Work Bubble Program: How To Keep Employees Safe Amid The Pandemic
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Work Bubble Program: How To Keep Employees Safe Amid The Pandemic

Work Bubble Program: How To Keep Employees Safe Amid The Pandemic

Business & Career | January 19, 2022
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With the growing COVID-19 cases fast affecting the business sector, we look into how companies can keep their businesses afloat—the safe way.

Apart from the negative impact on sales, the continuing coronavirus pandemic has paralyzed the business operations of many companies—mostly because a significant portion of the workforce has to be quarantined due to positive coronavirus infections.

While work-from-home arrangements are becoming the norm, companies that need people on hand to actually produce their products and services are negatively impacted when their employees are found to be infected.

Of Growing COVID-19 Cases and Understaffed Businesses

Many companies feel that they are in a conundrum. On one hand, their strict implementation of testing and quarantine protocols have prevented the spread of the virus. But on the other hand, the strict implementation has hampered their operations, especially when employees are found infected and have to be sent home, leaving the company short-handed.

Those companies who regularly conduct antigen testing of employees are reporting positive coronavirus infection rates as high as forty percent (40%) of the employee population. Thus, the common observation is that the more you test, the higher is the infection rate of your workforce. And this leaves companies in a bind.

In reality, the culprit is not the strict testing procedures—it’s that employees go home after work and are probably infected when they encounter other people outside the office, during their daily commute, or elsewhere. A couple of companies I know have found a way through this problem: by creating a “work bubble program” that allows the company to shield selected employees from contracting the coronavirus.

A Work Bubble Program, Explained

How does a Work Bubble Program work? By its very name itself, it involves asking employees to temporarily stay inside the company or in a strictly monitored location for a certain period of time. That way, companies can limit the risk of contracting the coronavirus, thus ensuring their employees’ safety from infections in the workplace and in their homes.

The objective of the work bubble program is primarily (1) to ensure that there are enough company employees to run operations and (2) to protect the “locked-in” employees from being infected by the coronavirus. Although it sounds simple enough to implement, there are a number of protocols that need to be set up to ensure the success of the work bubble program.

Best Practices for a Work Bubble Program

Here are some of the best practices when implementing a work bubble program:

Proper Communication

Management should properly communicate the objectives of the work bubble program—including its pros and cons—to their teams to ensure employee “buy-in.”

One of the most compelling pro reasons for implementing the program is that employees can continue to work without the fear of contracting the virus and avoid a “no work, no pay” situation. This is especially relevant since one of their greatest anxieties is that they will have no work when found to be infected so they hide their symptoms. And this results in more infections at work.

Enforcing Strict Protocols and House Rules

There have to be strict protocols before an employee can be accepted in the work bubble program, such as initial swabbing procedures (antigen or RT PCR testing).

Another important part of the program is the implementation of “house rules.” This includes the designation of team leaders and groups for various activities such as cleaning, chores, laundry, security, and other necessary activities. Moreover, companies need to come up with time limits on social media activities, specific sleeping and rest times, bathroom use time limits, as well as a lights-off policy.

There is also a need to remind employees not to engage in promiscuous or sexual activities or bring-in pornographic materials. In fact, one company even created a Facebook account to answer questions from employees remotely. Some sample questions include: Are we allowed to bring in a rice cooker? Can we bring our own electric fans? Can we go out of the bubble for a few minutes to meet a loved one?

Providing Benefits and Amenities

Companies have to provide additional benefits to locked-in employees such as free meals and sleeping quarters (one company I know even provided individual bunk beds and mattresses). I noted that most of the companies who implemented the work bubble program found available sleeping areas by creatively converting unused spaces in their offices (e.g., behind the stairs, part of the lobby, unused warehouse space, enclosed garage, etc…).

Meanwhile, others have resorted to semi-permanent structures or tents, as long as they can comfortably house their employees. It is also important that the company should provide personal amenities, too, like individual packs of toothbrush, bath soaps, and the like to prevent the need for employees to buy such items outside the company.

Work-Life Balance

It is also important for companies to allow exercise and relaxation activities so the locked-in employees’ mental and health conditions are not affected during their stay. Some companies have scheduled movie screening nights or exercise time during the company’s downtime or weekends.

The result? Most companies reported that their locked-in employees enjoyed their relaxation time because of these activities.

Protecting the Work Bubble

Another important thing to consider is to mark the “bubbled workspace” as off-limits to other employees who are not part of the bubble. That way, they do not mistakenly enter or “invade” the protected space. One company even designed color-coded arm bands to segregate employees accordingly.

Providing Incentives to Non-bubbled Employees

Finally, one other thing that a company can consider is to provide a small incentive to non-bubbled employees to avoid jealousy and other negative reactions from their peers. For example, one company provided one-time small food packages (canned goods, alcohol, and other hygiene products) to those employees who are not part of the bubble or for those who are exiting the bubble.

Keeping Safe Amid the Pandemic

Although it seems that the work bubble program will cost a lot to properly implement, it is a less costly proposition than a full or partial shutdown of the company’s operations every time an employee is found to be infected and other employees are exposed. Even more so, since work stoppage due to prevalent infections at work results in a loss of revenues and opportunities, more testing costs, employee absences, plummeting employee morale, business uncertainties, and disruption of business plans.

This is a reality especially for large manufacturing companies or labor-extensive businesses. Hence, the implementation of a work bubble program will truly ensure that companies will be able to continue their operations normally and survive this continuing coronavirus-laden environment.  Keep safe, everyone!

RELATED STORIES:

Business Risk Management at This Time of Pandemic

5 Ways to Make Working From Home Work For You

Here’s How You Can Evaluate and Reward Employees Effectively

Juancho is the Chairman of Golden Falcon Advisory Services, Inc., an investment and financial management firm that provides advisory services to high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) and business owners. Juancho is also currently the CEO of Chan Robles & Company, the accounting and business consulting arm of the Chan Robles Group.
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