With the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown finally starting to wind down after five long weeks, many businesses now find themselves having to coordinate the restart of their operations. A major part of this is ensuring that employees can return to work, which comes with many challenges considering the host of rules and regulations introduced at the start of the Level 4 phase of the national lockdown.

This is according to Gys Kappers, CEO of Wyzetalk – a leading mobile-first digital employee engagement company – who says that staff communication, arranging work permits and ensuring that employees are able to travel to work, can be very complex to coordinate.

“To start, the permit process being implemented by government requires that each worker receives a personalised work permit. For companies that have a large workforce, the first question is how to ensure that a separate work permit is created for each individual, and how it will reach them. This is an especially relevant question for industries such as mining, which has many employees living in rural communities.”

In addition to this, many employees are still uncertain about what they will need to be able to travel to and from their workplace. “Employees are required to have their individual permits, a photo identification document issued by Home Affairs such as an ID document, as well as some additional form of proof that they are employed by the company (such as their employee ID or access card) in their possession. It is also important to ensure employees receive the correct information about when and where they are required to report.”

The question, according to Kappers, is how one ensures that these requirements can practically be met. “We have already seen from the businesses that were allowed to operate during lockdown, that there are challenges to making this work. It’s likely that many businesses will – at least initially – experience problems with staff not having the permissions to travel, and getting the right information disseminated to the relevant teams. In this instance, we believe that the businesses with existing employee communication platforms are going to be the best equipped to seamlessly coordinate their return-to-work plans.”

To start, he recommends having an SMS system in place that connects the business with each and every employee. “It is possible – like we have done for one of our mining clients – to set up a system that sends personalised messages to employees, with all of the alerts and information that are relevant to them specifically. As businesses can only operate with certain portions of their workforce during this ramp-up period, this will help to eliminate any confusion among employees about what is required from them. It is also a good method to distribute the news and safety information that they will need to know when they get back to work.”

In addition, Kappers says that employee platforms can iron out the challenges related to getting permits to employees. “It is estimated that over 50% of South Africans already own at least one smart device and that percentage is projected to increase in the years to come. Businesses can take advantage of this by making use of technology to deliver each employee’s work and travel documentation directly to their smartphone – meaning that they won’t need to have a printed copy on hand.”

However, in order for either of these solutions to be effective, he notes that human resources (HR) departments will have to be on top of their game. “The company needs to be sure that it has up-to-date contact information for every employee – this includes cell phone numbers. Updated residential addresses are also a priority, since employers will need to include this information in the employee’s travel permit to make it valid.”

He adds that, HR departments are going to need to focus on employee engagement, to ensure that they understand each individual’s requirements, and how the company can meet them. “For example, if online or digital solutions are used, the business should also have a list of employees that don’t have smartphones (and use alternative methods of communication) and issue printed work permits to these employees.

In closing, Kappers says that, while restoring business operations may be challenging over the next few weeks, doing a few simple things right from the start can benefit a business immensely. “Making use of existing technology, and making sure that your HR department is firing on all cylinders, will take a lot of the chaos out of employee engagement during this time,” he concludes.

This article was published on Business Brief and Engineering News