Photo: COVID-19 has underscored the importance of looking after employees’ health and safety. Credit: Pexels.

Por Cristina Sánchez

The crisis caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) has affected the world of work like no other. As bad news for employment unfolds, professionals see their daily routines dramatically changed. For some, the new normal means walking into an office with temperature control chambers, spaced out tables, and hand sanitizer gel everywhere. Others have experienced the return from vacation without leaving home. A third group must get used to the fact that, for the moment, their location changes from one space to another depending on the day.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, companies are adapting to protect the wellbeing of their employees in a changing work environment. In fact, 72% of CEOs indicate that “ensuring the safety and health of their people, taking care of their team and reaching the entire organization” has become their primary role during the crisis, according to a survey of more than 1,000 top executives prepared by Parangon Partners senior partner Antonio Núñez and IESE Business School professor Antonio Huete.

“Companies must take responsibility for reviewing our practices and processes to assume our growing role in the physical and mental wellbeing of our employees,” says Opinno Chief People Officer, Blanca Gómez. A review that, she adds, is increasingly demanded by candidates and workers alike: “Until now, they were looking for a company with purpose, flexibility, work that surprised them … Many of these characteristics of the employee experience have been superseded by the need for security related to health.”

Contact Tracing to Telemedicine
The evolution of the pandemic has caused many companies to extend the period of remote work to protect their workers, including tech giants such as Google and Facebook. Some large Spanish organizations have also opted for a flexible work model so that employees only go to the office for a few days, and ING even allows them to organize themselves freely at home or at headquarters.

A growing trend linked to this model is hot-desking, which companies such as BBVA are already heading towards: instead of having a fixed position in the office, workers reserve a space in advance through software. Thanks to all this, companies can reduce capacity, guarantee interpersonal distance and monitor who is in the office in order to prevent infections.

Carrying out tests to detect whether workers are or have been infected with coronavirus before returning to work, as well as the distribution of masks and hygiene products are other measures to guarantee office safety.

“Employers must embrace our growing role in the mental and physical wellbeing of our employees.”

Some companies have even developed their own apps that make contact tracing easier. This is the case of Bankia, which has launched Salud Bankia for the management of room access by reading QR codes, allowing easy control of capacity and agile identification of which people have been with others to contact trace apply measures if necessary. For its part, Banco Santander has created Mi Vuelta, an app with which employees can communicate any change in their health status, among other options.

On the other hand, the growing use of technologies such as thermal cameras to measure temperatures, biometric access controls to avoid contact with surfaces, and occupancy sensors is becoming common.

Photo: Some companies have launched apps to understand their employees’ health status during the pandemic. Credit: Pexels.

Beyond protecting offices, organizations can also use technology to ensure the health of workers everywhere, a need that will be increasingly important given that, as the RE-START: 10 Post COVID-19 report highlights, teleworking is here to stay. To do this, companies can offer their employees access to telemedicine services popularized during the crisis. A recent example is the agreement between Santalucía and the start-up Ever Health for the insurer's employees, collaborators, and family members to make medical consultations at any time of day.

A New Roadmap
Although many employees value the independence, security and comfort of carrying out their work at home positively, forced telework in the crisis and the uncertain situation have taken their toll on mental health. A study by several universities indicates that 46.7% of Spaniards have experienced psychological distress during the crisis.

According to a Cigna survey, 67% have confessed feeling stressed while in confinement, a fact that can also have negative consequences in the workplace: among them, the appearance of concentration problems, decreased motivation and reduced productivity.

To help your professionals face these challenges, the People or Human Resources areas can undertake different strategies:

  • Data analysis to make decisions. “We must monitor the well-being of our employees to better understand the experience they are living with offshoring work and the rest of the changes that the pandemic has brought about,” recommends Opinno Chief People Officer Blanca Gómez. There are start-ups that carry out this work thanks to big data, such as Freedom & Flow: it offers data analytics solutions to better understand the workforce and analyze behavioral trends, in addition to measuring the economic impact of well-being.
  • Applications as support. Companies can also team up with digital tools to combat anxiety. Two examples are Headspace, a meditation app widely used during confinement that has a service aimed at companies, or the Spanish The Holistic Concept, which offers pills of audiovisual content to manage stress. In addition, telemedicine services can also incorporate online psychological assistance.
  • Digital disconnection measures. A recent survey carried out by Infojobs reveals that 67% of workers check emails and respond to mobile phones outside of their hours and almost a third of them point to the difficulty in disconnecting with teleworking. To solve the problem, the director of Opinno Barcelona, ​​Xavier Contijoch, considers that “a protocol can be established to guarantee that telework does not mean all work.” ING, Telefónica and IKEA are some of the companies that already guaranteed digital disconnection before the crisis.

Photo: Many professionals struggle with disconnecting while working from home. Credit: Pexels.

  • Coaching sessions. Contijoch predicts that one of the figures that could proliferate in companies is the coach, who will ensure not only the professional concerns of the staff, but also their mental health.
  • Promotion of good leadership. An international survey by Qualtrics, SAP and Mind Share Partners indicates that only 39.7% of employees felt supported by their manager at the beginning of the crisis. Those who did not perceive this support were more likely to mention that concern for their work was the main reason why their mental health had deteriorated.
    • For this reason, Opinno's Restart Your Business report points out the importance of leaders reinforcing attributes such as honesty, humility, collaboration, creativity and optimism “that serve as a driving force to empower and motivate teams.”

“The company of the future will have many changing vectors and health will be at the center of all of them.”

  • Training in resilience. The crisis has highlighted the importance of adapting to adverse situations, and Gómez recommends that organizations “help their collaborators to develop their resilience to build resilient, agile and flexible organizations.” Google is one of the companies that already provides training to its workers in this area, aimed at countering negative thoughts and identifying harmful habits.

The commitment to the wellbeing of workers, strengthened thanks to the previous strategies, will be linked to “greener, more sustainable and diverse economies” according to Contijoch. The expert predicts: “The company of the future will have many changing vectors and health, at least for the moment, will be at the center.” Protecting employees in body and mind, both in the physical and virtual office, is a pillar of the new corporate culture.