Earlier this year, we conducted our fourth annual Workplace Safety and Preparedness Survey. Naturally, the results of the survey are influenced by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the changes businesses have made to address the increase in remote working. Yet several of the takeaways from our 2021 survey have a familiar ring to them.
Last June, we published a blog discussing whether remote work is here to stay. At the time, most of the country was between the first and second waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, and nobody could be sure how long the need to work remotely would continue. Nonetheless, the indication was that many companies were preparing to extend flexible working arrangements on a permanent basis.
A little more than six months on, we conducted our 2021 Workplace Safety and Preparedness Survey, and it would appear flexible working arrangements have become a permanent feature in many companies. For example, compared to previous years’ surveys in which the percentage of permanently remote respondents had varied between 4% and 7%, the percentage of respondents now permanently working remotely has increased to 14%.
However, our survey also revealed that working remotely is not an all-or-nothing arrangement. The percentage of respondents attending a corporate workplace every day had almost halved (from between 48% and 54% in previous years’ surveys to 28%) with the difference being taken up by an increase in hybrid working models in which employees work part of the week in the corporate workplace and part of the week remotely – the division of time being subject to employees’ roles.
The Implications for Workplace Safety and Preparedness
Under the remote and hybrid working models, the “workplace” is now longer one centralized, corporate workspace, but thousands of separated workstations – each with their own safety and preparedness challenges. This means that traditional channels of corporate communication may no longer be as effective at addressing the challenges as previously, and that those responsible for employee safety must have the channels and strategies in place to reach people wherever they are.
However, as with previous year’s surveys, the results of the 2021 Workplace and Preparedness Survey demonstrate a disconnection between how important messages are communicated and employee preferences for receiving important messages. For example, 56% of respondents said their employers notify them of an emergency via email – which could exclude travelling or remote workers potentially affected by the emergency (for example a cybersecurity event).
Also, as with previous year’s surveys, a high percentage of respondents expressed a preference for receiving important communications by SMS text message – 54% of respondents who primarily work remotely and 44% of respondents who primarily work in the corporate workspace. Concerningly, 29% of employees who were off-site more frequently said they would be in the dark about appropriate actions to take during an emergency due to a lack of inclusion in safety drills.
Accessing Key Information and Reporting Safety Concerns
The knowledge gap does not only apply to employees who work off-site more frequently. For example, 16% of respondents who spend the majority of their time in the corporate workspace were unsure what to do in the event of an active shooter. This implies companies need to implement systems employees can access remotely to access key information – and let employees know these systems exist. Any knowledge gap on or off the corporate workspace could put lives at risk.
With regards to reporting safety concerns, this element of workplace safety and preparedness has taken on a greater significance since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, employees have a vested interest in reporting a colleague displaying signs of infection, yet not all would be willing to do so (34% according to our survey) – potentially placing other employees at risk with serious consequences for the company if an outbreaks spreads throughout the workforce.
The way to overcome this potential issue is with an anonymous reporting service. While 66% of respondents said they would be willing to report a safety concern even if they did not have the option to do so anonymously, 27% of respondents said they would only report a safety concern if their identity remained confidential. The implication of these results is that the option of anonymity is something companies need to take into consideration when implementing a reporting service.
Sectors in Which Businesses Need to Improve Critical Communications
An analysis of survey responses identifies three sectors in which businesses need to improve critical communications – manufacturing, healthcare, and SMBs. The manufacturing industry in particular appears to have a significant level of disregards for the safety of employees – with 23% of respondents unaware of procedures for reporting workplace violence, 42% stating they have never held a drill for this type of emergency, and 56% not required to do safety check-ins while traveling.
In healthcare, almost a third of respondents claimed their employers consider workplace safety and employee health to be of little or no importance. While this may be true in a very small minority of businesses, the likelihood is that employers are doing a poor job at communicating their investments in workplace safety and employee health. Possibly abandoning email in favor of text messaging – healthcare employees’ preferred method of communication – would have the desired effect.
With regards to SMBs, respondents to our survey employed by SMBs were less likely to have performed emergency drills for workplace violence, cyberattacks, active assailants, or hazmat incidents. Possibly more alarmingly, 25% of SMB respondents said they would be unable to remotely access safety information or a call directory of important contact numbers in an emergency. The issue of emergency preparedness and response is discussed in greater detail below.
Managing Workplace Safety and Preparedness can be Harder for SMBS
While most larger companies have the resources to invest in SMS text messaging systems, mobile apps with information repositories, and anonymous reporting services, small and medium-sized businesses are required to do more with less. This sector of the economy has the same responsibilities for the welfare of the workforce, but while a large company may have thousands of employees working remotely or under a hybrid model, SMBs may only have a handful.
This issue was recently put to a Security Expert Panel Roundtable by securityinformed.com with a selection of solutions being suggested. Generally, the experts agreed that a single solution with multiple capabilities was better than multiple solutions each capable of addressing individual workplace safety and preparedness challenges; or, if the business had already invested in partial solutions, an add-on that is compatible with existing investments.
With regards to doing more with less, the experts suggested spreading the cost of any SMB workplace safety and preparedness solution over a fixed term contract (similar to a subscription model). They also suggested whatever solution(s) are implemented are remotely accessible by all employees to ensure the right messages get to the right people at the right time in potentially fluid situations – for example workplace closures due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
Communication Solutions for Businesses of All Types and Sizes
If your business is encountering communication challenges with remote or hybrid workforces, do not hesitate to get in touch and speak with our team of communications experts about solutions for workplace safety and preparedness communication. We offer a flexible range of communication solutions for businesses of all sizes from the largest enterprises to SMBs and can cater for industry-specific requirements – for example solutions for the manufacturing industry or healthcare industry.