With South Africa already operating on Lockdown Level 4 for almost two weeks, thoughts are turning to when all industries will be able to resume full-scale operations. Nicol Myburgh, Head of the HCM Business Unit at CRS Technologies, believes that the post-lockdown business environment will be radically different to what has gone before.
“As the country moves through the various lockdown levels and more employees start returning to physical offices, companies will be required to examine how best to manage this process. It is likely that organisations will implement procedures for staff who are operationally required to be at the office, while allowing the rest of their employees to continue working remotely wherever possible,” he says.
“While it is difficult to predict what the ‘new normal’ will look like, it is conceivable that companies will start considering moving to smaller office spaces and alternate between on-premise and remote workers. This will result in significant cost savings on leases that could be passed on to employees. For example, they could receive stipends for their home fibre connectivity.”
Before this can be realised, however, the question of health and safety at the workplace must be addressed, Myburgh continues. “Even after lockdown ends, some employees may not feel comfortable returning to an office environment, purely for health reasons.”
“If employees have a genuine and justifiable concern for their safety the argument can be made to continue working remotely, but the inverse is also true for employers. The best course of action remains to allow employees to continue to work remotely, but this will not be possible in industries such as manufacturing. Employers must therefore take all reasonable steps to make the workplace safe for employees, who will be required to return to work to tender their service as is contractually required,” notes Myburgh.
While COVID-19 should not have a long-term impact on health and safety policies at companies, Myburgh points to a few aspects to bear in mind.
“When it comes to health and safety, the reference is often made that employers should make all reasonable efforts to keep the workplace safe. If anything, the coronavirus will ensure companies are better prepared should another virus outbreak occur. Of course, for the short term, measures such as social distancing, personal protective equipment (supplying employees with hand sanitiser, gloves, and masks), limited gatherings and so on will already be in place once staff start returning to the office,” he says.
The experiences of the past several weeks have shown decision-makers that they need to think differently about the work environment of the future. The status quo can no longer remain, as employees have embraced the concept of remote working and the ability to manage their own time that comes with it. What is evident is that those companies which are willing to change and take lessons learned during lockdown to heart will be the ones that are in the best position to recover quicker from the impact of COVID-19.