The pandemic disrupted the global workforce and accelerated the adoption of new ways of working. And as mass vaccinations roll out, business leaders are pivoting from the response to recovery phases and are now focusing on how to reopen offices effectively, efficiently, and most importantly, safely. Leaders are now faced with the challenge of designing the future of work.
But with an abundance of “unknown unknowns,” re-entering the workplace is not as simple as opening the offices and re-installing the 9 to 5 workday. Everything from local and federal health ordinances and fears of a repopulated workplace to individual employee preferences must be considered. Rather than defaulting to a checklist-based approach, employers must reimagine the office and work-life after COVID-19.
Here are some fundamental elements that will help you stage the return to work plan and ensure safety at the workplace:
1. Recognize Your Organization’s Risk Level
All businesses must utilize the basic principles of risk management to forge their way to recovery. To navigate the risks associated with re-entering the workplace, you must first identify what those risks are. For most organizations, the pandemic’s exceptional circumstances brought to light certain risks they had never considered—for instance, the infection risks of the open office.
Open office environments were designed to foster collaboration by enabling free-flowing movement. So, how do you ensure safety and social distancing in an environment designed to bring people together?
Before making the decision to reopen offices, you must catalog the risks your company might face once people are back in the office. Understand that not all workplaces are easy to control for hygiene and safety.
As a business leader, there are two variables you must consider:
- The proximity of exposure – how closely people interact within a closed environment
- The extent of exposure – how long people interact and how many people an individual tends to interact with within a typical workday,
One thing is for sure: you’ll have to restructure your office. Take advantage of restoration and reconstruction services to ensure the safety of your employees.
2. Implement Organization-wide Safety Measures
All organizations must implement a workplace safety program. Mitigating health risks, such as COVID-19 transmission, requires a comprehensive set of protocols and policies that govern business operations. It’s no longer business as usual. The health and well-being of your employees come first.
At the very least, workplace guidelines must cover:
- Social distancing regulations at work. The Center for Disease Control recommends spacing out people and workstations by at least six feet to reduce the risk of transmission.
- Having employees wear face masks or a plexiglass face shield while in the office.
- Elevator-use regulations – Managers should encourage employees to stay off crowded elevators. There shouldn’t be more than 4 or 5 people in such small and enclosed spaces.
- Office cleaning and sanitization procedures. It’s advisable to use certified disinfection services to help curb infection rates.
- Office density reduction and limitations on non-essential common areas such as fitness centers and break rooms
- Promote frequent hand washing and proper respiratory health etiquette
As business leaders, it’s your responsibility to ensure health and safety plus reduce the risk of transmission during onsite business operations. Remember, you must also adhere to regulations being passed by your local and state governments.
3. Be Agile
To recover and thrive in a post-pandemic world, organizations must embrace resilience and agility. Companies must continuously monitor the situation and adjust accordingly. As employees return to their workplaces, companies must remain vigilant, watching out for infections as well as productivity levels.
Employees are the backbone of every business. Organizations must have protocols in place to deal with incipient outbreaks. Your workforce must feel confident that their safety and well-being are being catered to. How else will they remain engaged and productive? The well-being of your employees must guide every action you take.
Always be prepared. And create an environment where employees feel free to stay home if they are sick. Also, identify what can be done remotely and create a schedule of who returns when. Odds are you don’t have to bring all your employees back all at once. A hybrid onsite and remote work model will help you manage your team better in case of any emergencies.
4. Keep Communication Lines Open
As vaccine rates pick up, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. However, a significant majority of workers are anxious about returning to the office. Managing employee stress and anxiety is now a major concern of HR departments worldwide.
It’s important to be transparent about the decision-making processes. Frequently communicate the protections that will be in place. Consider establishing a COVID-19 re-entry task force that includes frontline employees and key workplace stakeholders.
Create a safe space to share concerns and ideas about returning to the workplace and, if possible, develop an employee assistance program or a policy that allows employees to share concerns and other stressors. Providing employees with reliable information about the effects of COVID-19 on mental health can help in alleviating fear and anxiety.
Now Is the Time
Don’t wait to craft your post-pandemic plan. At this moment in time, you should already have one. A re-entry plan will ensure a smoother and safer transition process for your employees.