The highly contagious COVID-19 respiratory disease, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, has affected all occupations and businesses. Over the last six months, businesses have scrambled to take precautions to keep their employees and customers safe. Here are seven steps to ensure the safety of your field staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Encourage Good Hygiene
The best precaution against COVID-19 is good hygiene. Promote good hygiene as part of the corporate policy. Encourage field agents and other employees to maintain personal hygiene at all times.
Institute policies that mandate employees to:
- Disinfect tools and equipment after each use.
- Wipe the screens of their mobile devices after each contact.
- Wash or sanitize hands after each contact. Make sure every employee carries a hand sanitizer in their pockets.
- Wear disposable gloves wherever feasible, and discard such gloves safely.
- Wipe and disinfect points of contact such as door handles, steering wheels, tools, and equipment, after each use.
- Refrain from using phones, work tools, equipment, and office spaces of other employees, wherever possible. Provide disposable wipes to wipe down commonly used surfaces before each use.
Offer tips and reminders on good hygiene through the field service app. Institute a checklist on the hygiene protocols when undertaking work.
Good hygiene makes business sense. It reduces the risk of field agents becoming unavailable because of illness, and ensures stability to business operations. The field agents practicing good hygiene assure customers and make for good public relations.
- Offer Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Many employers provide workers with PPE to keep them safe while performing their jobs. For high-risk jobs, providing PPE is mandatory.
PPE includes gloves, face masks, goggles, face shields, gowns, and respiratory protection. The PPE required for a job depends on the risk of infection when on-the-job, and the extent of exposure risk.
Check with the relevant health authorities for the recommended PPE for each type of field job. In the USA, the Occupational Safety and Health Authority (OSHA) and the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) websites offer a list of recommended PPE. OSHA’s PPE standards, for instance, mandate using gloves, eye and face protection, and respiratory protection. The information on the website updates regularly, to co-opt the latest research and information.
It is not enough to provide field agents with the PPE though.
- Train field agents on how to wear and take off PPE in the correct way. Unless the PPE fits properly, it may not protect it.
- Offer options for cleaning, safe storage, and disposal of PPE. Improper handling of PPE may render it ineffective. Improper disposal or storage of PPE may contaminate the surroundings.
- Follow the usage recommendations of the PPE. Never reuse disposal PPE such as face-masks, above the recommended number of times or hours.
Make available this information to the field agents through their field service app. A good field service app makes it possible to keep field agents aware of the latest and correct information. It also allows the employer to increase compliance with the instructions by making field agents accept and agree to the stipulations.
- Upgrade Cleaning Procedures
Enterprises serious about keeping their field staff safe at work have to invest more money and time in cleanliness.
Make available supplies such as hand sanitizers, tissues, disinfectant sprays, and masks to field agents. Keep a regular stock of tissues in the office and repair vans. In the USA, the CDC recommends employers to provide no-touch disposal receptacles and no-touch sanitizer dispensers at multiple locations. The relevant authorities in other countries have similar recommendations.
Offer hand washing facilities. Provide field employees with alcohol-based hand rubs with 60% alcohol.
Conduct regular housekeeping. Clean and disinfect surfaces, equipment, and other elements of the work environment. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended cleaning chemicals that protect against emerging viral pathogens.
Institute policies on regular cleaning and sanitization. Sanitize the vehicle after every trip.
After repairing equipment or working at the client premises, sanitize the equipment and clean the premises.
Reinforce basic hygiene manners, such as sneezing into a tissue or to the elbow, through awareness posters, and pop-up notifications in field service apps. Incentivize employees to follow hygiene practices through recognition and rewards. Make sure managers and supervisors lead by example.
Link the field service app to inventory management, and source cleaning supplies for each work order.
- Update HR Policies
The coronavirus pandemic has forced enterprise HR to relook workplace rules and regulations.
Identify high-risk employees and support them without inviting stigma and discrimination. High-risk employees include:
- Employees with health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart diseases, and other comorbidities that cause immune-compromising conditions. Aged employees and pregnant women are also at higher risk from COVID-19.
- Employees who have traveled to an area reporting cases
- Employees who are primary contacts, or live with a COVID-19 positive patient.
Remove such high-risk employees from field jobs involving contact with other people. Isolate them as appropriate. If possible, offer them a work-from-home office, away from active field duties. For instance, make aged senior pros work-from-home duties, offering expert assistance to novice agents through video-conferencing.
Keep track of COVID-19 symptoms and have clear-cut policies for field agents who display such symptoms. Employees should be trained to self-monitor symptoms of COVID.
Monitor the temperature of field agents regularly. Make the readings known to the customer through the customer-facing app, to build confidence.
The most telltale sign of caution is fever, dry cough, and tiredness. Ask employees not to come to work if they suffer from these COVID-19 symptoms. Test them for COVID-19 infection. A few lesser common symptoms are sore throat, headache, diarrhea, loss of smell, conjunctivitis, and skin rash. Have a policy on the measures to take if field agents show such symptoms. The policy could ask them not to come for work, isolate them, or test them for COVID-19.
Shortness of breath, chest pain, and loss of speech are symptoms of serious health conditions, including COVID-19. Offer prompt medical attention to employees who complain of these symptoms.
Develop immediate contact modes to enable employees to report when they are sick or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. Make sure staffing services providing temporary employees to take appropriate precautions for their workers.
Identify and isolate sick employees. If any field agent tests positive for COVID-19, identify their primary contacts and co-workers, for appropriate follow-up measures.
Update the company’s sick leave policy for COVID-19 ensuring flexible leave policies in consent with public health guidance. Consider offering employees extra days off if they or their family members test positive for coronavirus. Offering leave for employees to care for an infected family member may impress talented staff and encourage them to stay.
Stay abreast of guidance from federal, state, and local health authorities. Incorporate those recommendations into workplace-specific plans. In the USA, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act lays down specifications for extra leave. But not all enterprises come under this act. Distinguish between mandatory legal requirements and recommendations.
Maintain confidentiality of employee health records. The privacy protections of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and other regulations apply for COVID-19. Do not disclose the name of any infected employee to co-workers or any information regarding their medical condition.
- Communicate and Develop Contingency Plans
Develop contingency plans for situations that may arise as a result of COVID-19. Prepare plans for:
- Increased rates of worker absenteeism, as workers contact the infection, or go into isolation for being a high-risk contact.
- Downsized operations, as supply chains get interrupted, deliveries get delayed, or offices shut owing to COVID-19.
Some countermeasures worth adopting in the contingency plans include:
- Hire extra staff to make up for field agents who call in sick, or are under precautionary quarantine.
- Cross-train workers across different jobs to maintain field operations.
- Tweak the scheduling software to make it capable of handling sudden changes. A field staff who falls sick or goes into quarantine may require replacement. Likewise, if the client falls sick, the service may need rescheduling.
- Develop emergency communications plans. Set up multiple communication channels, such as email, voicemail, text, and more. Multiple channels help in the event of a sudden building shutdown or other emergencies.
- Keep the names and contact details of the contacts made by a field employee for one month. Contact tracing helps health authorities trace people exposed to COVID-19, and enable isolating high-risk employees to contain the spread to other employees.
Seek the latest COVID-19 information from authentic sources. The CDC website contains information on coronavirus symptoms, prevention, treatment, and updates on the state of the pandemic. The website also offers travel warnings. The World Health Organization (WHO) and OSHA are other authentic sources of information in the USA. The OSHA COVID-19 webpage provides information on recordkeeping requirements, criteria to record illness, risk related to hazardous chemicals present in hand sanitizers, and other handy information.
- Encourage Digital
Work-from-home is feasible for regular office jobs. It is not an option for field jobs performed at remote installations and customer premises. Regular service of field machinery may be essential to sustain telecommuting. Yet, field service agents can increase digitalization to minimize travel and physical contact.
- Offer self-service options for customers through field service management apps. Enable customers to connect with remote technicians through the app and resolve basic problems. Limit field visits to solve complex issues.
- Offer robust communication channels for field technicians to connect with remote experts. Offer VR goggles for annotations, to aid technicians. These options improve the first-time resolution, sparing the need for repeat visits.
- Deploy IoT sensors for tracking the state of the machinery and installations. Use drones for remote surveillance. Schedule preventive repairs following safety protocols. Often, emergency repairs mean compromising with safety protocols.
- Avoid face-to-face meetings and conduct meetings through Zoom or other digital platforms.
- Use the field service apps for contactless forms for inspections. Allow field agents to download the relevant form for inspections. Enable auto-populating fields to the extent possible, to avoid contacts.
- Accept digital signature through the field service app to avoid pens and physical contacts.
- Provide automated, contactless invoice, generated by the field service app and delivered to the customer’s WhatsApp or email. Encourage online payments.
- Support Employees’ Mental Health
Self-isolation and quarantining during the pandemic, and other coronavirus restrictions may affect mental health. Fear, anger, sadness, irritability, guilt, confusion, insomnia, stress, anxiety, and depression are common symptoms of deteriorating mental health. HR teams should be aware of the debilitating effects of the employee’s mental health and gather resources to help them. Options include mental health hotlines, local treatment centers, sessions by therapists, and more.
- Monitor the symptoms of the mental well-being of employees. Encourage co-workers to Inform managers and supervisors if an employee displays any of these symptoms.
- If a field agent shows signs of mental health issues, take prompt countermeasures such as scheduling an appointment with a therapist.
- Communicate openly with the workforce. Keep them informed on up-to-date information on company policy, latest COVID-19 news in the region, and other relevant issues. Regular communication dispels myths. Encourage transparency and open sharing of information. The true picture of the state of the company, with the assurance of job security, improves mental health. The pandemic may be an opportunity for more work.
- Encourage virtual interactions to counter isolation. Set up a mental health support group for employees to share their feelings and stories. Set up special interest groups, such as a group for foodies to share their creations, another group for sports fans to cheer on their team, and so on.
- Encourage productivity. Often slackness and falling into a rut cause mental issues. When employees are busy with constructive work, their mental health improves. Provide employees with productivity resources to get them back to their routine. For example, ensure employees have the equipment and supplies they need to work.
Coronavirus is the latest in a long list of communicable diseases, which include measles, SARS, and tuberculosis. But being a new disease, the situation is fluid and the virus is not yet under control. Failure to update on the latest news, and take precautions against COVID-19 could result in absenteeism, disruptions to the supply chain, field agents spreading the disease, and other issues. Such issues lead to big-time physical and financial consequences for the enterprise. Proper precautions allow the business to stay safe and mitigate the risks of working in a highly challenging environment.
Aarathy is a Senior Digital Marketing Analyst at ReachOut Suite. She is majorly into content marketing and focuses on getting the messaging right across a host of marketing collaterals. While not working on content, you can find her juggling SEO, social media, branding and more. She enjoys exploring new frontiers in digital marketing and the associated challenges keep her going.