By Dan Joyce, General Manager EMEA at SafetyCulture

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted some key considerations for business leaders. This is particularly true from an HR perspective, where it is testing the processes that companies have in place to protect their staff.

But it has also shone a light on the type of organisation you are now and what you could look like in the future. Put simply, companies will be judged, both internally and externally, on how well they have treated their people during this period.

The working practices that we expected to evolve over the next five years have happened in less than a month. This has been challenging for businesses, let’s not pretend otherwise. But looking for the positives, now is the time to re-evaluate existing processes and understand what’s possible as we emerge from Covid-19.

Protecting home workers

One of the biggest complexities facing companies, since the lockdown began, is how they manage the health and safety of staff who are working from home. Do employees have the correct equipment in their newly thrown together home office environment? This is not just about having the furniture and technology to get the job done, it also means ensuring that their general health and wellbeing is being supported at a time when staff are in enforced isolation.

Take something as seemingly innocuous as seating. Companies may be liable six months down the line if employees are suffering from bad necks and backs, having sat on a kitchen chair for too long. It is the responsibility of the employer to outline what the work environment should look like and check the employee’s existing inventory against that – a well-designed office chair rather than the sofa, for example.

Employers need to understand the domestic circumstances of their staff. Are there dependents at home and will work patterns need to be more flexible to accommodate this? Are regular breaks being taken to avoid burn-out?

Businesses and their employees cannot just make do in the short term. If, as many predict, this pandemic serves as a catalyst for more people working from home in future, companies have to be confident that the health and safety processes in place are as robust in a home environment as they would be in a commercial space.

Gathering benchmark information through a combination of home working health and safety checklists and surveys means companies can understand what the situation is right now, identify persistent problems and prioritise a response. While some companies still rely on admin heavy systems that involve pen and paper form filling - with information then transferred and collated in excel - technology is automating the process. This means staff can carry out their own home assessments, including attaching images to verify their home office set-up, all via a mobile device. This data is analysed across the business to determine where the gaps lie and to ensure compliance. Employers can then create actions to be followed up, ensuring the welfare of their people.

Protecting workers on-site

For those who cannot work from home, companies have an obligation to keep staff safe in the workplace. Brands face a huge backlash, both from employees and reputationally, if they do not meet the hygiene measures that need to be in place during the pandemic. Much has been discussed about frontline healthcare workers, but there are also very strict guidelines for those working in sectors such as distribution and delivery, for example. These guidelines will still be highly relevant when home-working staff return to the workplace too, with environments such as retail likely to have social distancing guidelines in place for some time to come.

Is tape in place wherever necessary to ensure two metre distancing between employees? Is there a one sink gap being left in the staff toilets? Is the staff cafeteria compliant? Unhappy staff who lose faith in their employer, or even worse, an outbreak of coronavirus, could have a devastating impact on a brand.

Public figures, including Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, have been calling on industries such as manufacturing and construction to provide documented evidence that they are protecting their employees. In fact, this is something that all industries should do if they still have staff on the premises. Apart from fundamentally being the right thing to do, it will also have an impact on how companies are judged when all of this is behind us.

Protecting procedures and compliance

Staff working on-site can use the same mobile apps as those conducting home working assessments to conduct remote inspections and feed-back on the levels of hygiene being maintained. These inspection tools have been essential during the coronavirus pandemic, but they will also prove invaluable as we move towards a more flexible way of working in the future.

The current situation is testing the processes companies have in place to protect workers. Moving forward, there is a high chance that we will see a phased return to normality. Companies still have time to think about how their staff will want to work in the future and how best to support them in that. How companies treat their staff is crucial, both in the midst of this pandemic and as we move out of it. Technology is helping to maintain standards of health and safety and wellbeing in home offices and on-site. But it is also equipping businesses with the tools they will need to manage what the future workplace looks like.