- Following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, workplace wellness is under an intense spotlight.
- Interim guidance advises companies to ensure sick employees stay at home, which is forcing teams to work remotely.
- Businesses should prepare by equipping employees with the tools they need for dispersed working.
The global outbreak of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is putting the topic of workplace wellness under an intense spotlight.
For workplaces, guidance has been issued in each country and is being updated continually to reflect the latest situation.
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What Do We Know So Far?
COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that was first identified in Wuhan City, China, and has now spread to 75 countries (as of March 2, 2020).
Official advice (UK) states that infection is most likely to happen when there is close contact with a person carrying the virus, particularly if that person coughs or sneezes.
There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus.
Recommended Workplace Strategies
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released interim guidance to help businesses prevent the spread of the virus in the workplace.
In summary, the guidance recommends:
- Actively encourage sick employees to stay home: People with respiratory symptoms, fever, or a high temperature should avoid the workplace and stay at home.
- Separate sick employees: The CDC recommends that employees who come into the workplace with symptoms should be separated from other employees and sent home.
- Emphasise hand hygiene: Advise people to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol. Ideally, provide tissues and hand-rubs for all employees.
- Routinely clean the workplace: All frequently touched surfaces, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs, should be cleaned frequently and thoroughly. Provide disposable wipes so that employees can wipe down their desks and workplace equipment.
Awareness is important, and business owners are advised to talk with companies they work with — such as suppliers and contractors — to ensure they are also following the relevant guidelines.
How to Prevent the Spread of Infection
Public Health England (PHE) recommends following these general cold and flu precautions to help prevent people from catching and spreading COVID-19:
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze.
- Put used tissues in the bin straight away.
- Wash your hands with soap and water often – use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available.
- Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.
How to Work Remotely, Unexpectedly
The outbreak has forced many organisations and teams to experiment with remote work.
While some companies already have a remote work culture in place, for others, it’s putting business continuity plans to the test. Those that aren’t prepared to suddenly send their employees home are experiencing business-wide disruption.
So what happens when your team is suddenly forced to disperse? How do you continue collaborating at a distance?
1. Gather contact details.
First, set up a communications protocol. Do this immediately.
If your team has to disperse suddenly, you need to ensure you can reach everybody across as many channels as possible. This should include phone, email, and IM (Slack, etc).
Clarify how you will communicate, and how teams will coordinate and meet remotely.
2. Establish collaboration tools.
Switching from face-to-face meetings to video or audio calls takes time and practice; if you don’t already meet regularly using remote tools, the sooner you start doing so, the better.
Your first job is to identify remote communications tools that everyone is happy with.
For instance, some of the most common include Slack or Skype for instant messaging; Zoom or GoToMeeting for audio and video calls; Asana or Zoho for online project management; and Google Docs for shared documentation.
Schedule team training and start integrating these tools into your regular work day.
3. Audit your security.
While working remotely can be an unexpected boon for productivity, it can also pose security risks.
In addition to setting up virtual private networks for home-based workers, you should also train your team on general security considerations such as password strength, two-factor authentication, and keeping data secure when working in public places (such as cafes or coworking spaces).
Training and Support
Digital collaboration platform, MURAL, is hosting a series of webinars to help teams work together when they are forced to work remotely. Find out more and sign up here.
Further Reading and Resources
The coronavirus outbreak is constantly evolving. Stay up to date and help keep your workforce healthy by checking in regularly with government guidelines.