How to successfully reopen your office in a post-Covid-19 world
Top Business Tech catches up with the CTO of SafetyCulture, James Simpson, as he explains how old compliance models are no longer effective and how company leaders can reopen their offices.
Hi James. As the world is starting to open, and organisations return to the office, how have old compliance models become redundant, and what new models are replacing them?
In the past, employee health and safety did not always receive the priority it deserves – particularly in terms of “mindshare”. Other business concerns and priorities would take centre stage. When it was addressed, it was often by compliance or occupational health and safety roles. Now, post-pandemic, employee health and safety is front and centre, and the number one priority for businesses around the world.
One of the biggest learnings from the pandemic is that traditional compliance models are no longer effective. A single safety officer conducting monthly or quarterly checks cannot protect against a fast-moving risk like COVID. It is essential to empower all employees to be able to report and resolve risk.
When it comes to safety, businesses need to give frontline workers more control. It’s the everyday workers on the ground who are best placed to identify issues, and to drive and improve safety practices. We’re increasingly seeing employers recognise this and leaning into the idea of each team member taking an active role in safety. They’re enabling all employees to lead inspections and report concerns. Technology is powering this shift in responsibility and businesses are benefiting by gaining greater visibility into their workplaces.
After over a year of adhering to social regulations, how would you advise that organisations combat procedure fatigue in the workplace?
The key is to strike a balance between reducing cognitive load, and not making tasks so monotonous that people give up. There will be many pieces to this.
Initially, it’s about breaking things down into manageable and understandable packages of work. People shouldn’t feel like they are climbing a mountain every day. Removing red tape, being clear about what needs to be accomplished and providing the right tools to support this are the basics.
For us, providing people with digitised checklists is a helpful start. Each checklist has a purpose and goal, so people know they are aligned with what the organisation is trying to achieve. These checklists are much richer than yesterday’s set of checkboxes on a clipboard; they now include details like imagery and business rules. This combats boredom that can come from analogue processes. Finally, allowing people to do inspections in both a planned and ad-hoc fashion is important. We want employees to use their initiative and be the trigger for initiating checks based on what they see in their environment.
By aligning work to the needs of the organisation and encouraging individual initiative, procedure fatigue is reduced and people can do a better job.
Tech surely has a key role to play as we all return to the office. What exactly is that role?
Tech has a huge role to play in getting the return right, providing the framework for businesses to navigate changing circumstances.
In response to COVID-19, we launched our Safely Back to Business initiative to support organisations reopening amid new restrictions. COVID-19 workplace guidance has been digitised from governments and leading industry bodies around the world into free, ready to use and customisable checklists. Already, more than 75,000 people worldwide are using the iAuditor app to complete daily COVID-19 specific checklists.
We’re also seeing more and more businesses implement wireless sensor technology in their offices. This allows workers to contactlessly monitor things like temperature and humidity in real-time, reducing excess man-hours and removing the risk of multiple people touching the same equipment.
SafetyCulture has had much success of late, with its most recent achievement reaching a valuation of £1.2bn. How have you navigated the trials of the last year?
The past 12+ months has been an extraordinary period for SafetyCulture with our team focused on supporting our customers through the COVID-19 crisis. Our staff rallied together to help put safety into the hands of workers across the world. Connecting people to the company’s purpose has always been a driving force.
In the UK, our flagship product iAuditor was made free to frontline healthcare and first-aid volunteers through St John’s Ambulance. We also teamed up with the British Beer and Pub Association to help watering holes across the country carry out risk assessments. More recently, we partnered with fellow tech companies to provide financial and logistical support for the sourcing and purchasing of oxygen and other medical supplies in India.
On the staff front, we aimed to establish fun and collaborative virtual experiences. From online cooking classes with our chef, zoom trivia nights, a virtual pub, talent shows and bingo night, we went out of our way to host spaces for team connection.
How is SafetyCulture positioned to assist other organisations in returning to the office?
SafetyCulture supports companies from all around the world, including those based in countries that have made significant progress along with their reopening roadmap. This presents an opportunity to utilise their processes and learnings.
In our experience, a simple first step is to implement a Pandemic Work Policy. This should include things like risk assessments, social distancing measures, and clearly communicating implemented policies to employees.
If you’re in a leadership position, recognise each employee’s ability to deliver valuable insights. It makes much more sense to involve employees directly in monitoring safety protocols. We’ve seen this time and again with our customers that make their entire team part of the solution, creating a positive feedback loop that keeps people safe and increases compliance throughout the organisation.
To get things consistently right, training will be key. Digital platforms like EdApp help transform businesses’ training courses into simple microlearning experiences. By using this technology, staff can access training programmes and learn in an easily digestible, interactive way. Bite-sized learning builds retention by not overwhelming people with long manuals and guidelines. Confident staff lead to better customer experiences — it’s a win-win when everyone is up to speed.
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Do you have any words of advice for other C-suites who are apprehensive about returning their organisations to the office?
If there is a small silver lining in this pandemic, it is the fact that it has clearly proven the weaknesses in traditional, top-down compliance methods. A small HSE team cannot check up on every individual and every location every day. The only way forward is to foster a genuine safety culture that equips every employee to identify and resolve risks.
This culture of proactive risk management is valuable long after the pandemic subsides; it unlocks the eyes and ears of your entire workforce and allows companies to crowd-source continuous improvement ideas, not only regarding safety, but suggestions on efficiency, maintenance, cost reduction and many other impactful areas of the business.
About James Simpson
James is Chief Technology Officer at SafetyCulture, a global technology company that supports businesses to do their best work every day. Its mobile-first operations platform leverages the power of human observation to identify issues and opportunities for businesses to improve every day. More than 28,000 organisations use its flagship products, iAuditor and EdApp, to perform checks, train staff, report issues, automate tasks and communicate fluidly. SafetyCulture powers over 600 million checks per year, approximately 50,000 lessons per day and millions of corrective actions, giving leaders visibility and workers a voice, in driving safety, quality and efficiency improvements.
Customers of SafetyCulture’s award-winning products include the likes of Shell, United Nations, Virgin Active, Cathay Pacific, Mars and BP Chargemaster.
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