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COVID-19 return to work security plan

As lockdown measures are slowly eased across Ontario and the rest of Canada, organizations are preparing to return to the new COVID-19 workplace normal. But nothing is simple when it comes to navigating the uncharted waters of social distancing and industry-wide lockdowns–especially when it comes to developing a return-to-work security plan.

While a return to business may still be weeks away for organizations in some parts of the province, no one can afford to be idle. As a business owner/leader, you need to start planning today to ensure that your workplace is as safe and secure as possible once your employees return to the fold—and that you comply with all relevant government health and safety rules and regulations.

Security plays a key role

Of course, safety and security planning is about much more than ensuring the availability of sanitizers and protective equipment, ramped up hygiene practices, or establishing social distancing rules and protocols. Those are, of course, essential foundational elements. But there are many security-related components that need to be addressed in a comprehensive and strategic return-to-work plan, many of which will take time and resources to implement.

Cybersecurity, access control, monitoring employee movements and activities, and secure collaboration practices, are among many items that need to be integrated into a well-architected security plan. The good news is that your security provider can play an important role in helping develop and execute a fully-integrated strategy—one that addresses the new (and in some cases, rapidly evolving) demands around health and safety compliance, risk mitigation and technology.

A return-to-work security plan should cover everything from basic policies around distancing rules and staffing requirements (some organizations may resort to staggered hours, for example, or a combined office/work-from-home model to minimize personal contact), to more complex technological initiatives around health monitoring and building access and control.

Cybersecurity training

Conduct a security infrastructure audit

An integral part of the initial planning stages is a thorough review of infrastructure equipment. Planners need to examine what needs to be improved or updated. Are repairs required due to the protracted pandemic shutdown? This is an especially important checklist item for facilities that have been fully closed for a long period of time.

Organizations will also have to familiarize themselves and their employees with the plethora of new safety protocols that are being introduced, including those established by public health authorities and/or the building managers, or your company itself. With that, extensive retraining for both security personnel and other staff will be needed before doors re-open for business. This will need to be refreshed as new guidelines evolve in the months to come.

Bear in mind that security personnel in particular may be required to perform additional services, from temperature checks and entrance/exit screening, to more frequent patrolling and social distancing enforcement.

Analyze cybersecurity vulnerabilities and requirements

With the rapid transition to a work-from-home business model, organizations should also be making time to review their cybersecurity protocols. During the recent, rapid escalation in remote workers accessing cloud-based services from multiple devices, organizations had little time to assess their network security in an in-depth way. Now that you have a bit of breathing space, it’s time to develop or enhance your current digital security strategy as part of your return-to-work plan. This should include a rapid redeployment backup plan in the event of a future shutdown.

A safe and secure workplace will likely involve new technology investments. As you plan, consider the role security solutions can play in reducing touching of surfaces; tracking and tracing movements to quickly isolate and address potential outbreak situations; or responding to social distancing infractions (e.g., alerts when employees enter a restricted area).

There are a number of technology enablers that can be integrated into existing security systems to meet the demands of a post-lockdown work environment and ensure that only authorized employees or visitors can enter your premises. Examples of tools being implemented right now across some organizations include swipe pads on doors, touchless registration, “smart” barriers at entrances and exits, biometric scanners, remote locking systems and pressure sensors, and mobile two-factor authentication.

Additional video surveillance systems, along with thermal scanners and face recognition software can help identify suspected infections, while tracking the contact and movements of anyone within range of a potentially infected person.

All of this needs to be supported by HR policies that clearly outline restricted areas, who has access, and policies around travel and sick leave—among others. Work with your HR team and potentially even a qualified labour and employment lawyer, to draft effective policies customized to the needs of your workplace and employee culture.

Return to work

Getting your workplace ready to reopen

Global real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield has developed a document entitled Recovery Readiness: a How-To Guide For Reopening Your Workplace. It’s a handy starting point that outlines six guiding principles on how businesses can ensure a safe and efficient transition to workplace readiness.

Here is a distilled version of the principles:

  • Prepare the Building—Implement cleaning plans, pre-return inspections, and HVAC and mechanicals checks
  • Prepare the Workforce—Create policies for deciding who returns, shift/schedule management and employee communications
  • Control Access—Enforce protocols for safety and health checks, building reception, shipping/receiving, elevators and visitor policies
  • Create a Social Distancing Plan—Follow guidelines for decreasing density, schedule management and office traffic patterns
  • Reduce Touch Points and Increase Cleaning—Implement open doors, clean-desk policy, food plans and regular cleaning of common areas
  • Communicate for Confidence—Recognize the fear employees may feel in returning to the workplace and work with them to alleviate their anxiety

Plan early and be flexible

There’s no question there will be a great deal of uncertainty as organizations plan their return-to-work strategies.

“It will happen in phases, it will be very complex and it will look different for every organization,” Bill Knightly, Cushman and Wakefield’s Chief Operating Officer of Global Occupier Services, noted in a recent webinar. “We know progress is unlikely to be linear … We know the rules of the game are likely to change as we’ve seen inconsistent messaging from health authorities and governments around the world.”

That being said, a safety and security planning professional can help alleviate the uncertainty and tailor a fully integrated security plan to meet the specific needs of an organization and its workforce. The key is planning early and often as the situation evolves.

Winston Stewart–President and CEO