Returning to Work Post COVID-19
THE REOPENING OF THE WORKPLACE FOLLOWING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC WILL REQUIRE CAREFUL PLANNING AND CONSIDERATION.
For a multitude of reasons, ‘going to work’ will likely never be the same. There will, however, be a ‘new normal,’ and although it may take time to understand all of the intricacies, it will, without a doubt, impact all levels of an organization and all areas of operations.
National, state and even local guidelines on reopening are evolving, which means now is the time to begin assembling a COVID-19 taskforce, if you don’t have one already. Minimally, this committee of various departments should include executive leadership, members of risk management, human resources and operations. Their primary objective: How to address challenges – seen and unforeseen – in opening the business back up as well as the ongoing planning to keep people and the organization healthy and safe.
This, of course, is no easy task. Health officials are warning that if safety protocols and other opening guidelines are not followed, a second, more deadly, wave of COVID-19 could be coming this fall.
Due to the evolving nature of the rebound, there is technically no comprehensive playbook to preparing for a post-COVID-19 workplace. To get the conversation started, however, we have aggregated a list of critical elements to consider as companies look at reopening their operations and workplaces.
The Intersect Group’s Guidelines to Talent Planning and Workplace Management Post-COVID-19
To avoid a COVID-19 outbreak in your workplace, businesses that reopen should take the following into consideration:
Rethink Your Office Space
Workspaces will need to be redesigned to account for social distancing and other new, standard protocols. Consider one-way hallways, much like you have probably seen in your local grocery store, and how you will control the flow of people in your office so that safety and social distancing are given top priority.
Each type of space within your office will need to be dealt with differently – from general common areas like reception and the kitchen, to individual desks and personal offices, to shared workspaces. Airlines are considering a whole host of redesign options, including plastic shields around the middle seat, and the same considerations will need to be given in the office space. Ideally, fully enclosed areas are the safest but if that’s not an option for your office, consider spacing employees out if you have cubicles, for instance. Operational areas like assembly lines and workbenches will also need to be redesigned. A plan for each type of area will need to be carefully thought through. Note: If your internal team is not equipped with a facilities manager, you may want to consider outsourcing some of these redesign tasks to get the expert help you need. If you are leasing office space it may be worth it to reach out to the property management company. They will likely have thought through some of these measures and may even be able to provide you with some resources to help make the transition.
Equip your team with the knowledge they will need to be safe and proactive when it comes to COVID-19. Provide comprehensive training on things like infection control and symptom monitoring. Your guidelines will set the tone for how seriously everyone takes the threat of the virus as they return to work. Detail out standards that everyone will need to follow and establish protocols. All of this should be done and communicated long before the first employee steps foot back into the office.
Basic training on workspace sanitation, how to properly wear a mask and wash hands, as well as prevention measures like now to gauge six feet of distance also needs to be provided.
Consider Who Comes Back
Decide who should come back to the office first. Some organizations are considering an ongoing rotational work-from-home program for their workforce and/or determining who is critical to have in the office versus who is not. Those identified as non-critical team members may never return to the workplace full time. If it is not critical to have certain people in the office to do their job, work from home should be allowed, and maybe even enforced, especially due to the ongoing uncertainty of the virus and what may or may not happen in the fall with a second outbreak.
No matter the approach you take, you should not have your entire workforce return to the office all at once. The readiness of your workspace may ultimately be what determines the percentage or the rate of return at which you bring your employees back to the office. A tiered approach will also give you the opportunity to safely test the protocols you have put into place.
Create a COVID-19 Office Team
It’s a good idea to designate a member from every team to an in-office COVID-19 taskforce. This, of course, will be a different taskforce from the governing body adjusting company policies and performing other leadership tasks. Instead, this team will be the boots on the ground, so to speak. Responsibilities can include sanitizing team common spaces throughout the day, reporting up on the status of the team, including assisting the company track who has fallen ill, as well as generating ongoing improvements to office operations.