Are You Prepared to Bring Your Employees Back to the Office?
As we discussed in our blog post, The Hybrid Workplace: Preparing for Shifting Employee Expectations, more of the workforce than ever before is working outside the parameters of the normal office structure. While we are all aware of the extenuating circumstances that led to this rapid exodus from the centralized office, it is imperative that you begin to prepare for the return of your employees to the office.
Whether your office adopts the hybrid-model or goes back to full-time attendance, your employees will expect a safe work environment.
First and foremost, as always, honest communication with your employees is the only way to proceed into this new phase. Knowing why you’re making the decisions and implementing the protocols that you are sets a foundation of transparency. Every person enjoys being treated with the dignity and respect that this style of communication imbues—your employees know when you’re trying to hide something from them or not tell the whole truth about a situation. They may not like the decision that you’ve made, but they will be able to see every step you took to make it.
The CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is a vital resource for creating a safe workspace for your employees—against all viruses and disease, not just COVID-19. Their website contains statistics, handouts, posters, and other informational tools that can equip you and your employees for updated readiness and awareness.
Here is a short list of things that you are also in control of when it comes to setting the culture and expectations of your office:
Increased Cleaning Schedules. In the back of everyone’s mind, when you inhale the familiar scents of bleach or Pine-Sol, there is an inherent recognition of cleanliness. Recently mopped or vacuumed floors look different than their well-trodden counterparts. Who doesn’t love a clean home? The office is no different.
Not only should your cleaning staff, whether in-house or contracted, have an increased presence, but your employees should have access to proper cleaning supplies for management of their space without the office, with CDC-recommended products like Clorox Wipes or Lysol sprays.
Vaccination. There will be no bigger push-back from your staff than on the issue of mandatory vaccination. Some of your employees are already vaccinated while others are staunchly against even the idea of it. Some of your employees won’t feel safe unless everyone is vaccinated and will want the unvaccinated to continue wearing a mask. Some of your unvaccinated employees will act like that is a war crime. Tempers will flare and many of your employees will be on edge.
It’s almost enough to make you want to keep your office closed, isn’t it? This topic does not have an easy fix, but how you handle and address it will alter your workforce going forward. More people than ever are willing and looking to leave jobs—to continue working from home, to avoid new office regulations, and every other reason under the sun. The COVID-19 vaccine will be a dividing line for many who are already considering a career change.
Masks. When the mask mandates began to loosen around the country, there was a palpable hope in the air that we might be emerging out of the pandemic. However, with the surging Delta variant, many major cities, retailers, and events are returning back to mask mandates to reduce the spread of the virus. At first these mandates were for those who were unvaccinated, but now they are back to being an all-encompassing mandate.
Unless you are renting space with a specific mandate from your landlord, the mask policy in your office is entirely in your hands. You will, just like with vaccines, have employees spanning the range of opinions. It will be impossible to make everyone happy, but making the informed decision towards safety should always be your goal.
Sick Pay, Short-Term Disability, Long-Term Disability, and other Similar Policies. During the midst of the pandemic is a perfect time to assess the needs of your employees and compare them to your current benefit offerings. Identifying adjustments that need to be made to bring mental peace to their health and well-being can go a long way to strengthening the security they feel as an employee of your business.
However, there are further steps that will not only address the safety concerns of your employees, but also simplify compliance and help mitigate risks.
Daily Self-Health and Wellness Screenings. Clear office policies on procedures when feeling sick are now more important than ever. Mandatory compliance with a strict “if you’re sick, stay home” rule must be enforced to foster a sense of safety - not only with COVID-19, but any disease.
But how can you create a system where your employees regularly check their health before coming to the office when you can physically assess the situation?
There are self-screening platforms that make daily screening for multiple users quick and easy. Each user is walked through a simple self-screening process on their mobile device before they leave home. Once the screening is complete, data is logged to create a compliance and documentation audit trail, though no private health information is stored. These platform also allows for COVID-19 contact tracing, verification of COVID-19 vaccination credentials, and verification of COVID-19 test results.
Installing Air Purification and Filtration Systems. Air filtration systems have long been an accepted part of the air conditioning model. We have been removing dust and other airborne entities for a long time. However, we have seen major technological advances in these same systems to address airborne pathogens. In fact, there are portable UV air purifier products on the market which utilize UV light to destroy airborne pathogens.
Rapid Tests and Testing Policies. Should you require testing to return to the office? Should it become a weekly event? Should testing happen only upon exhibiting symptoms or experiencing contact?
While Congress acted to make testing affordable, if not entirely free for most people, testing is a time consuming process. Your employees will be curious about their pay if they’re hourly, their PTO usage, and other such things. Part of your job is to define a clear policy that shows exactly how all of these things work together—especially utilizing the tools, tax breaks, and other assistance provided by Congress in the FFCRA and CARES Acts.
Once the test is taken, can the employee return to the office while they wait for their result? If their result comes back positive, how will you determine who else in the office needs to be tested?
One way to mitigate these questions is to implement onsite COVID-19 testing and conduct contact tracing in the case of an outbreak.
The time is now to take action to create a safe workplace for your employees. As we’re seeing with the Delta and Lambda variants, viruses are here to stay. COVID-19 will not be the last pandemic. For many businesses, work from home is not an option and it’s unreasonable to shut down with each outbreak. Successful businesses will be prepared to address the next pandemic while also addressing the safety needs and concerns of their employees.
At Davis Professional Services we believe the most successful business leaders will implement the necessary protocols to make their employees feel safe and be productive. We have partnered with HBNext and Peerless Performance to introduce the Safety Shield - a solution to help you create an ecosystem that provides a complete solution for wellness, safety, and compliance for your employees. Safety Shield provides self-health & wellness screenings, COVID-19 contact tracing, verification of COVID-19 vaccination credentials, and verification of COVID-19 test results. Safety Shield goes beyond being just a health screening system and offers a combination of tools to help protect and prevent the spread of infection every step of the way. Download the brochure.