Here’s how to prepare and plan for returning to a normal workplace and workday after COVID-19.
It may have seemed ages in coming, but there is light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel. With vaccines quickly being approved and distribution plans being made, we should see a return to normal for workers and business in the coming months. The question for many businesses will be “are we ready?” While the onset of COVID-19 took everyone by surprise, returning to a normal workplace and workday is something we can prepare and plan for.
Post-COVID readiness will include making sure your physical spaces are set for full staffing as well as assuring you have policies in place for any exigency. As staffing levels go back to normal, consider some of the lessons learned from COVID-19 and make necessary adjustments.
Make distancing the new norm
Move workspaces further apart, dismantle open concept spaces, and put up privacy barriers, if possible.
While an open concept workplace was all the rage pre-pandemic, separation is the new watchword for business. In addition to allowing employees their own personal space, adding barriers may help slow the spread of disease — including colds and seasonal flu. If you aren’t yet at full employee occupancy, make some changes to the workplace landscape. Move workspaces further apart, dismantle open concept spaces, and put up privacy barriers, if possible.
Keep the clean habit
By the time the pandemic has passed most Americans will be hand washing and sanitizing as a habit, rather than consciously — and that’s a good thing for business. Even after COVID has waned, keeping the workplace a healthy environment means less disease spread, lower illness, absenteeism, and presenteeism.
Keep cleaning supplies available and predominantly post reminders to wipe down surfaces before and after use. Sprinkle your workplace with hand sanitizer bottles for employees to use whenever or wherever necessary. If you’ve updated kitchen/breakroom facilities to include utensil dispensers, or have asked employees to bring their own, keep that healthy practice going.
Make sure, in addition to available products, you have structured cleaning protocols in place. The monthly refrigerator dump isn’t promoting workplace cleanliness. More frequent and more thorough cleaning will be needed. If you don’t have a cleaning crew in place already, consider adding one as you bring back staffers.
Predominant signage reminds employees to keep their own workspace and common areas clean. Don’t rely just on “employees must wash their hands” in restrooms: post reminders in all shared and high touch spaces to remember cleaning and distancing are good for everyone’s health.
Work from anywhere
Reductions in cost of office supplies, materials, and space makes remote workforce a positive for business: reduced commute times and convenience make it a positive for workers.
Whether your organization was plunged into remote work on a moment’s notice or you already had options to work from away in the past, consider whether or not the practice was a positive one for employees and the company. If there was a win/win, continue offering the option for staffers. Reductions in cost of office supplies, materials, and space makes remote workforce a positive for business: reduced commute times and convenience make it a positive for workers. Create a policy that outlines who is eligible, what hours/days are appropriate, and expectations for work completion.
Flex the time clock
Staggered work times were another practice the coronavirus brought to the fore. Minimizing employee exposure to one another and the public meant staggered start and end times. This may have kept from spreading the virus, but did it work well for your business? If you can continue the practice, create a policy that allows employees to request staggered start/end times. Make sure the policy works for your company and employees.
And don’t come back!
Getting employees to stay home when they’re sick used to be a nice thing — COVID-19 made it a necessary thing. Once the threat has passed, keep the policy of staying home when you’re sick going. Employees who come to work sick (presenteeism) are less productive performing their own work and are prone to infect others near them. The more you enforce your sick time use policy, the better for everyone in your workplace.
Sick pay may be a good investment
If you didn’t pay employees sick time before the pandemic, consider doing so afterwards. The short-term gain of not paying an employee to stay home when ill often has the ripple effect of spreading disease throughout the company. In the end it can cost more in lost productivity and sick time pay for those who are eligible for the benefit. Work with staffers to come up with a policy that’s as generous as you can afford, and remind them sick time is for legitimate illness, not just an occasional day off.
Keep health information private
Under COVID-19, many employees notified their manager if they or a family member was infected or exposed to the virus. Because of the risk of infecting others, this type of notification did not violate an employee’s right to privacy of their medical information. Post-COVID, however, you’ll want to assure privacy is maintained. While your policy may have been contact tracing (without naming the employee) and notifications to those exposed to coronavirus, these practices should not be carried over to other diseases. Remind employees their personal health information is private, and unless there are extraordinary circumstances, like the pandemic, get back into the habit of keeping it confidential.
Plan for the worst
A policy that outlines what to do in the event of an emergency, who is responsible for notifications throughout the situation, and what steps will be taken to get back on the job is key to workplace readiness.
Another lesson from COVID-19 was to have a crisis plan in place. Natural disasters, workplace injuries and global pandemics create havoc on business and employees. A policy that outlines what to do in the event of an emergency, who is responsible for notifications throughout the situation, and what steps will be taken to get back on the job is key to workplace readiness. You’ll want to assess risk and impact, identify ways you can continue working, and keep the lines of communication open. Having a policy in place that’s widely understood by employees will help minimize confusion and maximize an orderly transition.
Dealing with the aftermath
As employees return to work, either individually or in groups, expect concerns during the transition. For those who haven’t commuted for months, the first week battling traffic may be challenging. For those with health issues, moving freely among others may be frightening. Getting back to routine may be difficult for any staffer, so make sure you’ve built in some transition time before you start worrying about productivity levels. It will take time for employees to get back to their routines and comfort zones. Be available to listen and help whenever possible.
For some staffers, the pandemic meant never coming to the office at all. They were hired and trained remotely. These newest members of the team will need a reboot to help them navigate the physical space of the company. Be ready to onboard staffers who’ve been on the payroll for months.
The most important role of management is to set the example for staffers. Take sick time when you’re ill and require team leaders to do the same. Managers should require employees to take time off when sick, and never penalize them when they do. When it comes to office cleanliness, make sure you practice what you preach. As we move forward, many pandemic best practices can help keep the workplace as healthy an environment as possible.