Advice from America’s Leading Companies on Providing a Safe Workplace for Your Employees

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Recently, Adecco USA held a COVID-19 Roundtable discussion with several of our clients in various industries and verticals: aerospace, luxury goods, manufacturing, medical device, and professional services. The discussion, which was moderated by Bill Ravenscroft, our SVP and Chief of Sales, and Sara Gordon, our Head of Account Management, shared ideas around building a safe work environment, particularly in call centers, distribution centers, and manufacturing facilities. All attendees shared insights, gained fresh ideas, and left with a sense of optimism. Since now is a time to collaborate, we wanted to share with you the highlights of the roundtable, which you can find below.

Note: The following is a transcript of the audio recording of the call, paraphrased in places.

On Supplying a Clean and Sanitary Environment for Your Workforce

Moderator: Your organization manufactures joints for people who are looking to replace hips and knees… I imagine your environment and what you’re doing at this moment to prepare for your workforce to return and operate in a safe environment is pretty intense given the scrutiny you already have on cleanliness… Maybe you can talk to the peer group about what you’re doing.

Client One: Yeah, as he said, we are in the medical device sector… we are in the business of the implantable device, regulated by the FDA. So we were always considered essential… and we have continued to work during the pandemic… Some of our sites have done some pretty revolutionary things. We did shut down for about 2-3 weeks and redesigned the workforce and workplace, so most of it was around physical distancing. We definitely laid out working mats so that team members knew exactly which way to enter the building, which way to leave the building… We actually created rules around break times, changed those break schedules. We also decided who could be in the building and who couldn’t be in the building… If they were office, we mandated work from home in those cases… so that only essential personnel are in those facilities. And it’s really designed to protect them. Where mandated, we have put in, obviously, temperature testing… whether that be a hand-held device, all the way up to the most technologically advanced. We have in one facility being piloted now where a temperature testing device actually opens our door… so you can’t get in the building without passing the temperature test.

“Where mandated, we have put in, obviously, temperature testing… whether that be a hand-held device, all the way up to the most technologically advanced.”

Moderator: How are you specifically in the manufacturing environment, where parts are being developed and the work stations—they’re not super tight—but how are you taking the steps in the manufacturing environment to ensure the safety of your workforce there?

Client One: Yeah, we are… Forcing work stations apart and redesigning the entire workspace. Where we can’t because of capital equipment, CNC machinery, things of that nature, we have actually reconfigured our cell structure in terms of personnel working—how many can be in a cell at one time, where they stand.

Client Two: The immediate response was to have everybody work from home. Well you can imagine that in some locations, particularly in India, not everybody has a special place where they live that they can dedicate to be answering customer calls and such. We’re struggling with trying to figure out what is the best mix, if it’s kind of a blue team-red team. You know, blue team goes in a couple of days a week; red team goes in a couple of days a week. The other thing we’ve found is… and this is across the world… is that when they’re in the office, people have two monitors. They’re able to work more cohesively and effectively for the customers they’re serving. When they’re working off their laptop, it’s harder to see things like spreadsheets. Being able to see how we can do things like help them with their broadband and provide additional screens at home, so they continue that detailed work that’s really hard on a laptop. We’ve been trying to address kind of the immediate need. And then the overall impact is pretty conservative on how we go about planning for back to work. So all sorts of options in every country are being evaluated.

“Being able to see how we can do things like help them with their broadband and provide additional screens at home, so they continue that detailed work that’s really hard on a laptop.”

Client Three: Our HR team has focused on really working closely with our operations managers and teams at each one of our manufacturing locations to develop a playbook. It’s a pretty extensive playbook that we follow and it’s consistent for all sites across the world in terms of how we return to work and what that work looks like… My activity has just been sourcing for that, so masks and you know the other kinds of PPE (personal protective equipment), hand sanitizers, disinfectant units, thermal scanners, disinfecting spray units that we still have on order… We do have a protocol for all of our sites to make sure we’re protecting our employees… Our employees are fantastic in terms of just supporting the new work environment…

Moderator: There are certain aspects of the manufacturing that just requires two people to work closely together to finish the assembly. I mean, it’s almost unavoidable. Do you have any insight into how your business has tackled that particular challenge?

Client Three: … In those opportunities where you need to set an engine and it requires two people getting closer than six feet, we require a mask and a face shield…

Client Four: … One of the things we’re focused on—as you can imagine, a business that’s primarily focused on commercial airlines—has a bit of time on our hands at our 120 factories right now. So we’ve leaned into our innovation and we’ve actually started to learn how to manufacture plexiglass dividers between cubicles so that we can get our folks back to work…

“So we’ve leaned into our innovation and we’ve actually started to learn how to manufacture plexiglass dividers between cubicles so that we can get our folks back to work…”

Moderator: What are you doing to disinfect? Given the sheer volume of your facilities globally, what do you do when there’s been an outbreak to disinfect and scrub the environment to prepare it for a return to work?

Client Four: Absolutely. When there is an outbreak, we do swiftly close that site for at least 72 hours while we do a very intense industrial clean.

Moderator: Do you guys use any specialized equipment? Or is it good old-fashioned elbow grease, getting in there and scrubbing and cleaning?

Client One: We outsource that. If in fact we have an outbreak—I concur with the industrial cleaning—we do shut down for a period of time and we actually bring in firms that do that for a living. So they’re certified to do that and declare the area safe. They’ll do testing. So we bring them in. We clear the building. They do it. And then they leave, and we’re back to work. We’ve pushed them in cases where we say “hey, can we have the building back in two days vs. three?” And we work with them, and again, they do it. So there are suppliers that actually do that today.

Client Five: We’ve got a COVID response team that’s comprised of HR leadership… all the way up from the CEO down to me. And they’re putting together really the playbook as to how things will work… It’ll be a slow process… The employees come first… We’ve limited office hours. We’re still trying to figure out how we’re going to get all of these people back in.

Client Six: … We went down for one week. We did a deep cleaning… In North America, we are doing mandatory temperature checks on the way in the door. Masks are mandatory as well. We have kind of created social distancing across the facility by spreading people out, from… the way we take our breaks to the way we process pick, pack and ship. That works under today’s volume. As we get into higher volumes… We see some real concerns about being able to hit the same volumes. We’re estimating 30% less… just because of spacing concerns. We’re leaning into some robot technology to create some spacing in our picking areas… investing in barriers. Common areas are a place of concern. Right now, we’re manually doing temperature checks. We’re trying to automate that with scanning devices to speed that up…

“We have kind of created social distancing across the facility by spreading people out, from… the way we take our breaks to the way we process pick, pack and ship.”

Moderator: How are you guys tackling a call center environment?

Client Six: Great question. So we started exploring at home—work from home—two years ago and we continue to kind of ratchet up our technology capability… When this all broke out, we made the decision to move everybody at home. One of the challenges… for peak that we would bring people into our facility, train them, and then let a percentage of our team work in our facilities. Our facilities have a lot of redundancy, data, and power redundancy, that you naturally have when people are home because they’re spread out. But if you have kind of a region wide power outage or something like that, that can hurt you. So we like the idea of having them inside the facility, and the way we’re going to do that is space people out so we’re using every third desk… We’re also going to double down on training people remotely.

“We’re also going to double down on training people remotely.”

Moderator: Are you seeing your call center agents working from home… the productivity drop off, increase?

Client Six: One really interesting fact is that our attendance has been amazing. It’s record high, because no one can go anywhere. Now I expect that will change over time. But our schedule adherence has been amazing. Quality has remained strong… One of our big concerns was background noise at the home, and we had very stringent criteria prior to the COVID-19 reality… that we loosened so that everybody could go home. Most of our statistics and KPIs are as good or better from a productivity perspective. This is the place where I can say that it really challenged the paradigm that I had. And that was that I was committed to having an at-home workforce because we thought it gave us some redundancy… didn’t have to have the office open 24/7, because there’s overhead associated with that. Now I see it as a real opportunity all the time… having a blend (employees at home and at the office) is a good thing to have.

“Now I see it as a real opportunity all the time… having a blend (employees at home and at the office) is a good thing to have.”

On Communicating to Reduce Fear in Your Employees

Moderator: Are there things that you’ve done to communicate to your full-time colleagues, and to your contingent workforce, the things that you’ve done to keep the area safe or make it safe as possible so they feel comfortable working?

Client Six: We are deemed essential… so we never actually shut down. When the pandemic first hit and cases started to really ratchet up, we had a lot of calls into what we call an “alert line…” just really about this whole idea of fear. “How dare you have us work?” “How can you deem us essential?” “These are elective surgeries…” “Get me out of here.” About 10% of the population… they were very stressed about this. So that’s why we shut down for a couple of weeks. But it’s really just that barrier of trust. We actually did videos where we showed what we were doing. We put team members in the video… We showed them the workspace. Really just kind of like an advertisement strategy that said… we’ll be ready to bring you back in a safe, cohesive environment… People are happy to be back at work. They feel that level of trust… They see when they go into a breakroom, half the tables are there… all of those visual cues and signs just help them with a level of trust. Like any of us would need… whenever we walk into a department store, we’re looking for that level of trust, or a supermarket.

“People are happy to be back at work. They feel that level of trust… They see when they go into a breakroom, half the tables are there… all of those visual cues and signs just help them with a level of trust.”

Client Five: You know we have weekly calls with—being part of the procurement group—with our CPO. And he attends a call… with the CFO, the CEO, just the whole leadership group to discuss what the plans are. So he’s communicating it back to us and it’s like a trickle effect. The leadership group is communicating to their respective groups.

On Implementing Remote Safety Training and Wearable Technology

Moderator: Are you doing anything along the lines of wearable technology or remote preparation before the employees come back?

Client Four: We are definitely having folks watch a video that’s preparing folks both for the safety measures as well as the fear issues. Managers are highly encouraged to take an empathy training class right now. And we’re encouraging them to… dig into our change management and our communication toolkit in HR… And really lean into, in your team meetings or one-on-ones, “how are people feeling” before we just throw everybody back into the office. We’re encouraging every site to do virtual town halls, to do surveys in advance, and we’re candid in the surveys—how do you feel about returning to work? Would you prefer to work at home? And we’re asking those questions where we may not really want to hear the results. But we want to do that before we… find out they’re uncomfortable. So we’re doing that now before we return back to work.

“And we’re encouraging them to… dig into our change management and our communication toolkit in HR… And really lean into, in your team meetings or one-on-ones, ‘how are people feeling’ before we just throw everybody back into the office.”

Client Five: One of the things that we’ve been talking about doing is using colored vests… And there’s been some conversation about how can we lean into other technologies for track and trace as well, and distancing, but no decisions have been made. We are doing temperature checks, but I mentioned earlier, we’re trying to get to a more scalable solution…

Is your business implementing a similar approach? Do you feel confident that you’re providing a safe work environment for your permanent and contingent workforces? If you’re unsure at all, we’re here to help. Connect with us at any time.

If you’re a current client wondering how we’re responding to COVID-19’s impact on the world of work, please contact your representative or visit our COVID response webpage.

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