ISMA Perspective: Navigating the Return to Work

The events of the last 3 months have undoubtedly affected and changed life for most of us. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on families and has been a wrecking ball for businesses and countries alike; supply chains broken, health services stretched to the limit, businesses mothballed and employees furloughed.There will come a time when we emerge from this chrysalis state. There will be a time when we will return to our offices, resume business and recover from this global event. Possibly not returning in the same manner as we did before, but we will ‘rise’ again. In doing so, we will adapt new ways of working, revise existing strategies, and embrace new technologies all the while ensuring that the health and well being of our employees and customers are paramount.

At the International Security Management Association (ISMA) we have been working diligently with our members to develop strategies and best practices to enable our respective businesses to begin to re-open and our collective economies to recover in the most efficient and effective manner, while remaining cognizant of lessons learned and ensuring that new ways of working and doing business are embraced.Throughout this pandemic the ISMA membership, made up of over 400 of the world’s leading Chief Security and Chief Information Security Officers, has been collaborating on a daily basis on a broad range of operational resilience initiatives. These include:

  • Identifying the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak in January, and standing up weekly benchmarking surveys to understand how member businesses were reacting to allow for agile decision-making and information sharing;
  • Understanding how to remain operational while abiding by government directives and keeping employees and customers safe;
  • Developing and sharing strategic and tactical best practices for business and security-specific needs;
  • Standing up cross-functional task force teams to develop initial re-entry plans and to understand and strategize around the “new normal;” and
  • Developing a reverse tripwire matrix and playbook to determine when and how to re-open business and return to work.

It is this last point that is now garnering the attention of the membership as we see transmission and fatality rates peak in many countries.At ISMA we don’t believe it will be as simple as returning to ‘business as usual.” The pandemic response has accelerated several transformative processes that will be hard to reverse – from the expansion of governments’ role in our economies to the re-imagination of supply chains, to the greater adoption of remote working protocols.

In addressing how businesses return to work, the ISMA membership has created a ‘recovery playbook.’ Based on the traffic light system (red, amber, green), it strategizes decision points and considerations in light of current government directives in relevant countries. For example, where countries begin staged return to work process the playbook makes the following assumptions:

Green – Return to Work

  • Voluntary work from home (WFH) regime and travel restrictions remain in place.
    • Assumptions are: A viable vaccine remains 18 months away; and COVID-19 will present itself in waves until substantial global society immunity is developed (through a vaccine or infections).
    Under these conditions and to effect a full return to work, businesses must consider:
    • The risks and benefits of social distancing in the workplace.
      • How do the business benefits of social distancing for in-person meetings and other interactions weigh against the social and personal risks, especially as related to those workers that return home to families?
      • What are the new best practice norms within the office and manufacturing environment to be considered?
      • What is the impact of adding measures ensuring appropriate hygiene and/or other preventive measures (use of masks, screens, etc.)?
    • Staff well-being and confidence in these measures.
      • Businesses must be certain to identify means to gauge employee confidence and/or fear and levels of morale as new measures are introduced or rolled back.
    • The dynamics created when some members of staff decide to come to work while others do not.
      • For example, where some staff members wish to continue to work from home to protect vulnerable family members.
    • The impact of keeping employees isolated in work from home situations and the implications for mental health.
    The ISMA playbook looks at various scenarios in specific detail far too granular for this article. However, the content is invaluable in making strategic decisions based on assumptions and considerations on a country-by-country, city-by-city basis.In addition to the playbook, the membership has discussed in depth the virtual and physical steps to be taken prior to making the decision to return to work. The welfare of employees and customers is at the heart of all considerations in this regard. Some of the major thought leadership points from the ISMA membership on these steps include:
  • Prior to returning to office-based working:
    • Virtually assemble your leadership teams via teleconferences with a specific focus on building out and understanding the new return-to-work strategy, health and safety guidelines, trip wires and new practices. These will be the critical foundations for returning employees to embrace within the new work reality. Refocus, reboot or rebuild supporting infrastructure that has been maintained during the crisis. It is more critical than ever that “leaders lead” during this time
    • Communicate with the employee base and in doing so be authentic, relatable, and compassionate as you empathize with how the crisis has and is affecting them personally.
    Physical steps for returning to work:
    • No employees or customers should return to your work location until it has been deemed safe to do so. Use appropriate criteria to determine when individuals can return safely.
    • Engage in limited reboot efforts to see how things work and complete any pre-start tasks.
    • If your company has an international footprint, make extensive use of best practice sharing, bearing in mind that there are regulatory, cultural and societal differences between different countries or regions.
    The coronavirus has had unprecedented impacts on the world. This is an event that will not merely disappear with the advent of summer in the northern hemisphere. Pandemic planning will be a high priority for Boards and leadership teams from this point forward.The ISMA membership of security thought leaders works tirelessly on a daily basis to prepare for crisis events, enable business resilience, secure operations and support recovery efforts. They are at the forefront of business leadership, ensuring the safety and security of employees and customers while enabling the business to maintain and recover.

Reach out to Liz Chamberlin, ISMA Executive Director, if you would like to join this impactful and industry leading organization.

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