Ensure the new safety and workflow practices are implemented and effective. Be on hand to answer questions. Use signage to reinforce messages such as to clarify new protocols for restrooms and breakrooms.
Keep communications open, gaining feedback on what is working and what is not. Listen to employees and adjust practices based on their input.
Workplace culture is a living thing, always shaped and reshaped by how we communicate. Planning during these times is full of challenges yet also presents an opportunity to reinforce (or begin) your brand as an employer of choice.
Restarting or redeploying the workforce is just the beginning. Enduring resilience is the goal for all. It’s important to keep reinforcing new safety protocols on an ongoing basis, to overcome complacency and adapt to evolving needs. As we all learn new ways to work, to enhance worker skillsets, to adapt lessons learned in crisis, hopefully we move closer that that goal, providing work that is meaningful, safe and rewarding for employers and workers alike.
ADDITIONAL PLANNING RESOURCES