How Can Employers Re-open Offices Safely During COVID19?
Five key steps to take:
As government lockdowns have been enforced to reduce the transmission of COVID19 and help “flatten the curve”, there has been a considerable shift in employees now working from home. Many companies have publicly opted to remain working remotely until at least September or next year.
We are now witnessing a gradual lift of those lockdowns globally and the need to reopen offices irrespective of when a vaccine may be ready. This follows new guidelines from governments as well requests from employees to be able to return to the office.
Are employees expected to return to the office?
Are employees ready to go back?
Will employees need to go back?
The answer may not be so straightforward. Regardless, an action plan to reopen offices is required to enable employees back to the office. It is critical to ensure employees are at low risk of virus transmission and remain safe in the office. To achieve this there are five tactical steps that employers can implement now.
- Reconfigure office space: The first step is a deep clean of the office and then increasing the frequency of cleaning, implementing daily temperature checks on arrival, providing masks and hand sanitizers are recommended to reduce the risk of virus transmission. Social distancing within the office will require people sitting at designated desks, one way walking routes, limiting attendees in meeting rooms, limited elevator occupancy, and closed off public spaces. This should be communicated to employees before they return and reinforced with office signage. (See CDC Guidance Materials)
- Implement case management protocols: Organizations should confidentially identify those who were previously exposed to the virus, or may have symptoms, through health questionnaires for employees before they return to the office. Employers should also review vendors and their protocols especially for those coming into the office, or who may provide goods and supplies. In addition, implementing contact tracing protocols to track who may have been exposed to a new outbreak in the office, are paramount to maintaining safety.
- Understand government guidelines: Governments have outlined different approaches to reopening offices and with varying levels of detail. Therefore, it is important to closely monitor your relevant government websites and briefings daily. Nearly all states or regions have daily updates on the key indicators, so it is important to check the trends that are emerging, One the other areas to lookout for are the key requirements for your business and region.
- Leverage technology: Allowing employees to work from home whilst remaining connected and productive will help manage the volume of employees returning to the office. Collaborative tools like conference calling, video conferencing, instant messaging and online project management tools should be made available and encouraged to be used. Greater precaution must be taken around information security, which is more susceptible to cybersecurity risks as more people work away from the office.
- Develop reporting: An abundance of data is available for public consumption, combined with challenges around its accuracy and reliability, has made it difficult to determine what reporting an employer should be relying on. Leveraging credible public data sources with the data captured internally, should be combined to identify key indicators and trends to enable informed decision making. (See Harvard Busines Review on COVID 19 Data).
Some employees will be eager to return, while others will remain concerned for their health and safety. Recognizing infrastructure and logistics outside the office such as public transportation, availability of childcare, reopening of schools, or an individual’s mental health should be considered. Also, some employers may need employees to return based on their function or role.
Implementing these steps will help enable a smooth transition back to the office and maintain safety while being able to respond quickly should offices need to be closed again.
We will be sharing insights on what the future office may look like and how to effectively manage employees who work in the office or from home. If you would like to know more, please contact us here or follow us on LinkedIn.