Safely Returning to the Office

With everything that has changed in 2020, we all want to get back to normal (or something resembling normal) as soon as possible. However, if we jump back into the water too fast or without the necessary precautions, we could risk the safety of our employees, our families, and our friends. As workplaces begin to open and employees flock back to their desks, we must ensure that we are actively working to protect the health and safety of the workers. Here are some protocols to consider when returning your employees to the office.

1. Phase Back into It
Throwing your entire staff back to in-office work is probably not a realistic possibility. Instead, use a phased approach when returning staff to the workplace. Start with small numbers of employees coming back and judge the success of each phase before moving on to the next. If you are an office of 150 people, say, start with bringing back 20% of your staff for two weeks and assess your safety protocols in action. This will help the custodial crews who also need to assess their cleaning practices. Most importantly, phasing into in-office work slowly lets your employees know you are looking out for their safety above all else.

2. Adopt a Hybrid Work Model
This will look different in every workplace. If possible, have a mix of employees working from home and some working in-office. As we navigate this new situation, be flexible about working arrangements. For example, keep only essential in-office staff working on site and keep departments who can work remotely at home. Alternatively, consider implementing a rotating system where half the office works from home and the other half works in-office on a weekly or biweekly basis. Bottom line – be flexible and let people work where they feel most comfortable and safe.

3. Space Out
Adhere to social distancing guidelines. This may mean you need to change the layout of your office to give each employee more space. In shared areas such as hallways, staircases, and elevators, use barriers and clear markers to maintain space between employees. You will need to create new policies limiting capacities in communal and high traffic areas. Get creative about bringing your team together! Utilize online video meetings in office, hold meetings in large bullpen areas and limit the number of attendees to essential staff only.

4. Sanitize
Sanitize frequently! As the leader in the office, be vigilant about washing hands and wearing masks. Be the example and employees will be more likely to keep up these habits as well. Before returning to work, have the office deep cleaned and amp up the daily cleaning of all surfaces in the office (desks, chairs, photocopiers, etc.). Take actions that make good hygiene easy and convenient for your staff by placing sanitizer stations in busy, high traffic areas. Keep doors open to reduce the need for touching handles and open windows to allow for increased airflow. All these precautions will help to alleviate some of the anxiety your employees have about coming back to the office.

5. Take Feedback and Adapt
This is a hard time for everyone. Support the mental health of your employees. Get feedback from the team to see how your new protocols are working. Ask what other measures are needed to make them feel safe. This feedback stream can be put in place by setting up anonymous employee surveys, team discussions, HR meetings, etc. Remember that we are dealing with so many unknowns here. No matter how carefully you have planned your return to work, their will likely be challenges once the employees are back in the office. Be ready to make quick and measured changes to your protocols. Unfortunately, worst case scenarios can happen. Be prepared with a clear plan if there is an outbreak at your workplace.

6. Safety First
First and foremost, encourage employees to be safe by projecting a supportive attitude regarding time off and sick days. Let them know you want them to take their health into consideration by making them feel comfortable to go home/stay home if they are not feeling well. Encourage them to get tested if they may have had contact with anyone COVID positive and provide information about access to nearby testing locations. You may need to update your sick leave policies to be more flexible and support employees who need to stay home to care for sick family members.

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