Participants from more than 40 companies attended the PESA HSEQ/HR Townhall on July 29 to discuss best practices as organizations continue to face new challenges in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic. HR Committee Chair and Advisory Board Member Bonnie Houston, Chief Administrative Officer, NOV, and Health & Safety Committee Chair Gary Childress, VP QHS&E Wellsite Services, Oil States International, facilitated the discussion.
As schools begin to reopen in August and September for the 2020-2021 school year, there will be variations in district plans regarding online and in-person learning. Discussions around this are currently happening within several organizations and most have not had any issues or seen any major constraints.
Some companies noted they are dealing with this topic on a case-by-case basis, as a specific, corporate-wide response can be difficult. It was agreed amongst several companies on the call that clear messaging and flexibility around return to work will be key over the next couple of months. It was noted some companies are starting to lean into their inclusion and diversity efforts, messaging this more strongly by holding working parents listening groups. These discussions can work to address concerns about the upcoming school year as it fits into work life and can serve as a forum for the employee to ask questions about how to talk to managers about personal needs.
Regarding travel and looking beyond current travel guidelines, public transportation is being recognized as a potential heightened COVID exposure risk. Some companies have revised or implemented quarantine requirements for any travel (personal or business) beyond local government or customer mandates. Companies are asking employees to not use public transportation as also requested by the governor’s office; clients have requested the same but the rule is not mandatory.
Other organizations have mandated that employees advise of any travels plans for either work or personal reasons. In some cases, when traveling by air for work that is deemed necessary, companies have allowed employees to upgrade their cabin status to ensure the social distancing for a minimal cost difference. It has been reported that many airlines continue to use every single seat in economy despite stating publicly that they are leaving the middle seats open. Some companies have ceased all air travel at this time.
As employee-required training certifications have or are beginning to expire during the pandemic, companies are managing the training of essential employees during this period in various ways. Many organizations are completing trainings online and for those certifications that may have expired, as long as the certification is current, some companies are allowing extensions. If trainings need to be held in person, it is typically one-on-one using the appropriate social distancing and PPE.
Current COVID-19 testing, employee monitoring and contact tracing are still topics at the forefront of conversation. Although there are many testing sites available, results are taking days and even weeks to arrive. International travel often requires an employee to test before they leave the U.S. and then test again upon arrival; quarantine is required while the employee waits for the results.
As employees continue to work both on and offsite, some organizations are implementing kiosks with infrared temperature scanners. These are automated and touchless, and yield a pass/fail result. Phone apps are also being used so employees are able to self-monitor. Questionnaires are built into the app and employees are expected to complete daily before start of work. Putting the onus on the employee keeps them engaged and connected with the organization as it relates to their daily health and will receive assistance if they are not able to “pass” the questionnaire. Companies continue to urge employees to be honest about their health and symptoms.
Notification of cases and contact tracing continue to present challenges. Although there is a want for complete transparency when cases are identified within an organization, privacy concerns do arise. Companies are sharing policies and procedures around how they deal with exposures, typically both in a mass notification and on their website. When it come to how to communications, several companies are keeping message within a smaller group, such as those who need to know and who can assist with follow-up procedures.
Looking far ahead and the future of permanent remote work is also a topic many companies are thinking about. Although most companies have not made any decisions about what the future will look like relative to a work from home environment, most recognize that it is going to be a conversation that will need to be had. Most organizations are not in a rush to get back to the office if jobs can be handled effectively at home and recognize, down the road, roles that can be handled remotely will warrant some flexibility. It was noted working remotely or having split shifts provides potential for cost savings for facilities.