THE RECOVERY – Work Reinvented

From that, that shall remain nameless

The return to abnormal will be progressive, aimed at controlling a second wave but it may depend too on how prepared employers are for “sanitizing” their workplace. It would be opportune to start planning for this eventuality and begin to re-engineer people’s activity to permit doors to re-open earlier.

Much successful progress has already been achieved with staff working from home and online but what about re-inventing the shop floor or other physical work to comply with social distancing and demonstrate safe operating practices. Employees will feel more comfortable returning and new recruits in joining.

Workshops involve people working together, but so do hospitals and grocery stores but unlike these facilities, the general public isn’t allowed inside, and have relatively lower worker densities. Chinese factories are using painted lines to define specific work perimeters and walkways, Italian factories have installed traffic lights on washrooms. Limiting density would seem to be a desirable re-opening prerequisite.

Summer construction could see extended hours and management of the flow of skills onto the premises. Manufacturing and construction employ significant numbers of people with big shares of economic output.

By limiting the public, retail too could qualify for an earlier comeback; Knowledgeable staff could take customers through displays via online video. This would allow traditional retailers to compete with online stores as well as general retailers allowed to remain open because they sell groceries – anyone can walk through Wal-Mart and buy non-food items.

An early return would presuppose a healthy workplace that employed such features as screened entry, default on-line meetings, limited attendance and physical interaction, and a robust work-from-home policy. Future bank loans will likely depend upon having a clear infection defense plan. Where customer interaction is required such as at gas bars screened, gloved attendants could handle pumps, select grades and payment made by swipe machines. A healthier environment may even help boost sales.

Consider the steps already taken by grocery stores; sanitizing shelves and shopping carts, capping the number of shoppers in the store, preferred hours for the most vulnerable, “one-way” aisles, and pre-bagged produce. Next will be receipts sent by email -safety preparedness has become a competitive differentiator.

At this point, it seems that that the economy will be re-opened in stages but as Governments start to think about how they will achieve this there will be a desire to balance economic recovery with the remaining risk to health preventing re-opening of everything at once. Being prepared will place businesses in a strong position to differentiate their health first approach from their competition.

Inspired by an article by Jonathan Caulkins, professor of operations research and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College.

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