Now that Ireland has begun on a roadmap for reopening companies are looking towards returning to work safely.
Since the beginning of phase one, there has been more activity on the roads, on the construction sites and small gatherings of people. Almost a feeling of normality, or at least a move towards a “new normal.”
With the phased return to work in motion, many companies are working closely with sector bodies to prepare to get back to work safely. Safety protocols being considered are to include self-declaration, temperature checks, physical distancing and as a result – reduced numbers of staff on-site.
To get some insight into what companies are doing to return to work after COVID-19 I spoke with Kevin McCarthy HR Business Partner Itron & Treasa McCarthy Group HR Manager HC 21, who shared their plans and thoughts with me.
Return to Work Safety Protocols
Kevin McCarthy, HR Manager, Itron SSC Cork – large open plan office environment
Kevin is HR Business Partner at Itron SSC here in Cork. 5 years ago, Itron SSC was a planned centre for 45 AR/AP staff and today employs an impressive 140 people, mostly accountants working on full 360 accounts for the Itron group.
This successful growth stems from strategic and ambitious leadership and they are a massive Cork employer. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Itron has fully mobilised their team to work from home.
Pre COVID-19, Itron had already begun implementing flexible working & compressed hours and have been impressed by how successfully their teams were mobilised to working at home effectively.
So how are companies like Itron with 140 employees and large open plan spaces planning to return to the workplace?
Here are some of the initiatives that are being considered by Kevin McCarthy and the Itron team to ensure a safe return to their two-tier open plan office space located in Mahon.
Physical dividers between desks is another option being considered at Itron and across Ireland. These perspex screens are currently used in retail outlets but the efficacy of such a solution in an open plan office must be established.
To ensure compliance the number of available workspaces and the number of seats in workplace canteens will also be reduced. Kevin is also considering secured seating in communal areas to minimise risk and encourage social distancing.
The company will have a self-declaration form that all employees must complete. This declaration form is to establish if a person could have been in contact with COVID-19. Part of this may include a temperature recording. How this will work has yet to be established.
Face Masks & Hand Sanitisers
While the wearing of masks in not off the table, taking into consideration HSE recommendations IBEC advises that face masks are more useful in the community rather than in a commercial setting.
This is something that we have seen debated in the media yet it’s currently thought face masks are unlikely to be mandatory in office settings. Hand sanitisers will, however, be provided in all areas.
Sanitisation of Workspaces using Fogging-Sanitisation
Fogging disinfection is a method where disinfectant is atomised into ultrafine droplets and blown into the air. Once they settle on the surface, these disinfectant droplets begin to have an effect. This is something companies are considering prior to returning to the office, particularly in shared spaces.
Reduced Site Numbers & COVID-19 Signage
Kevin discussed rotating teams to reduce the numbers on site with staff working alternative days. This will mean continued working from home until the requirement of social distancing is lifted.
Clear signage will also be introduced to encourage continued handwashing and sanitising and to indicate clear 2m separation.
Treasa McCarthy, Group HR Manager, Healthcare 21 – a leading provider of sales, marketing, distribution and service solutions to healthcare organisations throughout Ireland, UK and Germany.
Treasa McCarthy is Group HR Manager at Healthcare 21, which has doubled in size over the past 18 months to 420 employees across Ireland and the UK. A huge employer here in Cork with a very driven and dynamic forward-thinking team of leaders.
As an essential services provider, their business incorporates a varied mix of warehousing and decontamination facilities and both office-based and field-based workers.
HC21 were challenged from the outset like other essential services to ensure the safety of their staff in the warehouses, in the field, in homes and hospitals and in their decontamination facility in Limerick while simultaneously mobilising the office teams to remote working.
HC 21 have one-way walk systems in their warehouse to avoid crossing paths, sanitising and full PPE is provided for all essential staff and they are currently looking at Perspex screens within their warehouses.
Healthcare 21 created a COVID-19 team within the business in February 2020 and Treasa is working with the COVID-19 team to get workers back to the office in Ballincollig and Blarney. Below she shares some of their learnings.
Like Itron, self-declaration and temperature checks will be carried out on entry to all buildings.
Thermometers need to be stored at certain temperatures, which warehouses can fall below. To avoid any improper use or storage HC21 are looking into the use of non-touch thermometers.
All staff will also be sent two 2 face coverings and filters for their own personal use and provided with letters that confirm they are essential workers.
Physical Separation & Spacing
With a two-storey office and 2 points of entry, in March the team separated the functions within the office to minimise unnecessary interactions and will continue to do so on their return to office working for as long as is necessary.
Office-based teams will be located accordingly so travel between the two levels is rendered unnecessary. Both levels will have their own entrances and facilities and the H & S Officer is managing the spacing of desks which will all be 2m apart.
To further reduce unnecessary contact, there will also be staggered start and finish times to minimise contact or a rotating schedule based on 2/3 day rotations.
In March, they also introduced shift rotations in their warehouse and decontamination facility to minimise contact.
Treasa advised that washing your hands 5 to 6 times a day decreases your chance of contamination by 50% – good tip!
This will be encouraged within the business along with regular cleaning 5 days a week by an external cleaning company. All high touch-points will be sanitised regularly throughout the working day too.
Overall, what is most important is that the staff understand what precautions are being taken and why. Companies want to ensure their people feel safe, reassured and are fully comfortable with all precautions and working conditions.
To ensure effective communication HC21 have introduced weekly updates from their MD, a weekly newsletter with company updates, an EAP program, wellness initiatives, activities for workers’ kids and quizzes. All aimed at improving the wellbeing of employees and maintaining a sense of connection during COVID-19.
Similar to how we’re operating within Cpl, HC 21 also has a dedicated COVID-19 team that meets weekly. The team will be appointing two COVID-19 leaders to each site to ensure that procedures are being adhered to.
While the work from home model may have been the dream for many a few months ago, there is now an eagerness to get back to work.
In reality, the future will likely be a mix of both, offices taking a new direction and remote working becoming a standard part of our working lives.
IT companies are already embracing the remote working structure with Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon seemingly in no rush to get employees back to the office this year.