As many states begin to reopen and lift the safer at home restrictions, businesses should be preparing a well-thought-out reopen strategy. Rushing to reopen your office will not benefit anyone and will add unnecessary stress to all parties involved. As you and your leadership team determine if you will open the office back up to your employees; there are at least 3 things that you should consider:
- Employee well-being
- Employee safety
- Employee training
There are many benefits for opening the office back up, including increased collaboration, increased social connection and increased productivity. While all of these things are important, you do want to ensure you approach your reopen plan with the best interest of your employees and their safety in mind. While there are benefits to reopening your office, in some cases, it does make sense to keep employees home and working remotely.
Your leadership team has a lot of things to consider as states lift restrictions, now is the time to determine what will work best for your business.
When developing your reopening plan, here are the things that need to be considered:
Employee well-being should always be forefront in your mind. Things to consider include:
- Employees may not be comfortable returning to the office, so make sure to decide if the return to the office will be mandatory or optional.
- Will you implement a rotation schedule with no crossover of employees or bring everyone back at once?
- Consider personal anxiety and emotions in your plan to help employees through this time, Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a great resource.
- Be cognizant of employees with pre-existing conditions of self or a household member.
- Have a process in place for handling a positive COVID-19 case. Ensure employees understand confidentiality around any positive cases to avoid personal embarrassment, rumors, or harassment.
It's important that your employees are confident in your approach, keeping them safe and that you have their best interest in mind. You should be communicating with your employees frequently. I encourage different methods of communication such as email, video conference, department meetings and all staff meetings. Everyone digests information differently and having communication in multiple forms creates a higher likelihood of everyone absorbing the information. The employees want to hear from you and know you have a plan to keep them safe.
Employee safety is key! COVID-19 is a serious worldwide pandemic and you don't want your business to be caught flat footed and not prepared for the reality of the situation. You should be thinking about how to properly prepare the office for a safe return.
To prepare the office for opening, consider hiring a cleaning company to deep clean the office properly for a safe and clean environment. You do not want to expose your team unnecessarily due to poor hygiene or cleaning habits. I highly recommend a deep clean at least weekly to ensure all surfaces are sanitized and clean for returning employees. If you have a rotating schedule; sanitizing commonly touched surfaces and common areas such as bathrooms, break rooms, and printers are key before the other group returns to the office. This will minimize the spread of germs throughout the different schedules.
It is also important to keep hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes available throughout the office for common use. You may consider requiring face coverings while working to limit the spread of germs. It is also important to hang up signage reminding employees to wash their hands frequently, use hand sanitizer often, and wipe down their desks at the end of each day. Supplying the necessary cleaning supplies will go a long way with preventing the spread of germs and will increase the employees confidence in your ability to manage this situation effectively.
In addition to a clean workspace, you should require social distancing throughout the office, including common areas such as break rooms and conference rooms. You may also consider spacing out work stations and establishing walking paths. Walking paths around the office will force the flow of foot traffic in one direction to avoid too many individuals in close proximity. If your office layout and footprint is not conducive to social distancing, consider continuing to have your employees work remotely or implement a rotating schedule to ensure everyone can maintain a safe boundary while working.
The last component to consider before opening the office is employee training. What information do employees need to know and understand before returning to the office? You don’t have to start from scratch, there are many free training sessions available for you to utilize and share with your team! I encourage you to think about training as a requirement to return to the office. This action ensures you are doing everything you can to educate your employees on what COVID-19 means, symptoms to watch for, and the process to follow if they have symptoms or attract COVID-19. It is important for your employees to understand that even if they do not have symptoms, if someone in their household or someone that they have had exposure to does, they must stay home for the CDC suggested amount of time.
“If you feel sick, PLEASE stay home” has become a widely used saying. This message, although simple, does show your employees that you care about them and you are putting their health and safety before work. This messaging is important because if someone does not follow this simple rule, they can infect the entire company, which could be devastating for many. In addition to keeping your employees safe, it is also important to consider your visitor policy. It is not a good idea to introduce new people into your work environment until the pandemic has passed.
Welcome Back to the Office
After you have carefully considered the three main topics above, if the decision is made to reopen the office, now is the time to let your creativity flow and show your employees some appreciation! Many companies are getting creative with their “Welcome Back to the Office” packages. Some ideas for these packages include company branded wearable products, a personalized notebook and pen to avoid using other employee’s office supplies, individual hand sanitizer for their desk, germ free keys, gloves, face coverings, and even a gift card to their local coffee shop. Adding a personal touch to a welcome back gift really will make your company stand out, and what a great way to support a local business and your local community! Welcome them back with open arms ... from a distance of course!
Many employees have adapted to working from home while juggling other things such as homeschooling or caring for an elderly parent/neighbor. While this has been a stressful time for everyone in different ways, it is important to show you care and you are there for them as individuals. Whether employees are comfortable returning to the office or if they would prefer to remain working from home for an extended period of time — as a leadership team it is important for you to adapt and support them with a well-thought-out plan.