The workplace lessons we learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic

The pandemic was an unprecedented time for all, but one we won’t forget. We explored the lessons learnt in the workplace.

It is now over 18 months since we first entered lockdown in the UK due to the global coronavirus pandemic. Much has happened in those 18 months, and we seem to be coming out the other side, with restrictions withdrawn across the country and business gradually returning to normal.

However, it’s impossible to forget what we went through. This particularly applies to businesses who had to adapt to changing risk and government guidance, with some forced to close entirely and others sending their staff home to carry out their work.

Factory worker wearing face mask and looking at camera

While it was a trying time for many workplaces, it also taught us about how we work and the importance of resilience. Rather than reverting to our pre-pandemic behaviours, businesses and employees must remember these lessons to build stronger, flexible workplaces that suit the needs of their workforce while facilitating productivity.

Below, we’ve listed the five most significant lessons learnt during the COVID-19 and how they can prepare us for the future.

  1. Hygiene is crucial
  2. You can still be productive at home
  3. The power of innovation
  4. UK businesses are resilient
  5. PPE is our friend

Hygiene is crucial

Throughout the pandemic, we were advised to wash our hands to reduce the spread of coronavirus germs. On top of this, many of us spent all our time at home, avoiding workplaces and other public spaces, which aimed to further reduce the transmission of COVID-19 by avoiding contact.

During this time, it’s been relatively uncommon to hear about anybody ringing in sick to work due to illnesses other than coronavirus. In fact, sick leave in the UK in 2020 was at its lowest level since data collection began in 1995. This has been predominantly attributed to the lack of contact and increased safety measures implemented by the public, such as better hand hygiene and mask-wearing.

The increased emphasis on hygiene in this period has also made many people aware of how unhygienically they may have been living before, particularly at work. The drop in seasonal illnesses in 2020 and 2021 indicate that embedding better hygiene at work can not only protect businesses against coronavirus but other types of infections.

With less illness comes fewer absences due to sick leave, which can drive your productivity while keeping staff safe. Research in America found that colleagues trained in hand hygiene measures took 20% fewer sick days. By continuing to emphasise hygiene at work, you can lessen the impact of staff sickness – which could save workplaces substantial sums.

You can still be productive at home

Another drastic change brought about by the pandemic was the need to carry out our jobs at home. For many people, this was their first time experiencing homeworking. However, employees across the world were able to adapt and continue to fulfil their work commitments without being present in the office.

While some jobs understandably need to be done in the workplace, especially if specific equipment or contact is required, the ability of the UK workforce to adjust to homeworking has caused many businesses to reflect on how they operate. Even with ‘work from home’ guidance removed, some companies have continued to opt for homeworking or a hybrid approach.

The increased acceptance of homeworking has many benefits. Firstly, it continues to safeguard against the risk of coronavirus by reducing contacts and makes it easier to adapt if the UK were to enter lockdown once more. It also means that ill colleagues (with coronavirus or another infection) can stay at home to work, rather than coming into the office and infecting others.

Secondly, it offers increased flexibility for staff who no longer need to follow a rigid 9-to-5 structure. This can benefit mental health and work-life balance while also easing issues such as childcare and transport.

For those companies that are able to allow homeworking, this means a happier and safer workforce without impeding productivity.

The power of innovation

A global pandemic was unexpected by everyone. As such, businesses had to think fast to overcome challenges and stay open. This meant coming up with innovative solutions, including restructuring workplaces, implementing new processes or finding new ways to communicate with colleagues and customers.

Many businesses even adapted their value proposition to align with their target market’s new needs, such as introducing products and services to their portfolio. Some incorporated innovative moves into their strategies, such as experimenting with technology or adjusting marketing, sales and customer service processes to reach leads in the safety of their own home.

By being innovative, many businesses have been able to survive and even flourish in a difficult period.

There are reports that many companies are scaling back on their innovation at this time, instead focusing on maintaining cash flow or waiting for the economy to stabilise. However, by incorporating creativity and technology, businesses can respond to changing consumer behaviour and ensure continued growth, even during uncertainty.

UK businesses are resilient

Another key takeaway from the COVID-19 era is the proven resilience of UK businesses. Before March 2020, nobody knew how to handle a pandemic – fast forward to today, and countless companies have survived unprecedented times.

There was no plan to follow in the early stages of the pandemic, so businesses had to be flexible and resilient. This meant finding new ways to operate safely, including introducing special measures (such as screens, distanced workspaces, PPE and so on), shift patterns, creating the infrastructure for homeworking and utilising online technology to serve customers.

Colleagues walking through an office

However, workforces rose to challenges presented, ensuring their survival. Some even grew. This has shown the strength of the majority of the UK business population and their ability to adapt.

Although the risk has not yet disappeared, the resilience of companies in this time can provide some confidence that, if a future threat were to emerge, they could still overcome the obstacles.

PPE is our friend

Before COVID-19 emerged, PPE was exclusively associated with healthcare settings. However, many of us have implemented it into our daily lives to protect against coronavirus risk, which has included in the workplace.

Typical PPE used over the last 18 months has included masks, visors, gloves and hand sanitiser. Many employers had to purchase these for their staff to comply with government guidance and enable them to work safely on site.

Now that restrictions have ended, many people may be relaxing their use of PPE. That being said, continuing the use of PPE could prove essential in managing the ongoing risk and reintroducing it into workplaces if cases rise dramatically.

One type of PPE that could carry on in the workplace is hand sanitiser, especially given the increased focus on hand hygiene. Providing workers with hand sanitiser can reduce the spread of bacteria and protect their health, even when on the move or with limited time for handwashing.

Providing such PPE can also go some way to assuage any concerns your staff may have about their safety as we return to normality, helping them to do their jobs comfortably while fulfilling your duty of care as an employer.

Conclusion

While nobody would have predicted or hoped for the events of the last two years, there are still positive lessons that can be taken from them. Businesses now know how to deal with the unexpected more than ever before, showcasing the strength of employers and workforces across the UK.

We’ve also had the ability to examine how we work and what makes up our productivity, helping businesses find tailored approaches that better suit their employees, customers, and overall performance.

It’s also worth noting that this chapter is not necessarily over. However, the hard work already done by workplaces means that they will be prepared if further restrictions were to hit the country – or even in the face of future pandemics and other situations.

If you are considering what you can do to improve safety and resilience in your business in response to the lessons of the pandemic, we can help. We offer a range of solutions to support your business and adapt to changing health needs, including the innovative Orbel hand sanitiser.

Get in touch today to find out how we can assist your business.