The popular phrase, “it doesn’t happen overnight” proved to be untrue when the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) hit the United States, disrupting daily life in a way few could have anticipated.
Many companies faced the hard decision to either keep their employees on the frontlines, furlough a portion of their workforce, or shut their doors completely — forcing their employees to file for unemployment. The lucky ones were able to transition to a completely remote workplace, which allowed them to maintain normal business operations while keeping their employees safe and helping reduce the spread of the virus.
Though we’re nowhere near the end of this pandemic, companies are beginning to wonder when they might be able to bring employees back into the office as stay-at-home orders start to expire and states ramp up testing efforts. With careful planning, you can start to bring workers back while also mitigating risk and preventing further transmission.
Before you bring your employees back to the workplace, be sure you walk through these two steps.
Iron out the unknowns
Before bringing your workplace back into the office, carefully consider and discuss the following questions with your leadership:
- Are there sustained decreases in local COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths?
- Have you considered protective measures for employees at higher risk (i.e., employees with diabetes, cancer, autoimmune disease or high blood pressure)?
- Do you have a point-person continuously monitoring community rates of infections and orders from state-level government?
- Is your workplace designed to accommodate physical distancing standards? Are your employees’ desks more than six feet apart? How else will you enforce social distancing at your workplace?
- Will you be instructing your employees to use facial coverings or take other precautions?
- How do you plan to keep your workplace clean and disinfected on a regular basis?
- What happens if one of your employees becomes infected with COVID-19?
- Are you prepared to quickly modify practices and policies based on constantly changing guidance?
A note about antibody testing
Many companies are requiring their employees to take an antibody test before returning to work. However, these tests, which can indicate a previous COVID-19 infection, are not very accurate and should not be relied on when it comes to reopening your office. Consider other health and safety measures to protect your employees and your business.
Create a return-to-work plan
Now that you’ve answered the crucial questions about the various unknowns of bringing your employees back to work, it’s time to create a plan. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided comprehensive guidance External Site to help you plan for re-opening, keep in mind that you’ll also need to comply with state and local directives as well.
Though every business is different, here are general steps to take as you plan for employees to return to work:
Make physical changes to your office space.If your workspace isn’t already set up to meet the physical and social distancing requirements for reopening, here are a few things you may need to consider:
- Ensuring workstations are at least six feet apart or separated by plexiglass shields and other barriers if possible
- Determining which public or common areas will have capacity restrictions or will remain closed altogether
- Placing floor markings to ensure staff maintain appropriate distance.
- Adding additional handwashing or sanitizing stations
- Placing reminders to practice basic hygiene (regular handwashing, proper coughing and sneezing etiquette, and correct paper towel/tissue disposal) in bathrooms and other common areas
Establish stringent guidelines and procedures.Now that dealing with COVID-19 has become our new normal, your employees expect that you will be making changes to help keep them safe. In addition to making physical changes to your workplace, the following policies and guidelines may help you reduce transmission and keep your employees healthy:
- Restricting use of shared items
- Requiring daily health checks, including temperature readings
- Strongly encouraging employees who are sick to stay home and implementing flexible time-off policies
- Limiting visitors to the building
- Enforcing social distancing outside of the office
- Developing a plan for when cases spike again or an employee tests positive
- Updating office cleaning protocols External Site to account for additional disinfecting
Decide who is going to come back to the office and when.Many companies are adopting a phased return-to-work strategy, starting with employees who need to physically be on-site to perform their job duties. Then, you can phase in staff who have been able to work remotely. As an additional measure of protection, you can also stagger work hours so that your office is never at full capacity at one time. Before you invite any employees back to work, it’s crucial that you instruct all staff on their responsibilities related to the new procedures and guidelines. This will help keep your workplace running smoothly even in times of uncertainty.
Create open lines of communication.Now more than ever, your employees are looking to you to be an effective leader helping them through these unprecedented changes to daily life. Make sure you are available to listen to and answer their questions and concerns about changes to your work environment. Treat them with kindness and compassion as they navigate the difficult decision to return to work, arrange for alternate childcare, and protect their loved ones.
Download our free Return-to-Work checklist PDF File and get started!
We’re here to help
As you navigate uncharted waters in your business, you can count on Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield to be by your side every step of the way. Here at Wellmark, we know your business and have insights on your employees that you may not have in-house. Our team has the tools and resources, tips and tricks, and health-specific information needed to keep your employees happy, healthy and engaged when they return to work.
Questions? Contact your authorized Wellmark account representative, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org Send Email.