Picture: 123RF/KASPARS GRINVALDS
Picture: 123RF/KASPARS GRINVALDS

SA is set to shift from lockdown Level 4 to 3 from June, but some rules and regulations regarding movement and businesses that are allowed to operate will remain as long as the lockdown is in place.

Thankfully, relaxed regulations will soon apply to some businesses. In the first such move, the government gave the all-clear to online business to resume trading earlier this month.

Gys Kappers, CEO of Wyzetalk, a mobile-first digital employee engagement company, says businesses need to pay careful attention to the new rules and regulations of workforce movement under levels 4 and 3 to ensure a smooth transition back to the workplace.

"As the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown lifts, many organisations are facing the challenge of co-ordinating the restart of their operation. We’ve seen a strong drive to navigate this new way of working from the businesses that we partner with. Uppermost in their minds is employee engagement, health and safety," says Kappers.

Employees need to be kept informed, and those who can return to work must be supplied with permits for travel, he says. "Businesses also need to prepare their employees for the strict regulations that need to be adhered to once they are on site."

Wyzetalk facilitates a Covid-19 screening pre-evaluation form that employees complete before leaving home. Based on the information they provide, they are assigned a score: those deemed to be without risk can return to work. If their score implies that they don’t meet the minimum health requirements, they will be asked to remain at home, or seek medical attention.

"These simple technological capabilities can prove to be significant in helping businesses to continue operating effectively."

Wyzetalk says because it has established the ability to do this, it can remain highly responsive to changes as new government announcements are made. "If there is a new permit required tomorrow, that wasn’t necessary today, we can enable that," says Kappers.

But have businesses managed the additional administrative burden that has come with complying with Covid-19 regulations?

Nicholas Revelas, manager at restaurant X Burger & The Pizza Bar in Joburg, says getting travel permits for his staff was easy. He was able to print them immediately online. "I shared the digital permits with my staff on WhatsApp, for them to use on their first day back. Thereafter I gave them printed ones, with an additional company letterhead that was certified to state the nature of their work."

Revelas believes the differences between the levels of lockdown are "much of a muchness".

"I don’t see it as a difference between opening up or closing an hour early. My biggest concern is at what point my customers stop having disposable income; I need 100% of all my customers to be earning their salaries."

The restaurant used to rely on deliveries as an add-on, but Revelas says now it might be the main platform to get customers, which isn’t sustainable. "The restaurant and takeaway model isn’t what it used to be. A lot of us run on a 50-50 model at the moment, where 50% is food costs and 30% goes to delivery apps, and 20% isn’t enough to cover staff, rentals, and so on."

Businesses may find that in practice there is little difference between levels 4 and 3. For example, books, hardware equipment and cars were supposed to be sold only under level 3. However, all are available now. The postal service and e-commerce deliveries were also supposed to open only in level 3, but both services are already running.

The paperwork — particularly travel permits — required under level 4 is expected to still be needed under level 3.

So how should business navigate these changes?

BetterWork co-founder Vincent Hofmann says that in the short term, as organisations move between lockdown levels, they will need to consider communications planning and tools and rules of engagement.

For example, engaging with employees using a trusted channel to share news and information from senior management will help employees feel more secure.

Added to this, businesses need to be sensitive to the enormous challenges that their employees now face.

"In some cases, they have lost a part or all of their income and, in order to qualify for financial relief or payment holidays, they need a copy of their payslip and/or a loss of income letter to take to the bank, but employers can’t get these documents to employees through normal channels," says Kappers

Hofmann believes that now is the time for companies to reimagine new or improved flexible work policies which are resilient to dynamic societal shifts. BetterWork specialises in design thinking for human resources.

"Organisations will need to adopt the rule of thumb ‘Experimentation over planning’, to enable them to adapt to the potential for sudden and dramatic shifts in their environment — any hope of being certain about what’s coming next must now be lost," says Hofmann.

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