The potential psychological impact of Covid-19 has been widely documented. With many people struggling with social isolation, fears over job security, anxieties surrounding the potential ill health of themselves or loved ones, as well as general disruption to everyday life, mental health is in severe jeopardy.
Encouraging colleagues back to work, post-lockdown, must therefore be done with respect, care, and caution.
Attitudes, coping mechanisms, and resilience levels will vary from one individual to the next.
Some people are keen to return to “normal”, others are wary of the very thought, and there will be those occupying the middle ground – they may be comfortable with coming back, providing they are confident the necessary safety precautions have been rigorously considered and implemented. And rightly so.
Rebuilding a sense of routine
Likewise, some will be keen to rebuild a sense of routine into their working life, others may have slightly reshaped their idea of a work-life balance, and others still could have picked up very bad habits since the pandemic started.
Some people will have been “absent” from the demolition landscape for a matter of days. If a project was considered business critical, for example, schedules may have encountered minor pauses at most – enough for a readjustment to on-site practices to accommodate the government’s social distancing guidelines.
At the other extreme, others may not have been near a live site – or a workplace of any sort – since the beginning of March.
Fresh challenges for safe and effective management
All this presents business leaders with fresh challenges for the safe, compliant, ethical and effective management of their teams.
But to re-engage employees, post-lockdown, we perhaps need to stick to the basics.
Upholding our duty of care to colleagues – whether on an inherently hazardous live demolition site, or in a comparatively safe office environment – is something we do as standard. So, while the risks we face now look a little different from pre-lockdown, anticipating and taking steps to minimise these risks is a process we should all feel familiar with.
On-site social distancing
The implementation of on-site social distancing and hygiene regimes is crucial, as colleagues will not feel comfortable at work if their basic needs are not met.
For example, only two people may be permitted to use a site cabin at any one time; PPE requirements may now stipulate that face masks are compulsory; and general personal cleanliness levels may need to be redefined.
Certain processes may require a complete overhaul, whereas others may benefit from minor adjustments. An excavator operator working alone in a cab, for instance, may simply need to wipe down their space at the end of the day.
Talking to colleagues about is also crucial. But again, communication is nothing new.
Which methods work best for your organisation?
Some team leaders may choose formal written dialogue prior to colleagues return, re-induction briefings may be helpful when teams arrive back on site, signage will provide continued reminders how to stay safe, post-lockdown protocol may even involve health questionnaires or medical reviews.
Leaders must think carefully about which methods work best for their organisation – and consider what may resonate with certain employees and not others.
As I have said many times, regulatory compliance should set only the minimum standard. We should not just consider government guidelines, but also what is fair.
What can you do remotely?
For example, a proportion of a demolition project’s schedule can be progressed remotely, from the safety of an individual’s home. So, leaders who have previously chosen not to offer home working may now encounter push backs from employees keen to maintain some of their new flexibility. There are commercial, environmental and safety advantages to reduced travel of course, so this should be considered where possible.
Be prepared to be flexible
A complete shift to remote working will naturally be impossible for most demolition firms, so employees need to be prepared to be flexible. Sometimes a client meeting is far better delivered in person, if it is safe to do so, and likewise cultural dynamics often benefit from a team gathering in the same place, rather than relying on the limited cues that can be conveyed via video.
Additional challenges of overseas work
Many demolition specialists undertake overseas work too, which presents additional challenges for employers. And of course, employees’ individual circumstances need to be accommodated, not to mention a country’s point-in-time Covid risk status. But, providing all scientific advice and safety protocols have been heeded, businesses must keep going if they are to ensure their long-term survival.
- Richard Vann is managing director of the RVA Group of decommissioning, dismantling and demolition consulting engineers. Article first published in the August-September 2020 issue of Demolition & Recycling International – to find out Richard’s top five tips for demolition leaders, download the issue now