As counties and cities begin to roll out phased reopening plans, businesses are trying to figure out how to reopen. Guidelines from the CDC and OSHA don’t always align across geographic locations and don’t perfectly apply to each company’s individual situation. For example, a small retail shop in the suburbs will have a different reopening plan compared to a software company based in San Francisco. Employees returning to the office post-quarantine are likely to be highly concerned about exposure, and may even exhibit symptoms of PTSD. Many of them may not like to come back at all or may prefer to continue working from home. Those who do return to the office will expect work to be healthier, cleaner, socially distant, and empathetic.
Not every return to work plan will work across the board, but we’ve compiled the 5 things you should keep in mind as you prepare to reopen and return employees back to work.
- Create a Workplace Health and Safety Plan
The existing protocols and procedures companies have surrounding safety and security are most likely not applicable in the current pandemic environment. As businesses continue to slowly reopen and remote employees start to return to the office, security, HR, and facilities teams need to prepare a comprehensive plan that is clearly communicated to all stakeholders.
The plan should include the following:
- Update your company’s leave policy to accommodate workers under mandatory or precautionary orders of isolation or quarantine as well as those who’d need to stay at home to care for a sick family member or young child
- Prepare a remote work policy or plan that realigns your work processes with expectations and technology
- Actively encourage employees who have symptoms of COVID-19 or who have a sick family member at home with COVID-19 to notify their supervisor and stay home
- Facilities should communicate planned changes in office design, but allow the staff to participate in the process so they have ownership and can put their mind at ease
- Follow the Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting to develop, follow, and maintain a plan to perform regular cleanings to reduce the risk of people’s exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19 on surfaces
- Ensure that the IT infrastructure is robust, secure, and scalable — now might be a good time to invest in improvements
- Monitor Employee Health
The CDC suggests conducting daily in-person or virtual employee health screenings before allowing employees to return to work. There is much debate on using thermal cameras and temperature check stations in the office because privacy is a huge concern. Lining employees up to take their temperature proves problematic from an operational and security standpoint and studies show thermal cameras are not 100% reliable. A new Health Check app from Swiftlane allows companies to conduct self-temperature checks, create staggered schedules, allocate PPE to at-risk employees, and manage capacity planning — all of which are critical in ensuring a safe, secure workplace.
- Implement Social Distancing and Staggered Schedules
CDC recommendations stress the importance of continued social distancing until a Coronavirus vaccine is available. Practicing social distancing can reduce the rate of new infections by limiting person-to-person transmission. Reducing the rate of disease transmission through interventions, including social distancing and other measures, can alleviate the burden on medical facilities. The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a Science & Tech Spotlight on Social Distancing During Pandemics that addresses what social distancing is, how it mitigates infectious disease spread, and the current challenges around implementing it. Social distancing is a new concept to most people, but it has been studied in past virus outbreaks.
The first step in social distancing in the workplace includes modifying the open office floor plans that gained popularity in recent years. Desks and workspaces may need to be reoriented to accommodate at least 6 feet of distance from any other workstations. Depending on capacity and office density, staggered schedules might be implemented to include flexible shifts and varying work hours. It’s important to set up a staggered schedule that works for employees who have to juggle different demands and responsibilities in the home with family members and children.
- Communicate Clearly and Often
Ideally, management will have been communicating with staff on a frequent and regular basis during the pandemic, expressing concern about their well-being. It’s crucial to ensure clear, concise messaging in all communication to employees. Anxiety is likely high among employees and it’s the employers’ job to address concerns directly. Make sure all employees are aware of the return to work plan, what the phases or rollout looks like, and who their point of contact is if they have any questions. Many companies are conducting surveys to get feedback on what employees feel comfortable with, how they feel about remote work, how they feel about returning to an office, and what they would like changed. Getting buy-in from your personnel will ensure everyone is on the same page and feels comfortable with the plan in place.
- Offer Touchless Access Solutions
On the safety and hygiene side, staff returning to the office during or after the pandemic will be hypersensitive to contamination, so companies have to address the issue of how to open doors safely and with minimal contact. Consider installing or at least trialing touchless access control systems that use face recognition, voice, iris, retina, gait, etc. Access control manufacturers, systems integrators, and security consultants report a surge in demand for systems that minimize touching. Typical systems use smart cards, proximity cards, or perhaps keypads to enter a locked door. That means repeated handling of dirty cards, reuse of borrowed or guest cards, and touching of keypads and door handles where viruses live. Touchless access solutions offer easy, modern, secure solutions for simplifying entry to any building or workplace.
Kim Buckley of Swiftlane Marketing has over 15 years of writing, editing, and marketing experience for global brands including TransWorld Media, Bonnier Publishing, and Red Bull. Kim leads content strategy and inbound and outbound marketing initiatives for Swiftlane’s growing audience.
Work stock photo by Lincoln Beddoe/Shutterstock