Everyone is hyper focused on getting back to work. It stands to reason that we would do it in the most organized fashion and with safety front of mind. Most of us are thinking about how to re-engage fully in the way that is most meaningful for us personally. Ensuring that the work is something that we actually we want to perform and that we are doing it in a way that reflects our newfound thinking around our priorities. In our assessment of reengaging with work, we are now generally considering our internal priorities around what we want to do, how we want to do it, and where we want to spend our energy going forward. It's important to think about how--well beyond the impact on ourselves--and look at our interaction with the world around us. We've gotten relaxed, feeling safe in the comfort of our home work environment, but as we get in the car, we are now thinking about masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and similar new tools we have become accustomed to. The idea of going back to a regular work environment can be daunting if we lack the feeling of control over any aspect of how our personal safety is being considered. It's therefore critical as an employer, manager, or unit leader to move beyond our personal safety thinking and view our workspaces from the perspective of the people who will interact with it.
As a young apprentice, I remember feeling completely helpless and dependent on the leaders who were running the jobs I was on. And as the flood of memories come back, one incident stands out:
When an electrician teaching me how to bend rigid conduit on a sidewinder (the name for a piece of equipment that bends pipe) automatically saved my hand. (See it here.) The tool was an older model but had a kill switch on top designed to instantly stop the machine. The journeyman instructed me on marking the conduit properly to adjust for the radius take-up, made sure I wore protective glasses, made sure my gloves didn't have any holes in them, and demonstrated several bends before allowing me to utilize the equipment. I clearly remember him explaining that he didn't like to wear the gloves because he felt it was more dangerous, but because I was in an apprenticeship, he instructed me to use them. After several demonstrations and extended discussion about how the bends would fit in the runs of conduits we were installing, he let me give it a go. I made the 1st and the 2nd bend without issues, but on the third bend my glove got caught in the shoe of the machine and was pulling my hand into the space between the bender and the conduit. I am amazed to this day at the speed in which he reacted and hit the kill switch. We decided not to remove my glove as my finger was already warm and wet from the blood, so he put me in his truck and we headed to the doctor who explained that one moment of hesitation would not have just cost me my finger but likely all of them. A reliance on the experience and the thinking around safety of the people we employ is paramount.
As organizational leaders, it's our responsibility to prepare ahead of the workforce and be ready to receive clients that will interact with the spaces we control. In assessing those spaces we now have to take into account new guidelines for social distancing, cleanliness, and similar criteria based on the information that's available to us today from authorities, expectations set internally by our leadership and the new demand from our workforce and our customers. The CDC has updated guidance on social distancing and related requirements; they have created a variety of tools that can help organizations create plans and ready themselves for the influx of returning workers and visitors. OSHA has provided comprehensive planning tool that will help you work through the process of creating floor plans and access routes that meet governmental standards.
As we turn the corner and return to work, it is important to take into account the new way people expect to work and clients expect to interact with our businesses. From dial ahead mall appointments to reduced in-person seating, there is a new norm being set around limiting personal exposure and public spreading opportunity. This raises the potential liability for employers as the government has not been clear on the responsibility of business owners who take precautions and still find employees or clients becoming ill. No one has determined where the line of responsibility will be drawn, and that is particularly important as it is clear that we are relying on each other to be responsible. I think it was put best this week by Scott Gotleib and Lauren Silver in the Wall Street Journal when they said, “People with symptoms of COVID should go see a doctor, not show up at work to for a test,” meaning that most people reporting to work will be asymptomatic and looking to confirm that they will not get exposed at work. This expectation does mean employers will need to limit exposure more purposefully, sticking to limited worksite access where it is not needed and adopting a more permanent policy on digital tool access to deliver work for their clients. This can cause the acceleration of adopting self-service order screens faster, shifting sales teams to order fulfillment roles, and store guides more than they have been in the past.