If you are a business owner or business leader and are starting to put together your plan to return employees back to the workplace, then we have some important tips for you to consider before you get started.
First off, be sure to give your employees as much notice as possible of their return to the workspace. Many employees are still struggling with school closures and childcare centers that are also closed, so they may have challenges in where to leave their children and will need a bit of time to make arrangements. By providing ample notice, your employees will have the time they need to work out these situations. My advice to employers these past few weeks has been along the lines of “stay flexible.” Stay as flexible as possible and work together with your employees who have these types of challenges. As an example you might need to allow employees to work a different shift, or a later shift, so that if there are children involved, and no one to care for them, one parent can be home while the other is at work.
You can also continue to allow employees to work from home. I have had several discussions related to whether commercial space is necessary – which is a tremendous expense for many companies. If your employees have transitioned to a work-from-home situation, and it is working well for you, then why change a good thing? Perhaps it is time we revisit this model of driving to a place of work, when the work can just as easily be done at an employee’s home without the costly expense of providing them a workstation in the office. If you still need a space perhaps a portion of your workforce can work from home – allowing you to lessen the square footage needed.
More importantly, there is also going to be a mental shift that employees will need to make after working from home for so many weeks. Providing them with notice will make that mental shift a seamless one. If my Zoom meetings are any indicator, then many employees are home with slippers on – other employees are going to feel anxiety about returning. Be sure to have your Employee Assistance Program phone number handy – and if your insurance provider doesn’t have one – it’s time to get one!
Keep in mind that at any time, even before COVID-19, employers are required to provide a safe environment for their employees to work in. As part of your return to work plan, be prepared to contract out an individual for temperature screening, who is able to take an employee’s temperature as they come into the office. Temperature screenings are confidential so you should use a service for that practice and not an employee. Place your orders now for gloves and masks and make them available at small stations throughout your office. You should also consider providing hand sanitizer.
You will also want to look at your space and determine whether or not your employees have 6 feet of space in order to social distance between themselves and the next employee. If you have the funds to reconfigure the workspace then you should probably think about doing so before calling employees back to work. If you don’t have that luxury then I suggest you look into plastic partitions that you can put between employees.
Once you have selected a date and have communicated with as much notice as possible to your employees when they should expect to come back to work, I recommend you stagger the return. For example, a company with less than 40 employees can most likely bring back all employees on the same day. For employers with 40 employees or more, consider bringing back half the team on the first date selected so you have some time to work out any kinks that come up, then bring back the second half the following week.
Your insurance carrier should be able to provide you with a lot of information in terms of COVID-19 requirements. Look to your insurance broker, health insurance carrier, business insurance carrier, and even workers’ comp insurance carrier. These vendors will have the latest information on COVID-19 requirements to bring employees safely back into the workspace. They may also be able to provide you with templated notices that are already prepared for you to distribute to your employees – these notices can help explain the process, discuss safety measures you are taking and put everyone at ease about returning to the workplace.
As with anything, the more planning the better the outcome, so spend the time necessary to come up with a great plan that works for your company and remember to provide plenty of notice to your employees!
Rosemaria Altieri is a Human Resources executive with a career in the field spanning 20 years.