How do you keep your employees safe in a post-pandemic workplace?

Updated: Apr 8, 2021

John Hummelstad CEO Locatrix

With the last pandemic occurring a century ago in a very different age, we find ourselves venturing into unmapped territory as we begin to roll out the vaccine and attempt to go back to life as it was. Having had to adjust and change just about every facet of our day-to-day life, how do we now reverse that change? Realistically can we? Do we even want to?

Recent studies are indicating that its very unlikely work life will return to how it once was (Australian Bureau of Statistics). Now that our place-of-work is a hybrid of working arrangements, office, home, remote - how does an employer ensure that their employees are safe during the working day? How does an employer guarantee a safe workplace when so much about a homework environment is unknown to them?

Why does an employer need to be concerned about what happens at home? Especially when the Employer is asking their Employee to work from home 9-5 and home becomes the workplace? The WH&S laws are specific:

“The main object of the Workplace Health and Safety Act (NSW): 2011 is to provide for a balanced and nationally consistent framework to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces.”

Come March 2020, the lockdown saw employers rush to buy laptops, set up Zoom/Teams send everyone home to work for what was to be the first lockdown in the nation’s history. The fallout from that was the unexpected surge in domestic violence and strain on mental health. So how do we provide a safe work environment, one free from violence, abuse and even torture when it is the home?

“2020 will be remembered as the worst year for domestic violence that any of us who are in the sector now have ever experienced.”

There [have been] just so many more strangulation cases, so many threats to kill, so many more serious head injuries, and sexual assaults [have been] going through the roof,” Hayley Forster, Chief Executive of Women’s Health NSW quoted in The Guardian December 2020 issue (The Guardian).

For most the stigma of an abusive, alcoholic or controlling partner is a taboo subject around the water fountain – so how is this information shared when it needs to be disclosed?

In March 2020 Locatrix, not unlike many other organisations, had to shut its doors and arrange for working from home capability. For some this was a seamless change, and one taken without hesitation. It was a reactionary step to an exceptional time and as with every emergency, not every circumstance can be anticipated. Domestic abuse merging into “the workplace” (or vice versa) was not one threat John Hummelstad CEO of Locatrix ever considered in his risk rated matrix. However, he is now reflecting on what lessons it has taught him and using this as an opportunity to improve.

During the first 6 months of the Pandemic Locatrix conducted several staff surveys to understand how our people were coping and how we could provide them with support. We organised virtual team building activities and ensured that we all checked in with each other regularly. The survey results showed that some staff welcomed the change and others were depressed, isolated and for those with immediate family overseas, were distressed and concerned for their loved ones. It was a difficult time for many and a challenge for management to know how to provide adequate support”.

As employers, how do we ever really know what our staff are dealing with in the home? With the home now being the workplace, where do our responsibilities lie in protecting our staff if that is what is required?

At Locatrix, we have decided that the “primary place of work” remains the office. But if someone wants to work from home and can verify that it is a safe work environment permission to do so will not be withheld. As an “essential service” we are lucky to be able to provide the option for staff to come to the office but we restricted the amount of occupants, providing education on COVID-19 safe training methods through our platform PlanSafe. This gave staff the option to come into the office for safety or wellbeing reasons”.

How did Locatrix do this? John Hummelstad explains.

As a software company with PlanSafe (online induction training), we used it to deal with what was imposed. With PlanSafe we were able to develop a training module “Work from Home” providing clear instruction for staff as to Locatrix’s working from home expectations. We also created a module online with Government guidelines on how to protect ones’ self from contracting COVID-19”.

"PlanSafe has also helped us maintain our safe work environment by ensuring that even though staff have not been in the office on a regular basis, they are still up to date on all necessary training such as Warden and First Response. Due to the challenge our competition has had in delivering face to face training, we have been pleased to see so many organisations making the switch to our site specific online training platform, with over 15m sqm of digital floor space coming under management during this time".

With PlanStudio, our indoor mapping tool we were able to quickly assess our office spaces and recommend just how many staff were able to safely occupy each meeting room and combined workspace to ensure a Covid-safe social distancing plan was established”.

Locatrix had all this completed within the first two weeks of the pandemic announcement ensuring were prepared for and could provide a safe workspace for staff to return to work and we encouraged any staff who wanted to return to the office to do so safely.

“We are now working on a module on Safety in the post-pandemic hybrid workplace which will have a focus on disclosure and support for confronting situations and unsafe home environments”. John further explains;

“We accept that we can’t fix all problems but as an employer and as an organisation that cares for their staff, it’s important that we don’t bury our heads in the sand on this one.”

“At Locatrix we value our team and want to make sure that the workplace (home, office or a blend) is as safe as possible. We are happy employees when we are content and that is when we can perform at our best and our Partners and Clients deserve this”.

In moving forward in our “new normal” we find ourselves still managing a changing landscape. How will John Hummelstad take on lessons learnt and implementing them for best practice in his organisation?

Let’s take a week at a time and review and communicate – be flexible and provide the support needed to bring out the best in our people.”

By Helen Hall Executive Manager Marketing and Communications, Locatrix


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