Protecting employees during the COVID-19 pandemic

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News of the COVID-19 pandemic crept slowly into the Canadian business landscape. At first, it seemed that we might be able to stave off the spread. But by mid-March the world was a very different place.

Since the World Health Organization first declared the pandemic, organizations across the country have had to thoroughly examine their existing practices around health and wellness in order to mitigate the spread of the virus. For some, protocols have fallen short. Others have scrambled to craft strategies ad hoc.

If we’ve learned anything over the last several weeks, it’s that early preparation and communication is the key not only to reducing illness in a workforce, but also to maintaining the optimal mental health of our employees.

Let’s take a look at some of the best practices that have emerged during this unprecedented time to give us a framework for protecting employees moving forward.

Communication
Perhaps the single most important tenet of workforce protection is communication. Workers are being inundated with countless news items daily, and as such it’s critical to cut through the noise with communication specifically tailored to your organization. Expectations should be set clearly to ensure that the entire team understands their role during this time.

Everyone processes grief and anxiety differently. Never “assume” that anyone on your team, regardless of their status in the company, will naturally act in alignment with your expectations unless they have been explicitly communicated. You must own the narrative, remaining ahead of the curve in delivering messaging that conveys all relevant updates and cultural expectations.

Communication is also key when it comes to customers. Have you been connecting with your customers frequently through a variety of touchpoints to let them know how the pandemic could affect their interaction with your organization? Be sure to tell them how you plan to manage any temporary disruptions in order to continue to deliver the service they’ve come to expect.

Health
Data indicates that the best way to mitigate the spread of the virus is through frequent and thorough hand washing. This message needs to be conveyed and abided by throughout your organization.

As a business owner, your responsibility is to make it as easy as possible for your workforce to keep their hands clean. That means supplying ample hand sanitizer, keeping hand soap stocked in washrooms, and providing gloves in relevant circumstances. Encourage employees to wipe down surfaces, including handles and doorknobs, with antibacterial wipes.

Another measure is the thorough tracking of visitors. You should be stopping entry of visitors who are exhibiting signs of infection. If you can keep track of who has been in contact with your team, it will be easier to identify the source of an outbreak should one arise.

Ontario Health and Safety Act (OHSA)
The OHSA requires Ontario employers to ensure that they are providing a healthy and safe workplace at all times. To remain in alignment, you should have implemented the following measures during the pandemic:

– Restricting non-essential travel
– Remote working
– Encouraging sick workers to stay home
– Thorough communication of short-term disability and sick time policies
– Remaining mindful of the confidentiality of personal medical information

Creating new business processes
In addition to ensuring the health of your team, you’ll also need to ensure the livelihood of the business. Conducting business in the time of a pandemic necessitates the construction of new workflows and processes, namely the introduction of remote working protocols.

Your IT department will hopefully already be in high gear, supporting team members as they navigate a variety of technical issues in accessing servers, downloading the appropriate remote working software, and maintaining reliable internet connectivity.

Set expectations
Remote working makes it critical that roles and responsibilities are clearly communicated. Employees should have been made aware that they are expected to be dependable, responsive, and reachable during this time. Remote working does not change their responsibilities; they simply must adapt their role to a remote working environment.

Status updates
Scheduled, regular check-ins to address challenges pertaining to technology or workflow are of particular value right now. Attention should also be paid to the mental health and wellness of a remote workforce.

New technology
Having chosen an approved technology vendor for virtual meetings, it’s important to communicate what information should and should not be shared on such channels. Ensure that your workforce understands how sensitive data should be handled during this time.

Modelling
Leaders must model the behaviour they want to see. Managers must be reachable and accountable during this time, available to discuss challenges and assist in troubleshooting.

Extra preparation
Prior to a virtual meeting start time, distribute all relevant materials via email and allow participants to familiarize themselves. Encourage meeting attendees to log on early and address any technological issues prior to the meeting.

Remain inclusive
Virtual meetings change the interpersonal dynamic, making it especially important to verbally check on everyone in the group. Gain consensus by addressing each attendee wherever possible to ensure that everyone feels heard and included. Frequently check in to make sure that everyone can hear well, and that no tech issues have arisen.

Check in with your trusted advisor
Canadian businesses are facing unprecedented challenges. Changes to transactional activity are wide-reaching. Particularly for newer enterprises, such unusual circumstances can be overwhelming, leaving entrepreneurs feeling confused and at a loss for answers.

At Zeifmans, we have over 60 years’ experience navigating market challenges through a variety of fluctuations. Our team remains 100% operational during this trying time. Reach out to us today to learn more about how our trusted advice can benefit your organization during the COVID-19 crisis.

Suggested supplemental insights

Zeifmans COVID-19 Resources Centre

COVID-19 Business Survival Strategies

COVID-19: Guide for Business Owners