Public transport, personal responsibility and protecting vulnerable employees and their families are just some of the concerns front-of-mind for those tasked by their organisations to lead their companies return-to-work protocols.
Through a newly formed network to support these individuals, AmCham is supporting business get to grips with the new reality. As businesses enter the “new normal” there are several questions that companies will grapple with.
Firstly, what have we learned from the past four months that can help us shape how we act for the coming months? Through regular leadership surveys, the theme of over communication is prominent. Throughout the pandemic uncertainty for employees has driven higher levels of anxiety as it makes it difficult to create personal roadmaps for people, such as long-term childcare solutions. Sometimes engaging with employees to “update them” that there is “no update” is within itself providing clarity.
Secondly, how do I get my employees safely to and from work? The National Transport Authority predicts that our transport networks will have to operate at a 20 per cent capacity for several months to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Public transport should also be reserved during peak times for employees that need to be on-site or working in sectors where remote working is not an option.
While companies will stagger start times to support this, many other forms of transport will be utilised. For example, the current infrastructure in offices is being updated to enable more people cycle to work. However, the Government still states that those who can remotely work should continue to do so.
As measures ease, we are likely to see companies adopt a hybrid model that allows employees to alternate between working from home and working from the office. This is now welcomed by many employees. The last four months has proven that the working from home model has transformed from a concept to a lived reality for many companies.
Thirdly, how long will business have to operate with specific measures and restrictions in place? The truth is that until a vaccine is created, this is most likely the new normal. Return-to-work protocols and procedures only work in tandem with good personal responsibility.
Ireland has an excellent reputation as a workforce that is highly committed and productive. In the past employees may have ignored minor illness to go to work. We know that this cannot be the case going forward. Suffering a common cold in the office will no longer be tolerated. In fact, it would create a very different reaction to that in the past. But we have also learned that technology enables us to work without been physically present. While this is not a substitute, it is a workaround that should ease the pressure on individuals to be in the office if they feel they are becoming unwell.
Finally, at AmCham we are very conscious of the impact Covid-19 has had on local businesses. Prolonged remote working for hundreds and thousands of people throughout the country has had a devastating impact for business owners in service and retail sector who rely heavily on the foot traffic of the thousands of people working for large companies in our cities and towns.
AmCham launched a campaign in May called #SupportYourLocalBusiness which encourages people to buy local. As many of our members welcome their employees back to the office, we ask that they think of those businesses near their place of work that are now slowly rebuilding their business and support them.
Mary Good is chief operations officer at the American Chamber of Commerce. Before her appointment with AmCham, she was vice-president for global manufacturing with PepsiCo in Cork and had executive responsibility for diversity and inclusion. Across her 25-year career in PepsiCo, she held multiple roles across quality, commercialisation and technical services.