The year 2020 has been unusual on many levels for the work environment: the quarantine’s stay-at-home orders, the transition to remote work, reopenings, reclosings, and uncertainty about what things will look like next week, never mind next month or the ones after.
With so many unknowns, it’s hard to plan. However, if we’re deliberate in our strategies for rebuilding a post-pandemic world, we can safely bring our employees back and leave enough room for flexibility to accommodate changes in circumstances.
We’ve been required to pivot constantly throughout this pandemic, and it’s almost guaranteed that we’ll still have unexpected events to face. But with proactive planning, we can make it work, effectively and safely. Consider these strategies for making it happen in the workplace.
4 StrateGies for a safe return to the workplace
1. Modify Facilities
Social distancing is going to be a part of our world for the immediate future and likely beyond. This, coupled with updated information about the importance of good ventilation in indoor spaces, will need to be reflected in physical workspaces by new measures.
- First, ensure that buildings are thoroughly inspected — especially HVAC and ventilation systems.
- Reconfigure areas where several employees share workspaces, so they’ll conform with distancing recommendations by the CDC. Spread out desks and consider transforming open-concept worktables, etc.
- Install plexiglass as dividers between desk spaces and in higher-traffic areas, such as near reception desks, cash registers, and other areas where employees may encounter visitors.
- Build walls, if necessary, in areas where plexiglass is not a suitable option.
- Place floor markers and wall signage throughout the facility as friendly reminders to ensure social distancing is practiced.
Preparing for a return to work may pose some challenges because, in some cases, extensive renovation might be necessary to keep everyone safe and healthy. If you find you need to do a major overhaul, such as a large cleanout or even demolition to make room for distanced office space, you can make the process more cost-effective by renting a dumpster. Small dumpsters might cost you less than $300 a week, including hands-free delivery and pickup.
2. Stock Up on PPE
To keep everyone safe and limit the potential spread of the virus, your company will need to ensure there is enough personal protective equipment (PPE) in the workplace to help meet this important goal. Items you’ll need include:
- Face masks
- Hand sanitizer (Touchless dispensers are best if you can get them.)
- Disposable gloves
- Disinfectant wipes and sprays
- Antibacterial hand soap
- Paper towels and other miscellaneous cleaning supplies
The workplace also will need a more frequent schedule for deeper cleaning and sanitization to ensure that germs aren’t left behind where they can be picked up by someone else.
Also important: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings about numerous unsafe sanitizers that have made their way into the U.S. market. Be sure you don’t accidentally buy sanitizers on the agency’s “do not use” list.
3. Employee Perks
While you and your company have almost certainly had a rough year, never forget that your employees have, too — and the lower down the pay scale, the rougher it’s likely to have been. To help boost morale and make things easier for them, try to offer as many affordable perks as you can, including:
- Flexible and generous paid time off
- The ability to continue full- or part-time remote work status
- A childcare benefit
- In-house gyms where people can sign up for slots (Employees might not be able or willing to go to public gyms but might feel safer at work.)
- Offer access to other benefits, such as a home warranty plan, to help cover unexpected household costs
- Better health insurance rates negotiated for the benefit of your employees
- New types of retirement options to help employees become more financially secure
- Tools and resources for sound financial advice to help employees navigate an uncertain economy
Whatever you can do to aid employees in this difficult transition will almost certainly be appreciated — and likely rewarded with greater loyalty and effort down the road.
4. Establish RetuRn Policies and Protocols
For the indefinite future, a high priority will need to be placed on safety and risk mitigation. To ensure compliance, It’ll be crucial to have established policies that everyone is clear on. When writing your policies and protocols, focus on the following:
- A mechanism to provide staff, customers, and vendors with up-to-date information regarding the company’s COVID-19 response
- Augmented cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing protocols and schedules for high-traffic and high-touch surfaces
- Implementation of touch-free temperature checks and contract tracing, and a means for staff to receive and communicate immediate information regarding potential exposures
- Established protective protocol for everyone to follow if they develop symptoms or receive a positive test result
- Capacity limits for your facility and standardized ways for them to be enforced. (This may include a hybrid of staggered schedules, remote status, alternating shifts, off-peak work hours, etc.)
- A well-established mask policy, complete with signage and easily accessible communication about the policy
- A detailed response plan in case your company does experience virus exposure in the workplace
After you’ve devised your response plan, look for any weaknesses that won’t allow for scalability, and then adjust as needed. Or, alternatively, have a contingency plan ready to implement in the event that your governor moves your state back a phase, or virus spikes or community spread move into your area.
Once you’ve created, tested, and begun implementing your plan, be sure to publicize it to everyone who needs access to the information. For strong protocols to work, communication around them needs to be solid and readily available.
And above all, be sure to keep up on the latest employer obligations, You don’t want to inadvertently break any laws or endanger anyone.
As a decision maker, you’ll have many considerations to address as you plan to safely bring your employees back to the workplace. Getting things back to the “new” normal is going to present some hurdles. However, the more proactively you plan, and the more consistently you place safety and human welfare at the forefront of your plans, the better your chances for a smoother and more successful reopening.
About the Author: My name is Jessica Larson. I’m a married Midwestern mom and a solopreneur. I create online courses for students, and I’ve started and run several other businesses through the years. My goals are to support my family while still actually spending time with them, to act as an entrepreneurial role model for my two daughters, and to share what I’ve learned through The Solopreneur Journal.