Each day, more cities and states seek to open up and ease social distancing restrictions brought on by COVID-19. As the curve flattens, businesses will have the green light to open their doors to employees once again. However, no company can flip a switch and return their operations to the way they were at the start of 2020. When considering bringing employees back into the office, it’s essential to take into account a number of best practices that will keep your people safe.
Social distancing is the key to slowing the spread of coronavirus, and it will continue to be a factor in employment environments everywhere until a vaccine and cure are available. This is proven by workplaces in Asia that have opened again. They’re creating staggered employee schedules to limit the number of people in the office at one time. Consider asking half your workforce to work remotely on certain days while having the other half work on other days. An every-other-day or similar alternating schedule equates to half the usual number of people in your office.
Are your workers showing any symptoms? Are they writing off their coughs as a result of allergies, ignoring warning signs? Take a page from Lear’s in-depth Safe Work Playbook and implement daily self-screening protocols to prevent symptomatic employees from leaving their homes. Create an isolation protocol in case an employee becomes sick during the work day. Consider performing temperature checks at the door or on a case-by-case basis. Above all, regularly ask people how they are feeling to keep everyone aware of their health and to limit risk.
Post quarantine, cleaning will take a high priority in every work environment. Everything that employees might touch, like computer keyboards, printers, and door handles, needs to be wiped down with chemicals one or more times per day. Likewise, OSHA strongly encourages regular handwashing as a basic infection prevention measure, and stipulates that any hand sanitizer should contain at least 60% alcohol. With a greater focus on cleaning and hygiene, you’ll need more soap, sanitizer, cleansing wipes, and other supplies than before. Order well in advance and do not let these items run out.
Although people may be back in the office, it still isn’t the time to resume all your previous in-person meetings. Before anything is scheduled, one should ask themselves if this is something that can be accomplished over the phone or on a video call. If a face-to-face meeting is vital, conduct it in a larger room or open-air area with parties sitting at least six feet apart. Limit air travel for client visits at the same time. Just as you might consider limiting visitors to your office, your clients may be doing the same.
Spring is blooming. The weather is nicer, and everyone is excited to see their work friends again. While it’s tempting to plan your annual Memorial Day barbecue, chili cookoff, or springtime 5k walk for charity, it’s just too soon to place all your employees in such close quarters. Let workers know why you’re canceling certain events and try to plan activities for later in the summer so people still have something to look forward to.
Where do people congregate in your business? What does your break room look like? Think about surfaces in these areas that most of your employees frequently touch, like the handle of a refrigerator or the buttons on a microwave or vending machine. While you can clean these surfaces, they still put people in close proximity. It may be a better idea to either allow only a small number of people in these areas at once or to temporarily close them off.
Providing your employees with jars of free candy, fresh fruit, and coffee every day can be a great workplace perk. However, these add to the list of things that multiple people will touch. Encourage employees to bring their own snacks and drinks during this time. Even if you decide to keep the coffee pot going, ask workers to bring in their own mugs and to take them home each night for washing.
Uncertainty is scary, especially if someone doesn’t know what’s happening or why it is happening. Let your employees know of any new procedures in the workplace so they can abide by new rules and understand that these changes have been made for their safety. Conduct pre-return trainings so they know what to expect before coming back, and on their first day back give them any materials or supplies they might need (like their own personal hand sanitizer or mask). Put signs up to remind them of proper social distancing and email them updates along with explanations of why you had to remove certain amenities.
This is an unprecedented situation in the lifetime of your business and employees, and adaptation is crucial to success. Keep in mind that these best practices are only some of many actions you can take. Things can and will change quickly as employees return to work, and future waves of coronavirus could require lockdowns and quarantines again. Taking the above measures helps to avoid this, and means your business will play its part to keep employees safe and feeling comfortable while still empowered to do their jobs.