Bringing Staff Back Safely: Back to Work Solution
A coherent “Back to Work” strategy should enable employers to decide how and when to bring their workforce back to the office or workplace in the safest way.
Impact of Covid-19 on the Workforce
Covid-19 is a worldwide disease that is, as of mid-May 2020, present in over 200 countries with over 5,000,000 cases and 320,000 deaths worldwide(1). This virus is presumed to have originated in China and is classed as an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered strain of coronavirus - other coronaviruses include: the common cold, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)(2).
At the present time, there is still very limited scientific reporting on the disease or data from the WHO. However, it is known that the majority of those who contract Covid-19 will encounter mild to moderate symptoms, such as a cough, shortness of breath, a temperature and loss of taste or smell. Those who are seen as being more ‘at risk’ (older people, or those with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer) are more likely to experience severe symptoms of the disease if contracted. The virus spreads through droplets of saliva and discharge of the nose, e.g. coughs and sneezes. As of yet, there are no specific vaccines or treatment for the disease(3).
1. WHO, 2020. Available at: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus- 2. WHO, 2020. Available at: http://www.emro.who.int/health-topics/corona-virus/questions-and-answers. html#:~:text=Coronaviruses%20are%20a%20large%20family,Syndrome%20(SARS) 3. WHO, 2020. Available at: https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus#tab=tab_1
Many countries worldwide have committed to an extensive lockdown - closure of non-essential companies and individuals being told to stay at home - to control the spread of the virus and prevent death rates from increasing rapidly. This has had an undeniable impact on companies around the world - 81% of the global workforce has had their workplace fully or partially closed since the lockdown began. Overall, lockdown has resulted in fewer hours being worked by employees during regular business hours or typical hours of operation. Within Europe, 12 million people have reported to be working fewer hours during lockdown and it is expected that we will see a total reduction of 6.7% in working hours during the second quarter of 2020(4). The reduction in work hours is impacting some industries more than others. More specifically retail, manufacturing, travel and leisure, restaurants and bars are being hit the hardest and are also at the highest risk of negative long-term impacts from Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions - these industries make up 42.1% of the workforce within Europe(5).
4. BBC, 2020. Available at:https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52199888 5. BBC, 2020. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52199888
Aside from the impact on job security and hours worked, the Covid-19 lockdown has been reported to have a profound impact on overall productivity levels of staff members due to a number of factors. More specifically, these additional factors affecting overall productivity levels are:
Distractions and inefficiencies caused by working from home.
Negative impacts on mental health due to isolation.
Between 57-70% of the workforce of Facebook, Amazon and Google report their productivity levels having reduced since the beginning of lockdown(6) - these figures are experienced across the board with overall companies’ productivity being reported as down by 40%(7). A result of this loss of productivity is the expectation that companies will see a decline of innovation during 2020(8) and we are already seeing significant declines in profitability due to Covid-19. In the UK, the ONS has reported that monthly gross domestic product (GDP) fell by 5.8% in March 2020(9), the biggest monthly fall since the series began in 1997.
6. Forbes, 2020. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanrobinson/2020/04/04/what-7-studies-showabout-social-distancing-and-remote-working-during-covid-19/#69475a40757e7 7. Institute for PR, 2020. Available at: https://instituteforpr.org/how-companies-are-engaging-employees-during-covid-19/ 8. Vox, 2020. Available at: https://www.vox.com/2020/3/20/21187469/work-from-home-coronavirus-productivity-mental-health-nicholas-bloom 9. ONS, 2020. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/grossdomesticproductgdp/bulletins/gdpmonthlyestimateuk/march2020#gdp-fell-by-58-in-march-2020
“Back to Work” Initiatives
Companies are beginning to look forward to the post-lockdown work environment and with that they are starting to plan their back to work strategies. Many companies are considering changes to be made to their office layout, to keep employees working at a safe distance from one another to adhere to social distancing guidelines; as well as an increase in remote meetings via video conferencing. We expect companies to become more supportive of increasing flexible working opportunities, with the overall number of employees who will work from home post-lockdown expected to be 10% higher than what it was before the Covid-19 outbreak.
Back to work strategy
Despite these anticipated changes in the post Covid-19 working practices, generally, we expect to see the trend of companies slowly phasing their employees back into the office, in line with continually evolving government guidance. Companies are expected to bring the majority of their employees back into the office over the course of an extended period, with more essential workers coming back first. It is reported that 10% of executives have already completed extensive planning for their back to work strategy(10). An independent research study, surveying 1300 UK business owners and senior executives, revealed that many executives are unsure how to plan for this effectively due to ongoing guideline changes. More specifically, 33% of business owners and senior executives don’t understand the government and NHS guidelines which is hindering their ability to move forward with a “Back to Work” plan. Overall, UK business owners are most concerned with keeping Covid-19 infected staff away from the office (47%) in addition to building up the employee population’s confidence before the office reopens and the keeping those confidence levels high once they are all back at work (21%)(11).
10. Institute for PR, 2020. Available at: https://instituteforpr.org/how-companies-are-engaging-employees-during-covid-19/ 11. Wilson International Research Group, 20
Safety of the employees
While social distancing can help provide employees with a somewhat safe work environment, this is not a concrete solution, and more can be done. Companies also need to understand if any of their workforce is infected or, if proven, have some immunity to Covid-19. The challenge of identifying infected workforce members is exacerbated by the fact that, along with more mass testing in the community, increasing numbers of asymptomatic cases are being identified. In this regard Covid-19 testing, including tests determining current infection (antigen) and tests determining past infection and presence of antibodies (antibody) is expected to play a critical role in companies guaranteeing the safety of their employees.
Types of tests on the market
Broadly there are three types of tests on the market: a lab-based antigen test, a lab-based antibody test, and a point of care test.
1. Lab-based test to see if the individual has the virus.
This is widely known as the PCR antigen test but is also sometimes called a nucleic acid or molecular test.
This requires a swab of the nose and throat.
2. A lab-based test to see if the individual has developed an antibody response to the virus.
This is known as an antibody test and is sometimes referred to as a serology test.
Antibody tests are sampled using a small amount of venous blood or taken from a finger prick.
There is currently no scientific evidence confirming if the presence of antibodies correlates to immunity or how long the antibodies will last for.
So far, three lab-based antibody tests have received Public Health England (PHE) approval and are expected to play a significant part in the NHS’s national testing effort.
3. A point-of-care (POC) or rapid diagnostic test (RDT) allows the individual to get quick results that determine whether the virus or antibodies are present in the body.
These tests are typically done under the supervision of a medical practitioner and the patient is given results within minutes - without needing to send the sample to a laboratory
The government is trialing a POC test that will return results in just 20 minutes. The test has been shown to be highly effective in clinical settings. Following a successful clinical trial, the rapid test will then be rolled out more widely if the pilot proves effective.
It is important to understand the different types of tests available on the market and what the results from these tests mean before incorporating them into a “Back to Work” plan. Other measures such as on-site temperature checks and on-site doctor clinics will also be implemented in many workplaces to supplement any testing protocols put in place.
“Back to Work” Strategy
A coherent “Back to Work” strategy should enable employers to decide how and when to bring their workforce back to the office or workplace in the safest way. The most robust gold standard “Back to Work” solution is centred around a Covid-19 testing protocol which has been specifically designed to provide the safest and most efficient return to work possible. Before employees return to work, they will follow a sequence of steps to make sure that any infection risk is mitigated to the greatest extent.
1. Risk Stratification Questionnaire:
The “Back to Work” process will start with a selfassessment Risk Stratification Questionnaire, aimed at understanding the current health of the employee population and any predisposing factors or health risks they each may have. The results of this questionnaire should be reviewed by a clinical team. Any missed results will be shared with the company’s HR team for review. These results give the company’s HR team the opportunity to understand the overall wellbeing of their employee population and to better understand if any staff member has been in recent contact with an individual who could potentially be infected with the virus, or currently presenting any symptoms of the virus. The Risk Stratification Questionnaire can be circulated on a routine basis to continue to gather up-to-date information on the wellbeing of the overall employee community.
2. PCR Antigen Testing
Upon completion of the questionnaire all employees will undertake a PCR Antigen test - this determines whether somebody currently has Covid-19. It will be taken at any preferred location for employees and will be coupled with a pre-test phone consultation to counsel the employee if they are experiencing symptoms, and to ensure the employee knows how they should collect the sample for the test. As PCR testing never produces 100% accurate positive results, there is a very small chance (2%) of a false negative result.
Despite the low probability of this happening, it is clinically recommended, for those who receive a negative result to be re-tested after 48 hours to minimise the risk of missing any positive result. Individuals with a negative test result do not currently have Covid-19 and will be safe to return to work. Individuals who receive a positive test result will be required to self-isolate, in line with government guidelines, and retest 7 days from the original testing date. As soon as the individual has a negative test result, the employee would be deemed as safe to return to the office. If any employee displays Covid-19 symptoms after returning to work, they must immediately go home to self-isolate and restart the testing protocol set out above. HR departments should immediately conduct an investigation into who the newly symptomatic employee has been in contact with at the office to determine risk to all other employees and understand who may need to self-isolate and be retested.
The recommended “gold standard” process is to continue PCR Antigen testing weekly whilst the country transitions out of lockdown and beyond. The rationale for this recommendation comes from employees’ likelihood of travelling to and from work on public transport and interacting with the wider population. This contact with potentially infected individuals places them at high risk of contracting the virus and thus spreading it to the workforce. However, each company can decide the frequency of PCR retesting done when they finalise their “Back to Work” plan.
3. Antibody Testing
As reliable lab-based Covid-19 antibody tests are becoming available and endorsed by PHE, public antibody testing is expected to become more widespread, beginning with reported NHS testing of antibody responses in frontline healthcare workers. Antibody tests are useful for both employers and employees who want to understand who has had viral exposure and developed the antibody response to the virus. Currently these antibody tests do not confirm immunity to the virus however they can display the extent of human disruption to your business caused by Covid-19. As more evidence emerges about the degree to which an antibody response confers immunity, we expect antibody testing to be more integrated into “Back to Work” testing protocols.
4. On-Site Medical Support
To aid the continued assessment of employees’ health - particularly when relating to Covid-19 - on-site medical support at the office will be an important measure. On-site services may provide employees with continued peace of mind and a sense of being supported as they transition out of quarantine.
On-site temperature checks and pulse oximetry can be used as easy tools to screen employees for Covid-19 as having a fever or low blood oxygen levels can be indicative of Covid-19. However, it is important to note that individuals can be infected with the virus without presenting any symptoms.
Therefore, it is important to note that Covid-19 testing, coupled with on-site temperature checks and pulse, will give employers a more accurate representation of the employee population’s current health. On-site medical support will also allow for the efficient medical management of employees, without delay.
Qured’s “Back to Work” solution
Qured’s “Back to Work” solution includes the following services:
Testing carried out by UKAS accredited labs: Antigen and antibody testing kit from world leaders in medical devices and medical diagnostics.
On-site support: Nurse or doctor at the office for temperature checks, pulse oximetry and general symptom screening of early warning signs of any ill health.
Risk stratification questionnaire: To help employers keep track of the wellbeing of their employee population. Qured can tailor the “Back to Work” healthcare plan to the needs and requirements of each individual company, incorporating the best available testing solutions as they come to market.
A “Back to Work” solution will enable you to minimize the risk of new Covid-19 infections in your employee population when returning to the workplace and provide you with a process for early recognition of employees becoming unwell. It will also give you an understanding of the prevalence of the condition in your employee population and numbers who have been exposed over time. These are critical steps in helping you keep your employees safe, once everyone is back at the workplace.
Qured’s “Back to Work” Solution
Qured is already a leader in the market for providing the general public and corporate clients with Covid-19 tests, both antigen and antibody, and have applied their expertise in Covid-19 testing in designing and implementing a comprehensive “Back to Work” Healthcare Solution.