Back to the Office - How to Keep Employees Safe

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Ever since COVID-19 swept across the country, closing offices in its wake, American workers have experienced their fair share of anxiety. And American businesses have weathered their own anxiety as they scrambled to get their employees working remotely as much as possible. Now that infection rates are stabilizing or slowing in most states, the prospect of getting back to the office is becoming increasingly real.

Research conducted by Weber Shandwick, KRC Research and United Minds reveals that 45% of employees are worried that their employers will bring them back too soon. And almost half of American workers are anxious about their future in their jobs and at their companies. This underlines the challenge that employers are facing now.

It's not just about opening up, it's also about how to do so successfully while quelling employee fears and keeping them safe. To that end, you need a strong plan.

Consider This: Is It Essential, Is It Safe and Is It Mutually Agreed With the Workforce?

Getting back to the office isn’t going to be business as usual. Even so, more than 70% of CFOs surveyed by PwC in June revealed that they're confident they can bring their workers back safely. To do so, returning to the office must be in line with local, state and federal guidelines. The plan also relies on at least some employees feeling comfortable walking through the door.

Experts agree that giving employees the choice, making them feel supported and like they aren't under pressure to return if they're not comfortable are important approaches to take. The workforce has to agree to the plan, or there’s no point continuing. More importantly, if you can’t affirm that it's essential and safe, you shouldn’t consider bringing workers back to the office yet.

Establish and Communicate New Policies

Changes have to be made on all sides. Employers have to make changes on their end, and workers need to do the same. Getting back to the office safely can’t work any other way. Every business looking to bring people back to the office should evaluate their existing policies, establish new ones to support a safe working environment and ensure that everyone clearly understands what’s being done and what’s expected. Topics you might cover in these policies include:

  • Scheduling: Staggered shifts, maximum percentage of workers in-office and expectations regarding hours in-office vs. working remotely
  • Screening: What are the screening procedures as workers enter the office?
  • Sick Plan: Having a plan in place if someone comes down with symptoms is essential

Determine the Level of Decontamination Necessary for the Space

To keep your employees safe, you need to schedule a full sanitization before opening up and establish a regular plan to decontaminate and sanitize the facility. The CDC recommends cleaning surfaces using soap and water followed by disinfectant to reduce and kill germs on surfaces. Routinely cleaning high-touch surfaces like light switches, desks, doorknobs and tables should be part of the plan to reopen.

Assessing your office’s sanitization and sterilization needs is more efficient when you can rely on data sensors to determine how frequently people enter restrooms, when amenities are in use and which areas are high-traffic. Data sensors for 4Site deliver actionable data to inform your most critical decisions. They also provide a way to conduct in-house contact tracing if someone does end up getting sick, by putting information about who sits where and when into the palm of your hand.

Assess the Space

Physical distancing is an important part of every reopening plan. Desks should be at least six feet apart to maintain that separation. Additionally, you need to assess the space and calculate how many employees can be in-house while maintaining the recommended distance. Then, you need to have the ability to monitor the number of people occupying that space, making sure the maximum head count isn’t exceeded.

To make things work smoothly, you may also need to stagger shifts and breaks. You might have to implement a plan so workers alternate days or weeks in-office and working remotely. Other ways to adjust the office space to enhance safety include the following:

  • Establish a Screening Area: Before workers enter the office, there should be an area for screening and providing masks or other personal protective equipment as needed. This would be a good place to include sanitization products like hand sanitizer for employees to use as they come into the workplace.
  • Go Hands-Free: Switch out high-touch surfaces like doorknobs and light switches in favor of touchless options like motion detectors and hands-free, foot-operated door openers.
  • Reconfigure the Floorplan: Consider the flow of traffic, which might be better shifted to one-way traffic to reduce points where workers may overlap. Reposition and arrange workspaces and shared areas to comply with physical distancing requirements. Don’t forget conference rooms and break areas too.

Having a clear plan for when and how to call employees back to the office starts with prepping the office itself. From there, decision-makers and employees can work together to build confidence and begin paving the path forward.