Are you gearing up to return to the workplace? Slowly but surely, businesses are re-opening and employees are returning to work. As society attempts to resume its course, it’s important to understand that normality might not be that simple. Getting back to work will take some easing into, and will require flexibility with other jobs, schools, daycare, etc. Families have been through a lot this year and business leaders should be armed with these steps to provide a safe and smooth transition back to work.
- Bring your own sanitizer
The office should be providing hand sanitizer at high touch areas, but there is no guarantee that it will be provided when you need it most. Consider everything you touch from the front door, elevator, office door, etc. Before you enter or exit a room, you should be using hand sanitizer. Bringing your own ensures you always have it when you need it.
- Pack a lunch
Bringing in your own coffee, lunch, and snacks avoids the use of communal food and drink areas. These areas are often higher risk areas, and so packing your own things can help reduce the risk of transmission. Forgo the water cooler and bring your own bottle. Skip the group coffee pot and bring it from home.
- Avoid congregating
You may be looking forward to seeing your colleagues again (or you may not be) but keep your distance either way. Avoid using the bathroom if there is someone already there. If there are multiple people in line for the elevator, take the stairs. Anything you can do to avoid congregating around other people will be to your benefit.
- Take meetings outside
When possible, meet virtually (even if you are all in the building) to avoid congregating. If an in-person meeting is necessary, consider taking your meetings outside. You can find a patio table or park bench rather than a conference room. Not only does this allow you a change of scenery, but the outdoor setting is better to avoid trapping germs on surfaces.
- Keep your office clean
If you’re one who generally functions in “organized chaos” now is the time to tidy things up. Don’t let piles of books, papers, food, pens, etc. gather on your desk. Keep your own surfaces clean and you own space clear.
- Stay home when necessary
Above all, don’t come to work if you don’t feel right. If you have any symptoms, aren’t feeling well, or are concerned about symptoms in your family – just stay home. It’s better to work another day from home rather than possibly infect others in your office who may have high-risk family members. No business wants an outbreak – communicate with your boss and arrange some work-from-home guidelines.
In May 2020, the CDC published guidelines for employers about how people can safely return to office buildings and work. These should be reviewed and followed carefully.
- Create a Plan
A safety plan is a great place to start. Your COVID game plan should include what your workplace needs to do and how you’re going to do it. This may include temperature screening, managing risk, and quarantine regulations. This plan needs to be flexible and evolving as necessary.
- Communicate with Your Staff
It’s important to ask for feedback on the return to office plan and remain flexible to the needs of your employees. Some may be eager to return while others are wary. Ensure your employees understand why they are returning to the office, and what you are doing to keep them safe. Being transparent with your employees with continual communication will support the transition.
- Remain Flexible to Support Your Employees
The pandemic has changed everything. Daycare, schools, spouse’s work schedules, tracking symptoms, fear of sickness, anxiety and stress mounting at every turn. Understand the mental health of your employees is just as important as their physical health. Support your employees by remaining as flexible as possible. For example, if an employee is nervous about coming back to the office, find a compromise that works for both of you rather than forcing them into a position where they don’t feel comfortable.
- Establish a pandemic compliance officer
This is not a legal requirement, but it can help you keep up with the ever-changing protocols regarding COVID-19. This should be an employee that will monitor what is required now, track changes, and ensure your workplace is meeting or exceeds any local guidelines or legal obligations.
- Emphasize Workplace Sanitation.
The last thing your business needs is a COVID outbreak. As workers begin to return, prioritize prevention and workplace sanitation. You should have hand sanitizer available at every entrance/exit and high touch point areas such as coffee stations, refrigerators, and restrooms. You might also consider installing touch-free faucets and doors.
Re-consider activities that are now considered high-risk. For example, you may choose to set up barriers between desks if you previously had an open-concept floor plan. Perhaps teams to continue virtual meetings, or take meetings outdoors rather than in a conference room. Keep common areas clean and ensure you’re referring to guidelines shared by the CDC. You can conduct a hazard assessment based on recommendations by the U.S. Department of Labor to help inform which actions you take.
Going into the office is not a zero-risk situation. Even if you have a closed office with a door, there is still a lot of risk in getting there. Think through your daily office practices, routines, and norms. Reconsider what you were used to as you develop a define a new normal. From riding in an elevator to buying your lunch at the cafeteria, there are lots of interactions and scenarios to consider.
Before the pandemic, surveys suggested that 90% of people have gone to work sick. The most fundamental thing we can do to prevent workplace transmission and the subsequent spread to the community is to make sure our employees are not coming to work sick. Stay home if you don’t feel well, and take care of yourself and others while working.