Life After Lockdown
Klaus Allion, ANT Telecom managing director, considers the millions of workers who will continue working remotely even as governments ease Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.
It was inevitable we’d end up working from home and having virtual meetings with global pressures on organisations to reduce their carbon footprints and address the employee work/life balance, but the shift towards remote working has been a gradual process until now.
With more video calls, less travel and the ease of instant digital communication, combined with flexible working, businesses have been embracing the trend at their own pace. Yet, with the Covid-19 pandemic taking every organisation by surprise, we’ve suddenly arrived at the end destination of remote working too soon, and many are not ready.
Combined with the latest government announcement, which advises those who can’t work from home should return to the workplace, as long as social distancing can be adhered to, there is now an urgency for businesses to reevaluate communication tools to accommodate a combination of employees working on site and remotely. Moreover, safety of all employees is now more important than ever, and businesses need to ensure the correct procedures are put in place to minimise the risk of a workplace Coronavirus outbreak – implementing technology such as AI face recognition and temperature monitoring at the point of workplace entry to not only reduce face-to-face communications and the need to touch a keyboard or screen, but also acting as an early detection of a high temperature – one of the main symptoms of an infection.
Hoping for a return to normal as we emerge from lockdown will see businesses fail, as hope is no substitute for proactive measures to prepare workplaces for the new realities they face.
Inevitability of change
The harbingers of change have been on the horizon for some time, yet have suddenly become stark reality. Coronavirus lockdowns have seen air pollution levels plummet across areas that have put restrictions in place, making the case for long-term environmental change stronger than ever before. Supply chains have been hit by border restrictions, increasing demand for local production of fresh food and other goods. Business managers are recognising the productivity gains of less travel to and from work and meetings, calling into question the concept of the traditional office environment – even the traditional working week.
With change this seismic, a return to a ‘normal’ is looking ever more unlikely, particularly given that the lockdown exit procedure has been laid out in stages to unfurl over the next few months – with differing levels of impact on different businesses across the UK.
It is, as such, imperative that businesses overhaul working practices to support a mixture of employees who have to return to work onsite, alongside those who are continuing to work remotely – a long-term necessity, both in terms of business continuity and employee duty of care.
Lessons from lockdown
Indeed, the initial shock of being thrust into new ways of working has highlighted – in many cases – just how ill-prepared businesses and employees have been. Home working environments and infrastructure have been re-evaluated, with organisations such as Twitter reimbursing employees for the expenses required to set up home offices. Broadband speeds for many are still painfully slow, meaning that access to tools such as reliable video conferencing has been difficult. And, in some cases, without regular colleague interaction as before, employee morale has suffered, with two in five employees feeling isolated while working from home.
And it’s not only those working from home who are impacted. Social distancing measures have caused employers to rethink both the number of tasks that are performed within the workplace and how those tasks are performed. For example, tasks that would have required two staff members due to safety concerns now need to be performed by one staff member.
With the majority of the UK workforce now effectively lone workers, how can businesses ensure their employees are working in a safe environment? How can they provide employees with the assurance that they are being protected, both to limit feelings of isolation and maintain HR compliance?
Businesses need to get busy now
Improving communications and working from home systems is now arguably essential to business continuity. Lone worker protection will increasingly become a critical factor for more organisations – from manufacturing sites to supermarket retailers. And, businesses should be considering automation technology to mitigate the number of tasks that have manual processes involved.
Under the government's latest guidance, many businesses will begin to transition employees that can’t work from home back into the work environment, like those working within the manufacturing industry. There will still be employees who will work remotely for the foreseeable future – either because they can or they have to as they are deemed ‘at risk’. Companies now need to work hard to ensure that all employees are connected, this is imperative for ensuring team morale, welfare, mental and physical health and personal safety.
From automated monitoring systems that initiate home-worker employee welfare checks at specified times; to communication devices that integrate radio and smartphone technology for on- and off-site communication, as well as lone worker protection all in one device; and wireless asset condition monitoring solutions, there is now a raft of technology that can help organisations address both their employee duty of care and ensure they are well prepared to manage during the coming months.
Many companies are looking for solutions to reduce the risk of Covid-19 by screening staff and visitors coming to site and some companies have already deployed manual or automatic temperature measure processes. For organisations planning to re-start operations or open facilities, a solution to reduce the risk of spreading infections and increase safety for staff and visitors is crucial.
There are multiple solutions available, however one key aspect is the ability to deploy a solution quickly and easily, even without the need of third-party implementation onsite.
Temperature screening terminals positioned in the entrance of buildings can be set up very quickly and a calibrated camera can accurately measure the temperature of people walking. People with a temperature higher than the advised guidelines can be detected quickly and easily.
Adapt or fail
Getting the nation back to work to get the economy moving again is going to take a combination of testing, social distancing in the workplace and early detection of symptoms. Those businesses that are quickest out of the blocks with a revolutionary view of working, will steal a march on those stood in the corner still reeling from the punches brought about by the seismic shift caused by Coronavirus. Getting prepared now for the new ‘normal’ where business is conducted remotely as the default setting (with face to face limited to essential) and protecting those who are now returning to factories and warehouses, relies on fundamental changes not only for business infrastructure, but also business thinking.
We’ve just fast-forwarded into the future and it’s here to stay. Businesses therefore need to adapt – fast.