Rebuilding for a New Better
The Dublin Work Travel Convene Coalition, March 2021
During the roundtable discussions, there was consensus from Coalition partners that there is an increased acceptance of uncertainty in business, and a sense of ‘we’ll get through this together’. As business leaders grappled with the challenge of making important decisions under time pressure, and often with limited information, it is clear that protecting employees was front of mind as a key priority. The Coalition considered the following areas with a focus on protecting and empowering people.
Navigating the initial pandemic restrictions required organisations to innovate at pace and pivot rapidly. Effective communication was crucial to supporting colleagues working from home, so they could continue to contribute and ensure they did not feel isolated.
As the crisis unfolded, centralised messaging from senior leadership provided consistent, valid reassurance, helped to maintain an organisation’s culture and ensured that team members continued to feel valued.
As organisations realign their focus towards the return to office, direct communication from team leaders is more relevant and engaging for employees.
Tailored communication from direct line managers is particularly beneficial for new employee members, many of whom have not, as yet, had the opportunity to set foot in the office, or meet any colleagues face to face.
In early May 2020 the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment released the Return to Work Safely Protocol which provided a comprehensive and clear framework. This allowed businesses to react quickly to meet all health and safety requirements and is reflected in the responses to our survey.
87.5% of respondents had a documented Pandemic response plan per local authority, Irish Government and Health & Safety Guidance and have a documented safety communication plan and deployment strategy for employees, contractors and visitors.
75% of respondents had a documented Illness and Injury Prevention Plan.
Return To Work Assessments Survey
Most organisations already had good health and safety structures in place and were able to leverage this to react quickly to the ever-changing risks posed by the pandemic. Health and safety management systems by their very nature are risk based and constantly evolving. Organisations with good programmes in place will be better equipped to react and evolve their risk control programmes as we progress to the next stage of this outbreak.
The role of public transport was a topic that arose for many as part of this discussion. Without doubt the Government’s strategy to encourage people to walk and cycle has been helpful. However, as public transport is a core component of commuter movement it was felt that users must receive clear and consistent communication on how busy travel times will be facilitated safely.
It was found that many organisations have controls in place for communicating with and managing employees, visitors and contractors under crisis conditions.
As we slowly rebuild and move to the recovery phase it will be important to consider the medium and long-term plans, and devise more formal and sustainable strategies to maintain health and safety standards while gradually returning and adapting to the new workplace.
Coalition members early reaction to the pandemic involved putting the basics in place to successfully return to the office in the August / September timeframe last year before the course of the pandemic changed and the possibility of this was delayed further. This included health screening, safety and social distancing rules as well as protocols if employees became ill at work.
100% of respondents had successfully implemented protocols for returning to the office and 75% have developed COVID-19 specific safety protocols for training managers and supervisors in new methodologies and compliance training.
100% of respondents had implemented solutions that will allow them to schedule and track which employees have returned to a physical work site including using staggered start times or shifts to allow for social distancing, etc.
Return To Work Assessments Survey
Most organisations have new structures such as sign in systems, email approvals or more formal online application forms, apps or fob systems to track scheduling and attendance at the work site.
During the period when the research was conducted, some organisations had already successfully brought back in the region of 5-20% of their employee base using these processes. This was relatively short-lived, as Government guidelines now require all non-essential workplaces to remain closed with workforces working remotely where possible. Coalition members agreed that when the time came, it would be increasingly hard to manage the full return of the workforce to the office while following the safety protocols outlined by Government. It was agreed that a hybrid approach to the return to office would have to be taken in many cases.
There are many challenges that will need to be addressed for employees, including training on how to work from home successfully, ergonomics, taking breaks and separating work life from home life.
According to Aon’s fifth Global COVID-19 Pulse Survey for HR professionals, 86% of respondents believe attracting and retaining a diverse workforce and creating an inclusive culture is key to an agile workforce and critical to the future of work.
This sentiment was endorsed by the Coalition members with an agreement that a diverse organisation that draws on the strengths and talents of all its team members is a more successful one. The experience of Coalition members was that an inclusive environment improves employee enrichment, problem solving and decision-making processes.
It was acknowledged that remote working was presenting employees with new and different challenges and there was an understanding that some may thrive better than others. It was also acknowledged that the out of office working environment could adversely affect some employees more than others – for example younger members of the workforce less established in their careers, parents, carers and women.
As remote working will remain for most of this year, if not the future, it is important to acknowledge the specific difficulties some employees may face and assist them appropriately to ensure they can achieve and progress within an organisation. Moreover, as with all strategic organisational changes, leadership must take the opportunity to ensure that everyone is visible and recognised and inequalities are not reinforced.