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Helder Machado

President/CEO of Machado Consulting

Getting Back to the Office During a Pandemic

Many offices across the country are now allowed to reopen, albeit with some significant restrictions in place. You may very well find yourself returning to the office soon or have already done so. One thing is for certain: things are going to be a lot different than you were used to previously.  

Rather than dwelling on the past, it’s helpful to look forward. For one thing, it’s great that people are getting back to work. For workers who were furloughed or otherwise displaced during the lockdowns, returning to the office can mean breathing a big sigh of relief.  

But just because lockdowns are lifted to an extent does not mean it is time to rush back into things.

 

As stated, things around the office are going to be a lot different; for one reason or another, you might not want to even go back so soon. Even those who are eager to see their coworkers face to face again might be stressed by all the changes.  

Workers should convey concerns and questions to their employees before anyone else because in a lot of ways, the business has the final say on policies. But for business owners who are still working out the kinks of those policies, we’ve compiled a list of things you should consider before letting people back.

 

Consider Your Alternatives 

First and foremost, it’s worth considering how remote workforce can help your reopening strategy. If workers in some areas of the company were able to successfully work from home before now—especially in the last few months—you should decide how urgent it is for them to rush back.  

Some experts have suggested a staggered return to the office. Following this, companies would open with just a few of the most important workers who really need to be physically on-site, letting others stay home and work. This limits the number of people coming in physical contact with each other, and it’s especially a good decision if worker productivity isn’t harmed as a result. After all, Americans like working from home.

Having a liberal stay-at-home policy is also advised. For months, one of the CDC’s guidelines for reducing the spread of COVID-19 has been to stay home if you are sick. Employers should encourage workers to be honest about being sick so they don’t feel pressured to come in regardless. With a generous stay-at-home policy (in addition to a flexible work-from-home arrangement), workers should feel more comfortable being honest. 

 

Cover All Your Bases 

Once employees are allowed back on the premises, the company needs to have appropriate policies in place to keep everyone safe. There is little room for gray area, so you’re going to want to consider as many facets of office life as you can. Performing a test run with one or two volunteers may even be appropriate. As they walk through the office, you might discover issues you didn’t know existed. 

 

Here are some practices and policies you should consider adopting: 

  • For masks, gloves, and other PPE, establish explicit rules or conduct. When/where is it okay not to use them? When/where are they mandatory? Be precise. Post these rules throughout the office space. Sending them digitally is also recommended. 
  • The same goes for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces. What are employees expected to wipe down and when? Create effective policies, distribute them to employees, and enforce them. 
  • Consider implementing mandatory online safety training before employees return. 
  • Temperature checks at the front door are an option that employers can exercise. 
  • When it’s impossible to separate employees the desired six feet, consider adding barriers like plexiglass shields. These may help block the spread of virus-causing droplets. 
  • Stock disposable supplies for employee use. Hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes can be made available, especially in areas that see a lot of people. 
  • When it doesn’t create a security risk, consider leaving doors ajar. This way, fewer people have to touch the same surfaces 
  • Only conduct physical meetings in a space large enough to allow everyone to practice social distance 
  • Block off confined rooms and spaces where people typically linger. Areas like this that can’t be closed off (like kitchens) should have policies for seating, refrigerator use, and appliance use among other things. 
  • Accommodations should also be made for any visitors to the premises in order to keep them safe and healthy as well. The same goes for the general public; any products leaving the location may need to be disinfected before exchanging hands. 

 

Things to be wary of:

  • Antibody testing is not a guarantee of immunity, so test results should not inform critical decisions. 
  • An employer can deny a worker access to the office if they refuse a temperature check. The results of the test are subject to confidentiality requirements.  
  • Employers can require workers to wear masks, and they can’t be sent home for not complying. However, the ADA requires them to explore alternatives if the employee has a disability or health condition that makes wearing PPE difficult. 
  • Some working parents can get paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) if they have to care for a child whose school or childcare provider is closed for virus-related reasons. 

 

Safely Back to Work...Together

You need to do what’s right for your company. You also need to do right by your employees. Doing everything within your power to keep your employees healthy is expected, just as your employees are expected to comply with the policies seeking to do just that. 

Everyone in your local community is likely in a similar situation, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to get creative and think outside the box, either. Thie situation is unprecedented in modern times, and it requires a commitment to heath and some out-of-the box thinking to get through. But everyone is in this together. Businesses and workers will find new ways to succeed—together.  

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