Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath has been one of the toughest hurdles businesses have faced in recent times. To ensure continuity of business while prioritizing employee safety, most businesses have transitioned to remote work as the preferred method of functioning that has resulted in workplaces, sites, factories, outlets, and other facilities being deserted.
Returning to the workplace after the COVID-19 pandemic is not as straightforward as it sounds as precautions need to be taken and safety measures implemented to ensure employee wellbeing. Not only should fundamental alterations to the current workplace be made, but some changes will need to be long-term, even as vaccines become more widely available.
The health and safety of employees should be management’s top priority as it formulates plans on how to restore operations as per the new normal. And from a business perspective, safeguarding employees’ well-being is preeminent because no plan that compromises on employee security should ever be considered.
Employees are banking on the management to ensure the return to work is as safe as possible. Federal, state, and local regulations should be analyzed by the management so as to ensure compliance with rules. Since these regulations are not uniform and relaxations do vary from place to place, management should consider multiple scenarios based on prevalent laws in worksite locations.
Protocols for fumigation, deep cleaning, and sanitization may be needed at each work location before operations restart. Arranging for adequate ventilation is also essential to reduce the risk of infection for employees. Structural changes to the layout of the workspace to maintain social distancing, such as moving physical workstations farther apart from each other and implementing rotation policy by changing employee schedules to reduce the number of employees in buildings at a given time will see to it that employee safety is not compromised.
Companies should also set guidelines for the use of personal protective equipment, such as face masks and gloves. Temperature scanners devices to check employees and visitors for fever before entering the workplace, and establishing rules governing when employees can return to work after recovering from an infection should be implemented. Leveraging technology for contact tracing and consistent communication with employees who’ve infected with the virus and rules with regard to self-quarantine should also be put in place.
Here are a few ways in which employers can plan the return of employees back to the workplace and ensure a smooth transition.
- Organizations should meet requirements for social distancing and have protective supplies such as masks, hand-washing facilities, and disinfectants available. Disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects.
- Install thermal scanners to detect elevated body temperature. Make provision for increased ventilation at the workplace. Instruct sick workers to stay at home.
- Implement return to work in stages to reduce the total number of employees in a physical location at a given time, allowing them to maintain distance from one another. Not more than 30 percent of the total workforce should be physically present at the workplace at a given time.
- Communicate new workplace guidelines frequently to employees through various channels. Have an open-door policy and provide space for employees to share their concerns. Be open to feedback and suggestions. Check on your employees from time to time to gauge how they are doing. Address their concerns and take corrective action to ensure the safety and morale of employees are intact. Create mental health awareness and provide access to resources on mental health.
- Provide employees with guidance and training on COVID-19 preventive measures and protocols such as hand washing, avoiding handshakes or close physical contact, not touching your face frequently, or coughing etiquette. Encourage frequent hand washing and sanitizing. Training employees on how to use and wear protective equipment, and how to dispose it, specifically in the realm of their current roles and responsibilities.
- Discourage using public transportation to get to work. Avoid assembling in conference rooms, cafeteria, pantries, or other spaces where people congregate. Keep six feet distance apart if possible. Eat lunch at your own desk and away from others. Avoid crowded areas. Eliminate unnecessary meetings, gatherings, workshops, or travel.
- Provide flexibility for employees with kids as schools and daycare centers are still closed. Employers should take into consideration that employees will have the added responsibility of caring for their child and employers will need to plan their work schedules around it. Inform employees in advance regarding work schedules so that they can plan for child care alternatives.