Coronavirus: HR and facilities teams must work together to keep workplaces hygienic

The people profession should be the ‘focal point’ of organisations’ efforts to stop the virus spreading, experts say

Coronavirus: HR and facilities teams must work together to keep workplaces hygienic

HR needs to take the helm in helping offices stay healthy, experts have said, urging the people profession to work with facilities management (FM) teams in order to keep workplaces hygienic following the coronavirus outbreak.

There have so far been 116 confirmed cases of the virus in the UK, with the first death linked to the coronavirus in this country confirmed yesterday.

Guy Pink, portfolio careerist and former HR director of Addaction, told People Management most HR departments will already have reasonably well-structured hygiene and health plans in place, noting his previous roles in HR have included putting in place facilities, insurance and health and safety structure.

Pink said the take-up of good hygienic practices in the office depends on the type of culture the business has, and having good health and hygiene policies in place can help businesses run effectively. “I’m sure people have worked in offices that are like absolute tips, where there’s paper and dirty coffee cups everywhere,” Pink said.

“You wouldn’t want to go and hot desk there because you’re going to be concerned you’ll catch something from the keyboard or computer screen just because of the state in which they operate.”

Like Pink, David D’Souza, membership director of the CIPD, said HR could be a “focal point” for bringing together all the functions in a business that enable people to be productive, to be safe and effective in the workplace, including FM.

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“With the coronavirus, it brings that duty into sharp relief, and the opportunity to work even closer with different parts of the business,” D’Souza said. “It could be HR joining together with facilities in terms of ensuring the working environment is sterile and healthy or even IT in terms of enabling remote working and or remote access to meetings. Both communities, HR and FM, suffer from people not understanding the scope and impact of their entire work.”

D’Souza said the response to the coronavirus outbreak proved the coordinated effort of these business functions and HR had a genuine impact on whether businesses could continue to function effectively.

So how can HR and facilities work together to spread information about best hygienic practices without spreading panic? Linda Hausmanis, CEO of the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management, said best practice in risk management required those with responsibility for safeguarding their colleagues and the public to take threats such as the coronavirus seriously. 

“Preparations that address how employees communicate should be in place in advance, to ensure communication is consistent and in line with employee expectations,” Hausmanis said. “Communication should be factual, and advice from relevant authorities should be followed when making decisions and setting guidelines.”

Pink said In his experience, many staff emails go unread, but there are other ways that HR and facilities could work together to help employees become more well-informed about best hygienic practices.

“A lead nurse once came to the HR department and asked if we could create an e-learning module on how to wash your hands properly, and we all laughed at the time,” Pink said. “But if that was available then, just think about how many organisations now have an online learning system around health and safety or risk.”

He said he expected more businesses that utilise online learning to develop their workforce to put a handwashing module in place, in line with health professionals’ advice that washing your hands is the best way to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The UK government has now listed coronavirus, also known as Covid-19, as a notifiable disease by law, meaning GPs will be required to report all cases to Public Health England. This new designation will also help companies receive compensation through their insurance policies if the spread of the virus leads to cancellations or loss of business.

Earlier this week, the government released its action plan to handle the outbreak in the event the situation worsens, warning that, in a reasonable worst-case scenario, a fifth of the UK’s workforce could be off sick at one time. The plan suggests employers enact “business continuity plans” and build their resilience.