Planning for the Return to Work in the Post-COVID Environment

The number of new COVID-19 cases has begun to drop in most areas, and more and more non-essential businesses are preparing to reopen.

The big question in the minds of many facility managers is how to safely manage the return to work. A resurgence in the pandemic, often referred to as a “second wave”, could result in another lockdown and additional fatalities.

As you develop your plan to restore on-site work safely, factor in the following considerations.

1. Be Aware of Changing Regulations

Make a habit of checking government sites for updates to regulations and recommendations. One thing is for sure: the rules will keep changing as more research becomes available about the virus, and about the efficacy of different policies and practices around the world.

Remember that regulations can be tightened again at any time if there’s a resurgence of COVID-19, which will mean a transition back to mandatory remote work.

2. Plan for Physical Distancing

Evaluate your facility for spots where employees need to touch equipment or controls, as well as places where they may feel pressured to come too close together.

Make note of:

  • Points of entrance and egress, including door knobs, handrails, and elevators.
  • Kitchens, water coolers, and coffee stations.
  • Meeting rooms.
  • Washrooms.

For each risk factor, you’ll need a mitigation plan. Tactics to try include:

  • Reducing or staggering work hours, and staggering breaks to reduce contact points between people.
  • Continuing to videoconference for meetings and training sessions, or, for a refreshing break, holding meetings outdoors in good weather.
  • Setting up hand sanitization stations in high traffic areas.
  • Providing employees with sanitizing wipes for workstations.
  • Facilitate safe distancing by moving work stations further apart, or by setting up partitions between workstations. If neither of these options are possible, have employees use every second workstation.
  • Install touchless fixtures for sinks and soap dispensers.
  • Install door sensors and voice-activated elevators.
  • Identify employee work groups to mitigate an outbreak.

Make personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks available to all employees. The consensus in the medical community is that even though non-N95 masks can’t prevent individuals from catching the virus, they can help contain the spread of the virus if a carrier coughs or sneezes. Remember: the healthcare community is still requesting that N95 masks be reserved for frontline healthcare workers.

Once you start to receive visitors, you’ll need to develop a policy for things like screening, communicating relevant facility policies quickly, and contact tracing.

3. Implement Advanced Cleaning Protocols

With more people in the facility, the risks increase. Large buildings may want to consider extra cleaning staff or even round-the-clock cleaning teams. Protected with advanced PPE, they can provide continuous cleaning to help keep the virus at bay.

4. Phase in the Return to Work

A phased-in return to work will help keep workplace situations manageable, especially while new health and safety protocols are being tested. Should vulnerabilities surface, it’s better to learn about them with a smaller group.

Talk to department managers to determine who they need on site first, and who can continue to work remotely.

Any employees who are at risk for serious complications from COVID-19, for example diabetics, should be given special consideration.

5. Continue Remote Work Practices

One option to reduce risks is to have part of your team continue to work remotely. According to the Institute for Corporate Productivity, more than half of employers surveyed are thinking about continuing remote work practices after COVID-19 subsides. Remote work does have advantages for employers, including reduced real estate costs.

Remember, remote work doesn’t have to be black and white: your policy can accommodate working from home part time, when it makes sense. Continue to provide technological support to ensure productivity.

6. Have a Plan for Rapidly Identifying and Isolating Symptomatic Employees

Technology like infrared cameras or infrared thermometers (“thermometer guns”) can be used to identify potential sufferers, but these tools need to be used correctly and in the right context. For example, someone who’s just run up the stairs will show an elevated temperature. Infrared thermometers are famous for being difficult to use correctly, and have to be held the right distance from the skin to avoid false readings.

Ask employees to keep ongoing records of who they’ve come in contact with in the office. This can help speed up the isolation of these people if someone tests positive for the virus. But be sure you don’t violate employee privacy rights.

You may be able to control the health and safety aspects of your workplace, but you can’t control what happens on busses and trains as your team commutes. You also can’t control what happens in their homes, for example, if an employee’s partner becomes ill.

This means you’ll be relying on your team to self-report symptoms. Ensure they know the difference between COVID-19 symptoms, and symptoms of the cold or flu. In some cases you may want to play it safe and send people home for mild or even atypical symptoms.

7. Give Your Team Confidence with the Right Communications

Keep in mind that for the past months of lockdown, employees working from home have had different experiences. Some may have experienced high levels of anxiety about the welfare of themselves, loved ones, and the community at large, and others may have suffered because of confinement. People with very social personalities often have a difficult time without the variety of human contact they need.

Whatever their individual situations may have been, everyone has seen the boundaries between work life and home life blur as we’ve videoconferenced into each other’s homes and lives.

Your employees may have concerns about returning to work, and they WILL have questions. Be proactive and share information with them in advance. Make the information as easy to digest as possible, and if possible get the help of a graphic designer for memorable visuals.

  • Keep them informed and up to date.
  • Explain the steps you are taking to keep them safe.
  • Ensure their responsibilities are clear. Emphasize hand washing and social distancing.
  • Explain the rules about social distancing in the workplace.
  • Share recommendations for maximizing safety outside the workplace. For example, washing clothes, hands and showering when they return home can help protect everyone.

The New Normal Will Continue to Change

Facility managers and other leaders will need to be prepared for long term issues related to the pandemic. Changes to how we work are already here, and in the future we’ll see things like pandemic outbreak insurance, impacts to health benefit packages, and possibly changes to best practices in workplace design.

As the health experts have said all along, the data will guide the decisions on what to do next. For the short term, Horizant can help with data solutions that will help you guide and keep employees safe on the return to work journey.

Learn How Horizant Can Help

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