During my morning walk this morning the changes that we have had to go through in the normal way of life hit me again. One reason was, I had to change my route to a more remote area, because my usual route was now over-crowded as everybody was coming out to exercise and many in my view were not exercising social distancing protocol and did not wear masks. So, I took a different direction to safe guard my health.
I then started thinking that if I am making these changes because of exercise, what would we have to do when life becomes “normal” and we have to seemingly go back to life the way it was when the lockdown is lifted, especially if a vaccine or cure is not found before work starts.
As we know, the virus has taken a life of its own and seems to be very intelligent with different mutations. So, the key question is, how do we make the workplace safe for our staff, customers and stakeholders. The ramifications are immense for various industries.
Many offices have open space arrangements with people seating across each other and sharing business enabling machines, with little room for social distancing. How will organisations re-arrange their workspace to ensure public health requirements? How will meetings be conducted? It is clear that the measures most have taken of temperature checking and using sanitizers will be inadequate because some people are asymptomatic and are super carriers of the virus without any visible symptom that can easily be fished out to be isolated.
Secondly, how will public enterprises like banks manage the public health of their tellers and customers? What many did a few days before the lockdown was to have canopies outside their premises and restrict the number of people who entered the banks. In my view this was inadequate and cannot stop the spread of the virus as it now known to stagnate in the air for a few minutes before dissipating. The space between the tellers and the customers is not up to 6 feet apart, the conversations being held are still close. In addition, the canopies outside no not ensure the safety of the customers as the chairs are too close.
In schools how will teachers ensure students do not bring the disease to school, especially students whose parents travel? I remember a week to the lockdown, a lady who attended the meeting, who also scared me regarding my own safety was talking about the fact that she came back from Spain the week before and had been told by her children’s school to keep her child at home for 2 weeks, but she refused and did not self isolate. I know some schools sent out letters to parents proactively making this request and I know many parents would not have obeyed the rule in order to ensure that their children did not miss school on their account.
The key question is how will schools operate to stop the spread?
Supermarkets, public markets, public transportation (which a lot of our staff members take before they come to the office) which can make all the precautions we have put in place in the office futile. Not to mention the density and size of Lagos and some of our cities.
The healthcare sector – doctors, nurses, pharmacists will also have to change the way they serve us. Some pharmacies have stopped customers from entering the pharmacy, while others ensure that their staff wear protective gear. It is clear that going forward, telemedicine – caring for patients remotely will become the order of day. This will be done via video conferencing technology or the telephone where the process of a regular check-up will be done by reviewing symptoms and refilling medication.
Other changes we will continue to see post lockdown will be:
Increased Remote Work
Remote working arrangement will still continue. Organisations need to figure out how this will work to ensure fair play to them and their staff. What most organisations have done now is to tell staff to take this time off as their annual leave. Fllexible work arrangements will need to be worked out. With the help of videoconferencing software like Skype or Zoom, employees can be just as productive at home as in the office.
Expanded Paid Sick Leave
Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, in Nigeria some organisations are required by federal law to give paid sick leave to their employees. In some countries this is not so and this caused many workers who had coronavirus symptoms or who had been exposed to the virus to still show up to work because they could not afford to miss a paycheck.
The consequences for public health were dire and caused the virus to cross borders into countries that had not contracted the virus. For example, the Italian who came to Nigeria, must have started feeling sick before he came because he fell ill a day or two after he arrived. But, he still made the trip I am sure because he could not afford not to lose a pay check. Employers in these countries have long argued that such a policy is too expensive, but those arguments might not hold sway once the economic costs of the coronavirus outbreak become clear.
Planning for Public Health Emergencies
Going forward, businesses large and small will need to have a plan in place in the event of a public health emergency. The next time something like this happens—and there will be a next time—businesses that have planned will act much more swiftly and decisively than those that have not.
Such a plan might include:
• maintaining a stock of protective equipment on site, such as gloves, facemasks, and hand sanitizer
• displaying signs reminding employees of the importance of hand washing
• periodically running remote working drills, or
• designing a leave policy that encourages workers to stay home when they’re unwell.
The coronavirus pandemic changes everything it touches—and it touches everything. Though we cannot completely predict exactly how the workplace will change after the crisis is over, it is a fairly safe bet that public health and cost considerations will loom large.