That offices all across Nigeria and many parts of the world are re-opening is no longer news. However, many are yet to operate to full capacity. Most of the private driven sector have made a great leap in the re-opening of their offices, but in the public sector as well as many of the states’ civil service, less than 30% of the employees are back in the office.
While this gradual re-opening is expected, it is crucial that all organisations including the government Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) take specific steps towards making adequate provisions for safety in the workplace. If this is not done, spate of employee protests may accompany full resumption of work at the end of the pandemic.
The question most employers should be answering now is what are the expectations of the employees? How can this expectations be met? One major thing that has become indisputable following the pandemic and subsequent lockdown, is the fact that many employees now prefer to work from home. A recent survey conducted by Pete-F2 Consult among randomly selected employees from both the private and public sector, revealed that a combination of working from home and working from the office is most desired by employees. More than 40% of the respondents want to remain working from home or work a few days off from the office. However 32% reported that they would only feel confident returning to the office if there was a lowered infection rate, increased testing facilities and improved employee welfare.
From the above employers will need to create policies that are adapted to the culture of the organisation for those working from home as long as a number of their employees irrespective of their percentage continue to work from home.
The concern of every employee particularly in developing nations where health care facilities are poor is the inability of employers to ensure that the workplace remains safe. The employees of the post-covid 19 world have expectations. Part of their expectations would include:
- Provision of office space that meets the covid 19 physical distance requirement.
- Frequent or scheduled cleaning of the offices
- Provision of hand sanitisers
- Provision of face masks and protective shields
These requirements will vary from employee to employee and from one work place to another. Generally, employees all over the world want to be assured of their safety before returning to the office. In Nigeria, where the health care facilities fall below standard, this assurance is much more desirable. Employers should at this point open up a conversation with labour leaders and workers on what safety measures have been put in place for employees. If there are scheduling of duties, it must be properly communicated and the process of scheduling must be seen to be transparent. There must be guidelines to ensure co-workers adhere to safety protocols. Sanctions for non-adherence to protocol must be clearly communicated to all employees.
Employers must be very explicit about how employee health will be monitored and must make adequate contingency plans in case an employee is infected. One major recommendation that organisations should be considering in the post-covid world is the engagement of public health expert as staff of the organisation.
The above responsibilities of employers does not preclude the responsibilities of the employee. Employees must comply to safety protocols or otherwise revert to options of not returning to work.
On the whole, it is not a one cap fits all solution, it requires team effort for organisations to bounce back on their feet if they are to survive the demands of the new normal of business life. Employers must be sensitive to the needs of their employees. Both parties must find a balance between what worked before and what needs to be done to succeed in the next normal.
July 14th, 2020.