It is inevitable companies are changing their workplace policies as our knowledge about how to manage in the COVID-19 era increases. We are in uncharted waters and over the last few months many companies have made recommendations for new workplace policies only to issue subsequent updates based on a changing landscape and new data.
A month ago, the CDC recommended companies have their staff maintain six feet of social distance and wash hands frequently. Now the CDC’s recommendations include having employees wear a face covering in enclosed spaces and use key-size openers to minimize touching common surfaces such as door handles and coffee machines.
Ford re-opened its facilities last week, only to shut down after one day after an employee tested positive for COVID-19. Workplace policies inside manufacturing facilities, warehouses and office environments are changing rapidly.
In an effort to help businesses better navigate the changing guidance, the CDC has created some simple-to-use tools and decision trees that can help businesses acclimate to a new work environment. Note to companies – bookmark that link and check it with some regularity.
IBM is an interesting case study as the company has workers in many different types of work environments and a one-size-fits-all solution will not work for them. According to the company’s own Covid_19 “Reworking Work” blog, 95% of their workforce has been working remotely since Mid-March and employees will be brought back in a phased manner. It is distinctly possible that not everyone will go back to work in their previous work settings. Even if a vaccine were to be discovered tomorrow, there isn’t a feasible way to bring everyone back onsite in a rapid timeframe, so companies are having to plan for a future in which they must re-open for business while the virus is still circulating in the population. It is complicated to say the least!
Other companies are using enterprise asset management (EAM) technologies as a tool to combat problems that occur onsite, even when workers are not actually onsite. By using extreme social distancing – limiting the number of people who can be in a manufacturing or warehouse facility, coupled with EAM systems, managers can log in remotely and observe what is happening in their workplace by viewing received, in-progress and shipped-out items that have been scanned by RFID or BLE. As supply chains increasingly utilize automated inventory and WIP management, these technologies not only protect the workforce, but almost become a necessity.
What businesses can do, which thematically dovetails with current CDC recommendations, is to reopen workplaces in a phased approach. First, bring some portion of your staff back, only essential workers, in small numbers where contact tracing can be 100% accounted for. New social distancing wearables are coming to market that ensure employees are alerted when co-workers get in too close proximity. This technology benefits companies and employees alike by providing real-time alerts and contact tracing, helping to protect the health of the workforce and productivity of the business.
Second, implement automated management of high-touch processes such as shipping and receiving of goods, counting inventory and tracking work-in-process, to minimize the need for on-site staff performing those specific tasks and provide real-time visibility to business management.
Third, set up smaller, local distribution systems, jettison unnecessary real estate and make remote work the new normal. It is likely that many companies now opening back up for business are realizing they don’t need all the physical space they occupied and should focus on how software platforms and technology can drive businesses growth in an AC (After Covid) era.