In March 2020, the Singapore authorities enforced disciplinary actions against workplaces that failed to comply with recent social distancing measures introduced by the Ministry of Health (MOH) to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading locally.
A total of thirteen workplaces received stop-work orders whereas eight others were issued remedial orders by the government after inspections found that these workplaces failed to ensure the proper safe distancing of their staff in light of the MOH measures.
Best Solution: Remote Working
Remote working arrangements reduce the risks of a COVID-19 transmission among employees in the workplace, especially when employees are not in contact with others in the company.
If the nature of your business permits, ensure employees telecommute from home as much as possible.
With developments in technology and increasing home Internet accessibilities among many employees in Singapore, working from home should be highly encouraged.
If you have employees who are more vulnerable to being critically struck by the coronavirus infection (such as pregnant employees, older staff as well as staff with existing medical conditions such as hypertension or heart disease), pay particular care to them and ensure they work from home if possible.
In a major health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, your business should remain flexible in terms of work-from-home arrangements for your staff by providing the necessary IT support to enable them to work from home.
Other Precautionary Workplace Measures
Perhaps the nature of your business might make it impossible for employees to work from home.
For example, you and your staff might be operating a power plant, working from a shipyard or at a construction site and thus are unable to work remotely.
However, if your business is providing essential services such as food and transport, you still are expected to follow the stricter social distancing measures outlined by PM Lee on 3 April 2020.
Show Your Employees You Really Care By Actions And Not Just Lip Service
Your employees who still might be compelled to report for work at the office need to know that you have their well-being and interests at heart.
Asking your staff to simply monitor their own temperatures alone is not sufficient to assure them that their health will not be at risk when they report for work.
Rather, your business can go further in various practical means to show that you will do your best to safeguard your employees’ health and well-being.
Temporarily Waive Medical Certifications (MCs) For Employees
For example, you could choose to waive the need for employees to produce medical certifications (MCs) when they are feeling mildly unwell (for example, if they have a stomach ache or headache) and have to take a day or two off from work.
By removing the compulsory need for these mildly ill employees to go to clinics to obtain medical proof of their symptoms, you will protect your employees from being exposed to possible coronavirus infections in the clinics they visit.
Discourage Overtime Work
Overworked employees will have lower immunity systems and increased stress to combat diseases and viruses such as COVID-19.
If your business is used to putting staff on overtime work and long work-hours, perhaps it is time you consider placing a cap on the total number of hours each staff can and should work per working day.
Encourage your staff to take ample rest and even promote “rest times” for exhausted staff to take a breather and take some necessary refreshments to reboot.
You could even designate specific “rest times” during the work day of twenty to thirty minutes for your staff to recharge and relax.
By doing so, you could lift employee morale amidst the ongoing health crisis and bleak economy.
Bear in mind that if you have employees who have to work under the hot sun in construction sites and shipyards, ensure they get their necessary bouts of rest during the day and have them hydrated regularly.
Prioritise Employees’ Mental Health
We all know how employees’ mental health can have a toll on overall employee morale and workplace productivity.
Enhancing employees’ mental health will increase employees’ motivation and workplace resilience to overcome the existing and new challenges that this COVID-19 crisis and economic downturn has presented or will present.
Providing outlets by which employees can voice their concerns and frustrations during these stressful times, such as encouraging more open feedback between staff and managers, is a major step forward in creating a conducive and supportive workplace.
A simple and meaningful conversation between a manager and a member of staff at your workplace or even via teleconferencing tools can do the trick in assuring your employees that you value their input and concerns.
Poor mental health increases the risk of chronic physical health conditions.
Pre-empt your staff from falling ill by prioritising their mental well-being adequately.
Conduct Important Physical Meetings In Places With Good Ventilation
Ideally, you should try to have all work meetings online by teleconferencing tools such as Google Hangouts and Skype.
Nonetheless, urgent and important meetings have to be conducted in-face (example: if your business is in the field of national defence) for security purposes.
In such critical circumstances, limit the time and number of attendees who can attend the meeting as well as hold these gatherings in open areas or in rooms with good ventilation (preferably not air-conditioned areas).
Provide Lunchtime Deliveries For Your Staff
Stagger the lunch timings for employees or encourage them to have lunch at their desks or work areas at a safe distance from others.
Go a step further and encourage lunch deliveries among your staff to eat at their work stations in the office instead of going out to crowded food outlets.
Stagger Work Hours For Employees
A handy measure you can adopt at your workplace would be to stagger employees’ work hours.
The purpose of staggering employees’ work hours is to minimise employees’ contact with one another as well as to help them avoid peak hours and crowded transportation modes when they commute to and from work.
For instance, you can assign a team or group of employees to report to work at 730am and end work at 430pm to avoid as much human traffic as possible.
Another group of employees can report to work at 1030am and leave at 730pm, again to avoid contact with travelers on the road.
Step-Up Cleaning Of Common Areas And Individual Workstations
Besides increasing cleaning efforts in common areas, show employees that you care for their health and hygiene interests by cleaning and disinfecting all individual workstations regularly.
For example, you could arrange for cleaning services of desks, computers and keyboards and the like before employees start to report for work.
Also, make hand sanitisers available and accessible to all in your workplace, especially at places where employees are more likely to frequent, such as canteens and lifts.
Encourage everyone in the workplace to practise good personal hygiene, such as washing hands after using the toilet, before mealtimes and after touching public surfaces such as lift buttons and handrails.
Safeguard Your Office Pantry
The office pantry is a place where employees might like to gather for some refreshments and mingling – away from the humdrum of work at their desks.
However, in times like these, discourage staff from hovering around the pantry area due to health concerns.
Encourage staff to wash their own mugs immediately after use and not leave used cups lying in the sink for hours for fear of germs and viruses.
Moreover, put packet drinks and snacks in the pantry instead of leaving food exposed to germs and viruses in the air.
All food in the pantry should be consumed completely at one time, and the pantry area should be cleaned even more thoroughly – more than once a day.
Have An Effective Crisis Communication System
Before and after implementing enhanced precautionary measures at your workplace to combat the coronavirus spread, ensure your business has a robust communication system in place to educate your employees as well as to address their concerns in a timely and constructive way.
By fostering trust and transparency in workplace communication amidst these difficult times, employees will have their fears allayed and will be more likely to cooperate with you in these safe distancing measures.
Social Responsibility Should Be Here To Stay
Hopefully, the thunderstorm of COVID-19 will soon pass.
That being said, even as Singapore eventually tides out of the COVID-19 crisis, your business should continue with these aforementioned personal and workplace hygiene practices beyond what the government has proposed.
Show your staff that their health and well-being are top priorities and their loyalty and morale will pay dividends to you and your business in the long-run.
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