With work resuming for many of us, companies and their HR departments will already have made the necessary changes to allow for a safe return to office life. But if the much-feared COVID-19 second wave is to be prevented, many of these new practices need to be maintained and a new workplace etiquette adopted. So, what new measures are likely to be retained?
Fears of a second wave are justified. Already, several countries have been forced to re-apply restrictions to fend it off. In the US, some 15 states reported record increases in cases in July, with Florida registering over 10,000 new daily cases six days in a row. In the UK, Leicester independently re-introduced lockdown measures after a spike in cases, while in Australia, Melbourne has seen a similar situation develop.
In Ireland, the roadmap to a return to normality was accelerated to Stage 4 due to good progress being made. But it has now been slowed down again following a rise in infections, and the wearing of facemasks in shops and shopping centres, as well as on public transport, has become mandatory.
What all this means is that COVID-19 has not gone away, and this reality has made the adoption of a new workplace etiquette necessary if the office is to become a healthy working environment.
What Is Important
We are already aware of the Return To Work Safely Protocol which lays out the measures to take to reopen businesses. They relate chiefly to two individual areas – hygiene (environmental and personal) and social distancing, and include measures like:
- cleaning and disinfecting more frequently, especially high-touch areas
- coughing and sneezing into a tissue or into the crook of the elbow
- washing hands and using hand sanitizer regularly
- physically distancing (2 metres)
- building awareness through floor markings and notices
- managing traffic flow
- providing easy access to disinfecting supplies
The New Workplace Etiquette
Maintaining vigilance is the next challenge. Establishing a new workplace etiquette means making all the ‘special’ measures taken in the current climate the ‘normal’ practice afterward.
- Sanitize Your Hands
- Sanitize Your Desk
- Personal Space
- Health Checks
- Face Masks An Option
- Now More Presenteeism
There is already an accepted etiquette that you wash your hands after using the restroom. The expectation that you use hand sanitizers regularly is an extension of that. Expect raised eyebrows followed by ‘you didn’t sanitize your hands today?’ exclaimed by surprised colleagues.
Work desks and workstations are already known as havens for germs. Anywhere that people spend at for prolonged periods of time could be a factory of viral and bacterial – 400 times less hygienic than a toilet seat according to some research. So, sanitizing desks as a matter of workplace etiquette would reduce viral contamination.
Social distancing has already been proven effective in battling COVID-19. As a result, there is a new sensitivity to close contact, and the importance of personal space. So, while desks and tables may be spaced 2 metres apart, perhaps reduced to 1 metre, that will likely remain the case post-COVID19. The fate of personal interaction, like hugs, high-fives and handshakes, is less certain.
The COVID-19 crisis has made people aware of their health, and with affordable digital forehead thermometers available, regular health and temperature checks could become normal in the new workplace. There are issues involved with this method, but offering free employee health checks would be welcomed.
And on the subject of face masks, is this really going to be a long-term practice? Eventually, the threat of COVID-19 will dissipate, and given their relative lack of comfort, masks are expected to be the measure most happily set aside when the time comes. Wearing masks, therefore, may be an issue left to individuals to decide on, but in terms of workplace etiquette, it would be considerate.
We’ve talked before about those heroic employees who come to work even when unwell, but presenteeism can be more bad than good. Where once a few sniffles would hardly raise a comment, it could now be met with genuine concern. Working from home would be appreciated more.
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