Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted business operations across the world and impacted the global economy. Sectors such as aviation, retail, manufacturing, and hospitality are among the worst-hit.
Even though the war against Covid is yet to be won, we are learning to live with the pandemic. As a result, countries across the world, including India, are moving towards ‘Unlocking’.
As businesses cautiously make their way towards resuming operations, return to the workplace is inevitable for some. In the absence of a vaccine, it has become imperative to revamp workplaces to ensure that employees are safe.
To enable organisations to resume operations at workplaces in a safe manner, the government has prescribed various norms that workplaces are required to follow. These measures include compulsory face covers, compliance with social distancing norms, staggered shifts and lunch hours, provision for thermal scanning, hand wash and sanitizer, frequent sanitization of workplace, use of Aarogya Setu app, avoiding large physical meetings, identification of hospitals in nearby areas and arrangement for transport facilities, among other things.
As per the FAQs laid down by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on June 26, 2020, “Covid-19 exposure can occur at the workplace, while travelling to work, during work-related travel to an area with local community transmission, as well as on the way to and from the workplace. As per WHO, workplaces should develop action plans to prevent and mitigate Covid-19 as part of the business continuity plan and according to the results of the risk assessments and the epidemiological situation. The action plan and preventive measures should be regularly monitored and updated. Employees and their representatives should be consulted and should participate in the development, monitoring and updating of the workplace Covid-19. It is very important to monitor the effectiveness of preventive measures, and the compliance of workers, visitors, customers, clients and sub-contractors with the measures.”
In the new normal, social distancing, sanitisation, use of face covers, thermal screening, etc. have become the focus areas. While the workplaces have largely been complying with the government prescribed norms, many have creative solutions for business continuity while ensuring safety of the workforce. As a foremost step, many organisations, such as the IT sector, have switched to a perpetual work from home structure.
Another device for workforce safety these days is ‘hybrid working’ focusing on purpose instead of place. Hybrid working is essentially an extension of the flexi-working policy many MNCs in India have already adopted. With a view of giving flexibility to the employees, hybrid working is a combination of work from home, work from anywhere and work from flexible co-working spaces. To add to the comfort, the Department of Telecommunications has recently relaxed norms for facilitating work from home for IT companies till the end of 2020.
Several organisations have opted for artificial intelligence for overseeing social distancing and movement of employees, replacement of biometric attendance systems with AI, isolation of work zones, restricted entry, shifting meetings to virtual platforms, sensor-based doors, etc. Given that a considerable number of the workforce travels by public transport, many sectors have company transport for its employees. Mental health during these times has also become a key concern which a lot of organisations have been addressing.
Although these measures are short-term, they should perhaps become a way of work even during post-Covid times.
(Pooja Ramchandani is a Partner, and Suryansh Gupta is an Associate at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas and Co. Views expressed are personal.)