Covid-19: To Open Now or Not to Open?


To open now or not to open! That is the question.

TIPS FOR SAFELY REOPENING YOUR BUSINESS

By: Michel Ouellette JMD, ll.l., ll.m.

"The Heart Of A High Reliability Culture Is Immediate

Peer Accountability"


As debate rages about restarting economies, one critical element is to be considered: “To open now or to open later”. Decades of research suggest that the heart of a high reliability culture is immediate peer accountability. Will people be responsible enough to show some discipline to prevent the propagation of the virus?


In the last few weeks, we heard about a nurse who refused to wear appropriate PPE for four days before finally being reprimanded by her supervisor; shoppers entering big box stores without masks, while the clerks they pass upon entry says nothing and so on.


As businesses begin to reopen, great attention is being given to the measures required to keep employees and customers safe. And many of those measures are simple behaviors: washing hands, wearing masks and keeping safe distances. But those measures will not succeed unless they become norms.


Keeping employees and customers safe and healthy while doing business in an ongoing pandemic will not only hinge on behaviors like wearing masks, performing temperature checks, washing hands, and staying six feet apart. It will rely on getting all of us to do these things, every time, for however long it takes. And that does not happen unless those who see someone drop the ball speak up and remind them.


Five Simple Practices for Creating Safe Workplaces


1.- 100% Accountability for and By Everyone

The only way to create and sustain change is to have 100% accountability: Employees must understand that they are not simply responsible to follow safe practices themselves, they are also responsible to ensure everyone around them does as well. Instruct your employees that when anyone sees anyone violate safe practices, they are to remind them of proper protocol.

2.- Hold a Covid Boot Camp

Hold a Covid boot camp when you return to the office. The idea of a “boot camp” is to break down old patterns and introduce new ones. The easiest time to reset norms is when no one knows what is normal. As employees re-enter the workplace, take advantage of their unformed expectations by holding a boot camp. This can be as short as 30 minutes or as long as a few hours, depending upon how many new norms you need people to practice.


The meeting should include the following:

  • Leaders as facilitators:

  • This cannot be turned over to HR, or fobbed off to a consultant. Leaders must stand in front of employees and demonstrate their sincerity and commitment to the new policies.

  • Moral messaging:

  • Make the moral case for changing behavior by telling stories of affected friends, family, or clients to bring the risks of noncompliance to life.

  • Deliberate practice:

  • Leaders must not simply instruct people on new safety behaviors. People must go through the actual motions so they begin to develop muscle memory and the practices feel comfortable, normal, and compulsory.

  • Have all your employees go through the motions of walking into the workplace and wash in and wash out as required.

3.- Practice with fire drills:

Hold daily fire drills in the first week, where you ask people to stop what they are doing and practice the new behaviors. In the weeks following, twice a week is sufficient.


4.- Perform daily rounds:

As the saying goes, “You don’t get what you expect, you get what you inspect.” For at least the first 30 days, use a checklist to do “rounding” and measure compliance results to make sure that proper behavior is being practiced.


5.- Keep score publicly:

Post the rounding scores publicly, every day. Above the score, place a large circle with colors denoting the organization’s or business level of compliance: Green = 95%+. Yellow = 80-90%. Red = <80%. Commit to post the results no matter what they are and make sure they are visible to clients and customers.


These practices may feel awkward for many employees and leaders, especially those who have not been part of concerted workplace safety efforts before. But these are unusual times and if we want to keep everyone safe and healthy, people have to do things outside of their comfort zones. Take these practices seriously. You will be able to inculcate new norms much more quickly.


Doing so is not only important for employee safety but for the health of your business. Adherence to these critical behaviors will make it possible for business to reopen and, more importantly, to stay open.


Michel Ouellette JMD, ll.l., ll.m.

Systemic Strategic Planning / Crisis & Reputation Management

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