Covid-19 has caused disruption to the global economy and presents one of the greatest challenges of our time. Managing the return to work relies on the skill to navigate three critical questions: how do we put safety first, who do we bring back on site working and how do we manage the change for employees.
How do we put safety first?
For construction companies facing the new normal, the first consideration should be safeguarding the workforce. No project can resume without workers who will be counting on their employers to get them back to work safely.
The new SOP from the CLC provides a valuable framework for returning on site while taking a common-sense approach to social distancing rules. Other approaches could include revised work schedules and shift working patterns to accommodate the need for safety on site.
Given the ubiquity of mobile phones, leveraging technology through the government's track and trace app could create an additional layer of security for workers and site visitors. Clear protocols on the use of PPE and returning to work post-infection create a safe working environment.
Who do we bring back on site?
The UK construction industry may have received a welcome shot in the arm as HS2 finally received the green light, but the industry faces a challenge when it comes to reopening sites up and down the country.
Some roles may have transitioned seamlessly to remote working and it will make sense to keep those employees working in an offsite capacity. Which workers are brought back on site will depend on the impact Covid-19 has had on projects that have been mothballed and detailed impact assessments that identify any specific risks including the need to reduce the workforce.
New scheduling requirements can allow for necessary re-sequencing and staggering of shift patterns to meet social distancing requirements. Communication, collaboration and documentation will all be critical to assessing and mitigating the effects of Covid-19 as we move towards the new normal.
Change management for employees
As we move into a post-coronavirus world, the return to work will need to be managed with empathy and understanding. Not every worker will have experienced Covid-19 in the same way and not everyone will be ready to return to work or feel safe doing so, for example, if they're at risk of a second wave of infection.
Returning to work after the pandemic will take a period of adjustment with workers coming back from being furloughed or after a period of working remotely. Shift patterns may be altered and new safeguards in place that require detailed explanation. Navigating these changes requires an understanding that they're being made with safety and security in mind.
Communication will be critical in this period of change management. Ensure that your workers have a chance to make their concerns and challenges clear. By identifying potential problems and dealing with them proactively, you'll have the opportunity to turn the Covid-19 crisis into an opportunity to improve engagement and productivity in the long run.