Five Shouts Out

Are we there yet

Q&A: Getting Back to Work Safely

My last post dealt with a webinar I ran with our guest Joe Allen. The webinar was called Smarter and Safer Ways to Reopen Buildings and proved timely for leaders as they think about getting people back into work (working at home doesn’t work for everyone…) Why Joe? Joe is an Assistant professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health and is a leading expert on healthy buildings and urban resilience so well placed to help. We had a lot of Q&A come in on the chat window and we ran out of time to answer them all! Here are the questions directed to me and some answers that you may find useful.

Q: There seems to be two population groups, those who have significant concerns about COVID-19, and those who are not concerned. What is the best way to address that different in perception/behaviours?

A: Communication is vital. Communication strategies surrounding Covid-19 and your organization’s back to work plans must be acutely visible to everyone (and your people then decide how deep they want to burrow into them). I would recommend assuming that everyone is concerned and go from there. The trouble only starts when teams of employees turn online to learn about your Covid back to work plans, and the information varies. One source of truth made available through leadership webinars, CEO blogs, dedicated intranet site etc. are essential communication tools. But it will come down to stakeholders that interact with employees cascading information down and making the judgment on what works for their audience.

Q: Are there ways to make transportation safer?

A: This will depend on which mode of transport you are referring, but I presume you mean mass-transit systems such as railways, metros, or aeroplanes? I can only talk from a UK perspective because the UK government has published extensive guidance for transport operators that you can find here. The frameworks cover everything from running practical risk assessments to how to do deep cleaning, as well as how to maintain social distancing when people travel. There is also a range of advice for passengers (but I guess you’ll know this, e.g. wear masks, stagger journey times etc.) Some of Joe’s ideas about health performance indicators could work equally well for modes of transport so do check out his book How Indoor Spaces Can Drive Performance and Productivity

Q: How are most US organizations thinking to reopen their office? Are they thinking to setup Work from Home facilities in post-Covid as well? How did Cognizant do it?

A: We ran a poll during the survey, and nearly half of the audience (48%) said they had plans to open by the end of the year. Meanwhile, 2% of our audience said they would never reopen again, and would work at home permanently. On how to set up working at home facilities, I can give you our perspective. The pandemic forced us to move to remote working models rapidly to ensure business continuity for our customers and the health and safety of our employees. It was an impressive mobilization because we had to equip our teams with the necessary virtual access, kit and resources rapidly. We leveraged cloud workspace and BYOD (bring your own device) policies for our employees; we provided digital service desk provision were necessary (using AI); we also monitored the workplace experience for remote employees through surveys, outreach, and we prepared our employees with the change in working styles with consistent communication and training. You can find out more about how we did it here.

Q: What do you think about using infrared sensors for person location detection in order to keep social distancing? Question from Europe, where privacy is key. Any suggestions regarding acceptance?

A: Tricky. We Europeans value our privacy, but my sense is we are prepared to trade/sacrifice our privacy when needs must – i.e. like facing an unprecedented threat to our mortality. But you can do these things without infringing on privacy. For example, the roll out of contact tracing apps has sparked some game changing innovation—a team of 130 European scientists and technologists based in Switzerland came together and after three weeks of near-continuous volunteer work, created a not-for-profit solution to help governments control the spread of the virus using mobile phones. A new framework called the Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing project (PEPP-PT) offers disease surveillance for governments without sacrificing privacy. Where there’s a will there’s a way.

Q: Although Coronavirus may go away clinically, but it may not go away socially for a long time. People may not be comfortable with close human contact for a long time. Do you think Social distancing shall become a minimum norm?

A: Yes, for the time being. It’s going to be the norm until we have eliminated the virus, or we discover a vaccine. And once we have that, then social distance will become, thankfully, a distant memory. Remember, we are social animals: we like gathering in crowds, watching sports together, going to theatres and festivals. There was a French philosopher called Emile Durkheim who coined the term collective effervescence to describe the phenomenon. Think about it—we even like working together! In the UK I have noticed a collective need to be social now that it’s safe to do so (our pubs are busy). Who knows but you can look at this differently because it’s a sign of pent-up demand that in normal life would make a V-shaped economic recovery likely?

Please watch the webinar here. Stay safe.