By: Dr. Ruhaya Hussin
“Dr. Ruhaya, can we conduct our class as usual tomorrow? If possible, we prefer a face-to-face class.” This was among the gist of the email sent by my Postgraduate students a day before the Movement Control Order (MCO) was announced. I was quite reluctant at first, because apart from the university’s instruction to conduct online classes that week, I am also in the vulnerable group, as an asthma patient. However, taking into consideration that there were only 4 of them in the class, which enabled us to practice social distancing, and nobody had any symptom of COVID-19, I took the risk to fulfill my students’ request. The discussion on that day was very fruitful and interactive, which I think was the main reason why my students were reluctant to go online, but rather opted for a face-to-face class. But do we have that luxury now?
After MCO was announced 7 weeks ago, with some places were put under Enhanced Movement Control Order (EMCO) from time-to-time, depending on the number of positive cases, I am not sure whether all of us are ready to go to work as usual. With the recent announcement of Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) which took place on May 4th, 2020, more cars are on the road, with more than a person riding in the cars. More people were found to line up at grocery stores and shops, which are worrying. With no vaccine yet in the picture, like it or not, we have to accept that our daily routines are not the same anymore. Social distancing, hand washing, sanitizing, avoiding crowds, and no touching should be the new norms. Indeed it is a difficult time, not only for us as individuals, but also for employers, business owners, NGOs, and the government. Undoubtedly, it is a hard decision made by the government to ease the MCO that was introduced 7 weeks ago, but economic impacts also have to be considered. It is impossible to end MCO until the scientists have found and tested the COVID-19 vaccine. But it is also not possible to work from home for some industries such as service, production, and manufacturing industries to name a few. The question is, how do employees move forward and continue working during CMCO onward, with no vaccine in the picture?
It is essential that all parties understand and be ready on how to face COVID-19 so as to develop strategies for employees to continue working. From an Industrial/Organizational Psychology perspective, 3S is worth to be applied in organizations during CMCO onward until a needed vaccine is found to fight the invisible enemy.
What is 3S?
As announced by the Malaysian government, during CMCO, only some industries are allowed to operate, but they have to strictly follow the social distancing rule. So how can this be operationalized? One of the ways is via implementation of flexible working hours. Another way is to maintain working from home for those whose presence are not currently essential at the workplace and the task assigned to them can be performed remotely. Besides, the introduction of skeletal workforce by assigning the smallest number of people needed to run the operation of organizations can be considered.. By introducing flexible working hours, working from home, and skeletal workforce, it is possible for organizations to maintain social distancing because this will limit the number of staff who are present at any workspace at the same time, as well as reducing the number of staff who have to commute to work.
Social distancing alone is not enough in combating the virus. Organizations should prepare clear safety protocols not only on entry and exit, but also on being at work. All employers and employees have to accept that working norms are not the same anymore. Organizations should be responsible to prepare sanitization equipment such as sanitizers, hand wash, and soap to be used by employees during working hours. Administrative control should also be enforced where face mask, thermal scanning, and proper sanitization become the new norms at workplaces. In addition, engineering control such as periodic workspace sanitization should also be performed by employers especially if they have employees who work in shifts and share the same workspace. Employers may also consider to redesign non-confined and non-crowded workspace to avoid close contact among employees due to the nature of SARS-COV that is highly contagious. In addition, less hazardous practice at the workplace such as online meetings and discussion may also be applied by employers.
Supports and trainings
Never underestimate supportive employers and supervisors, especially during the hard time of this pandemic. Supports include helping employees to adjust with new work arrangements such as working from home, online meetings, and being handy with information communication technology. Apart from knowledge and skills, organizations should also provide tools and equipment to employees to enable them working virtually. Organizations can also gather suggestions and recommendations not only from the experts, but also from employees, starting from support staff until the top management. By including employees’ voices on the way forward, organizations would be able to enhance employees’ work commitment and develop appropriate and relevant interventions.
As this pandemic is still ongoing and there is no clear evidence when the most awaited vaccine will be discovered, it is important for all parties to fight this invisible enemy hand in hand. With collective support from all parties, it is possible for Malaysians to fight this battle together.
NOTE: A shorter version of this article appears in NST here.
Dr. Ruhaya Hussin is an Assistant Professor in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, Department of Psychology, Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge & Human Sciences (KIRKHS), International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), specializing in work and family, coping, and well-being. She is currently serving as the Employee Assistance Program Coordinator, KIRKHS, IIUM.