Creating a Safe In-Office Environment for Your Employees Post COVID-19AUTHOR: Noah Rue
The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to the commercial landscape. For more than a year now, there has been a medical and ethical need to make certain that the activities of your company do not exacerbate the spread of a highly contagious virus. Among the most significant impacts involved how businesses handled their employment approach. One report found that 11% of U.S. businesses had to permanently lay off workers, while 37% were performing hiring freezes.
However, one of the biggest changes that many businesses made was to adjust their practices to empower employees to work from home. While some businesses have found that this has been a positive way to continue trading, it is perfectly understandable that you as a business leader might be keen to return to in-person activities.
The good news is that the unrestricted distribution of vaccines is making it safer and more practical for your employees to return to the traditional work environment. But that’s not to say that there aren’t still challenges involved in both keeping the workplace safe. We’re going to review how you can best approach the matter and create a space that is both conducive to employee health and a place that your workers are happy to return to.
If you are keen to invite your employees back into the office full-time, you need to make sure that it is a suitable environment for them to return to. This begins with the physical surroundings.
Take time to ensure that the following elements have been taken into account:
- Distancing. It might seem as though everybody wants to get back to sharing space. However, that doesn’t mean to say that maintaining safe distances is no longer a priority. After all, though your staff may be confident about their own safe behavior, they can’t be sure that their colleagues and customers have taken the same precautions. As such, it is a good idea to review the layout of the workspace to ensure that there is enough room between desks, gathering areas, even the chairs in conference rooms to keep them apart when required.
- Cleaning. A thorough, regular cleaning procedure is one of the most important elements to put in place before inviting your employees back to work. This is not only vital from the perspective of preventing transmission, it also helps to reassure colleagues and customers that you’re taking their safety seriously. Pay particular attention to the areas of the office that get the most interaction and, therefore, can be dirtier than others. While desktops may be obvious, elevator buttons and door handles can be easy to overlook but are no less a priority for your attention here. Make certain that electronic equipment, especially those shared by multiple staff members, gets addressed here too.
- Capacity. It remains the case that large gatherings indoors are inadvisable. This is particularly important as vaccines are not mandatory in all areas, and it appears to be the case that uptake in the U.S is in a state of decline. As such, it can be wise to limit the number of people who are present in your office at any given time. If you have a large staff, consider a rotating shift plan. This is where you bring in certain members of staff to the office for half the week while the remainder of the staff work from home, then swap for the rest of the week. If you have visitors for meetings, make certain to also agree on a maximum number of attendees.
If you’ve learned nothing else during this pandemic, you should at least have a good sense of just how vital clear and accurate communication can be to safety. Misinformation has been one of the primary aspects that have damaged the country’s pandemic response.
As such, your communications approach should include the following areas:
- Open Dialogue. Your staff is a team, but they are also individuals who will each have concerns about returning to the office. While you might think that you can address these with an emailed frequently asked questions (FAQs) list, you are likely to be more effective by actually speaking directly to each member. Allow employees time to put their queries about safety measures to you. Some of their issues might be common, like whether masks will be required or what precautions you’re putting in place. Others might be more individual, like requests to keep telecommuting. Be patient and also invite them to return to you with any other concerns. Creating this open dialogue not only handles queries but also boosts employee confidence in you.
- Wellbeing. The ongoing status of worker health should be a priority as you begin to return to in-office operations. As such, it’s important to establish good communications protocols in this area. Make sure all staff are issued with a guide on the symptoms of COVID-19, and what the correct procedure is in the face of this. Ensure they know which members of management to contact when to do so and how this is best approached. There should also be clear communications protocols for informing workers when they may have been in contact with someone who is symptomatic and what they need to do. Don’t just limit wellbeing communications to COVID-19, though. Your staff may be finding the pandemic and the return to work a stressful time. Make certain there are communications protocols in place to help support the mental health of staff members and assist where appropriate.
While you may think that bringing all your employees back into the physical workspace is essential to your business, you should avoid being inflexible. After all, this has been a difficult year for everybody, and if you approach the matter with dictatorial leadership, you could negatively impact your relationships with your employees at a time when maintaining them is vital to the health of your company.
You are likely to receive requests from some of your staff to keep working remotely in some capacity. Don’t simply reject this. Rather, talk to these staff members about why they want to do so. Be open to the prospect that some of these employees find that they are more productive when they work from home or have a better work-life balance. Talk together about why this is; you may find some way to replicate this in the office environment or be able to meet in the middle on the extent to which they spend time at home and in the office. This kind of compromise and flexibility not only helps maintain a good reputation among your staff members, but it can be more conducive to your ability to adopt innovative practices that can give your business a competitive edge.
As the prospect of a new normal edges closer, you may be keen to bring your employees back into a physical work environment. However, to do this safely, you should consider making adjustments to the physical space, and adopt effective communications protocols. Don’t neglect your employees’ needs, either, and work with them to find operational compromises that can be mutually beneficial.