Practical ways to support staff who are in the office and those working remotely


The enhanced containment measures aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID 19 virus have changed the way we work, seemingly overnight. How can we support those ‘essential’ employees who are needed in the workplace and those employees who are working remotely?

The uncertainty of the current climate is a primary stressor,” says Professor Renata Schoeman, a psychiatrist and Head of the MBA in Healthcare Leadership at the University of Stellenbosch Business School.There are so many variables that are beyond people’s control right now. People are frightened that they or their relatives and friends might get sick or die, that they will be unable to provide or care for family members, they fear that the health services might be overwhelmed and won’t be able to help them.”

“The majority of South Africans were already under tremendous financial pressure before the emergence of COVID-19 and our country was declared to be in recession. Furthermore, the latest stay-at-home containment measures bring their own challenges. Countless people now have to find a way of working from home for the first time, or dealing with being cooped up for long periods with family or living companions, often in small living quarters.”

Prof Schoeman provides further key insights into the stress South Africans feel in the context of COVID-19.

Understand the needs of different employees

  • If your business is continuing to function during the national stay-at-home period (from 27 March 2020 to 16 April 2020), a key concern is ensuring that those employees who must come in to the workplace understand the preventive habits that maintain their health and safety.
  • If your employees are working remotely, they will need your input, support and feedback on how to continue to be productive while juggling the demands of being at home and uncertainty related to COVID-19’s impacts on life in general.
  • If you manage employees who may be part-time or on contract, and are now not working at all, be aware of the impact a possible lack of job security could have on their morale and mental wellbeing.

Toolkits designed to support employers

Discovery has developed a range of toolkits for employers to help them act on all of the information in this article. The toolkits include downloadable informational emails for employees, posters and stickers, posters and infographics.

Supporting employees who are working remotely

Read our article on 14 ways to make the most of working from home.

In general:

  • Stay in contact and help people to manage their changed working environments.
  • Encourage your staff to stay positive and to focus on what they are able to control, and also to focus on their mental health.
  • Remind employees that healthy eating, good sleep quality and quantity and regular exercise are essential to stress management and overall health.
  • Get your Human Resources team involved. HR will quite possibly have to make amendments to provisions in employment contracts for sick leave, paid leave, unpaid leave and family responsibility leave in light of COVID-19. Share this information with your employees.
  • Plan for virtual meetings and teleconferencing. Make sure that the equipment (access and passwords) is set up for this, and is working efficiently. Face-to-face meetings are just not possible right now, but business decisions will still have to be made. There's always email and cellphones if all else fails.
  • Stay in contact with casual or part-time employees. This group might not be earning any money during this time and will be understandably anxious. Along with many small business owners, they won't know what the future holds. Remind them that you will do whatever you can to save jobs.

Supporting employees who are located at the workplace

  • Make information available on COVID-19. Email information to your employees, have information sessions, distribute pamphlets and put up posters. Make sure that people have access to the necessary facts to allow them to understand the disease.
  • Keep in mind that many parents will have to look after children at home during the stay-at-home period. This could be especially problematic for people who are the sole carer for a child - and particularly for essential employees such as doctors and other healthcare workers who are required to be at work. Find out your employees’ situations and assist them with flexible working hours.
  • Find out how to protect employees who are at work. Each workplace is different, and ensuring it meets health and safety standards to curb the spread of COVID-19 requires a tailor-made response from each employer. During the stay-at-home period, only employees performing essential services will be at the workplace. It is each employer’s duty to ensure that information appropriate to each workplace is shared with employees who are physically at work, to ensure their safety in the context of COVID-19.
  • Give your employees the right preventive tools. Your staff need to have the tools to understand COVID-19 and prevent infection. Provide hand sanitiser and sanitising wipes in communal areas, and soap and paper towels in bathrooms. Make sure that these never run out. Ensure that employees understand the need to wash hands in the right way for at least 20 seconds. Provide bins with bin liners for disposing of paper towels, and make sure they are regularly emptied.
  • The importance of wearing a maskMasks are only really effective in preventing someone who has COVID-19 from spreading it to others, so healthy people need not wear them (unless while they are caring for an ill person).
  • Provide constant reminders of the measures that curb the spread of infection. It is easy for employees to forget safety precautions when they are under work pressure. Put up posters to remind employees of things such as handwashing and other safety precautions. Put these reminders everywhere – not just in your bathrooms.
  • Make sure communal surfaces are cleaned often. Communal surfaces and objects which are frequently touched such as printers, lift buttons, stair railings, doorknobs, and taps need to be cleaned more frequently. In large workplaces you may have to hire extra cleaners. Put cleaning checklists up in easily visible places.

What happens when a staff member falls ill?

Ensure that you have the right procedures in place to deal with an employee who provides essential services falling ill. Managers must be equipped to deal with the eventuality that an essential member of the workforce develops symptoms of any illness or COVID-19. Working under pressure or in a stressful context can cause a decline in immunity and make people more susceptible to illness.

Read up on what South African employers need to know about COVID-19 in the workplace.

Why is the flu vaccine more important in 2020 than ever before?

Read up on the significant impact that flu has on absenteeism and businesses productivity.

The flu vaccine is now available in South Africa. “This year, more than ever before, it is essential that you encourage all your employees to get the flu vaccine,” says Dr Ryan Noach, CEO of Discovery Health. “Respiratory illnesses and their effects place limits on the ability of employees to carry out their work and to contribute meaningfully. This year, the effects of the flu season are compounded by the effects of COVID-19, which has already had far-reaching negative effects on local and global businesses and on global markets.”

The flu vaccine is still the primary means for protecting against seasonal influenza. In South Africa’s unequal and resource-limited state healthcare context, it is even more important that everyone has access to the yearly flu vaccine.

“We urge employers to impress on employees the importance of being vaccinated against this year’s flu strains. The vaccine is particularly relevant for those at high risk of severe illness as a result of the flu.”

Encourage your employees to have their yearly flu vaccine. The vaccine is available from their local pharmacy or healthcare provider.

All medical information found on this website including content, graphics and images, is for educational and informational objectives only. Discovery Health publishes this content to help to protect and empower all South Africans by promoting a better understanding of COVID-19.

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