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Your complete guide to preparing for a return to your offices


May 6, 2020   by David Gambrill


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Business continuity plans should consider four main areas while preparing for the P&C industry workforce to return to work in an office setting, KPMG told Canadian Underwriter in an interview Friday.

These four areas include:

  • Identifying the people responsible for planning the return to work
  • Taking into account employees’ physical and mental health
  • Readying the workplace facilities for social distancing
  • Developing a COVID-19 infection or contagion response plan.

Where we are at now

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. It has been a global pandemic since around mid-March. Insurance is an essential service, meaning that insurance offices are allowed to remain open despite government-ordered business shutdowns to prevent the spread of the virus. However, the vast majority of the Canadian P&C workforce is working from home remotely to avoid the spread of the virus.

Recently, Canadian provincial governments and medical health authorities have expressed optimism they are seeing in the COVID-19 infection rates. On that basis, the provinces have announced plans — some with more aggressive timelines than others — to ease up some restrictions on social distancing to allow people to head back to their office to work.

Canadian brokerages and insurance companies are now planning for the days when the provinces may green-light a return to work. In some provinces, that may still be “weeks away,” as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted. In other provinces, the process of gradually re-opening their economies has already started or will start in mid-May.

Canadian Underwriter talked to Doron Melnick, partner in KMPG Canada’s people and change advisory services practice, on Friday. KPMG is advising organizations on planning for a return to work. He elaborated on the four main areas to include in your plans.

1) Identifying the people responsible for planning the return to work

“The first thing is the governance and the planning,” Melnick said. “We are suggesting that organizations designate a task force to think through all of the moving pieces.”

Among other things, the task force would be responsible for monitoring the government guidelines for each province; understanding when the provinces are re-opening their economies, and keeping track of the rules.

The task force would figure out how to stage the approach. For example, who will be coming back to work in the office, and who will continue to work from home remotely? This would be based not only on the needs of the business, but also on what customers expect from the organization.

The task force would then be responsible for communicating the plan to everyone in the organization, as well as to third parties that need to know the information, such as the employees, business partners, the customers, and in some cases, the landlords.

2) Taking into account employees’ physical and mental health

“The second area is really around the employees’ physical and mental health,” Melnick said. “The plan should figure out what the rules will be about physical distancing in all areas of the workplace, and what protective equipment might be needed for employees meeting customers and business partners.”

This part of the plan would include how to promote personal hygiene and hand-washing, as well as mental health and well-being. To ensure the safety of employees, organizations will need to ensure that employees keep contact logs showing people with whom they have met in the office that day. So, if it turns out that an employee or a guest in the workplace is infected with COVID-19, those with whom the person has been in contact can be traced.

3) Readying the workplace facilities for social distancing

The third area has to do with readying the workplace facilities for ongoing social distancing. This means figuring out what to do with the facilities and how to manage access. “That might mean restricting how many customers you can have in the workplace; how many employees?” Melnick said. It also means collecting and storing information regarding who is coming into the building and who is leaving it.

Physical facilities may have to change to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. “A great example of that is in retail,” said Melnick. “We’ve seen plexiglass walls go up to help keep physical separation between customers and staff. And also, there is cleaning. Make sure you have regular sterilization.”

Another area of facility management is what to do with food and open spaces. “Employers need to think through what they will do with common areas — whether they will open those up, or simply require employees to bring in food and containers and take them out with them each day,” said Melnick. “And if food is being ordered in, what are the rules around that? Where will you order from? And how will that be brought in?”

Transportation to and from the office is also an issue. Cargill, a beef processing plant in Alberta (which reportedly provides up to 40% of beef processing in Canada), has been linked to more than 1,500 COVID-19 cases in the province. One factor was that workers were coming into work in multi-family carpools.

Public transit presents its own issues as well.

“If people are relying on public transit, does the organization feel safe to allow people to come into work on public transit?” Melnick asked. “Or if customers come by public transit?

“There need to be some difficult decisions around that. You don’t want to be excluding customers and employees, but an organization has to be thoughtful about bringing people back in, in alignment with the readiness of the public transport system to keep its riders safe. In some organizations, they are looking at providing public transportation.”

4) Developing a COVID-19 infection or contagion response plan

Last but not least, the plan should outline the organization’s COVID-19 case response.

Organizations will need a process in place to keep track of employees who have exhibited symptoms. They can direct those employees accordingly to self-isolate. There will need to be rules about self-isolation — for example, for how long will people be expected to self-isolate if they are infected? Will they be required to self-isolate if there is the slightest hint that they might have been exposed? Will the rules need to be stricter for people who are older or who have had prior medical conditions?

“There are also arrangements to be made around testing,” Melnick said. “Some organizations may want to do their own testing or contract through a private test provider. I don’t know if we have seen that in Canada yet, but we have seen that in other countries. As we progress over the next weeks and months, that may become an option.”

Finally, if there is a contagion in the workplace, organizations should have proper procedures to contain it, and keep track of the data. “If needed, people might have to close their workplace and send people back home until the crisis has been dealt with, before bringing them back,” Melnick said.

 

Feature image from iStock.com/andresr

Other images from iStock.com/Morsa Images; iStock.com/vgajic; and iStock.com/Chadchai Krisadapong



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