A year after the pandemic began, vaccination efforts are underway, and employers in industries that have been fully remote for months are considering what working in a post-COVID landscape looks like. At ClearCompany, we surveyed employees and, based on their feedback, made office space available to those who wanted it starting in October. As some HR professionals and leaders begin to discuss how to reopen their offices safely, it is important to understand the role HR plays in creating a safe and healthy workplace. Below we discuss five things that HR leaders can do to protect their employees when the time comes to return to the office.
1. Create and Communicate Your Plan
The first step towards safely returning to the office requires you and your leaders to agree on a course of action. If your office will be reopening and you expect employees to eventually commute and share a space again, work together to determine a reasonable timeline that allows for plenty of notice. While creating your timelines, you could ideally allow time for employees to register and receive vaccinations, undergo testing (if necessary), and continue to follow isolation precautions when needed.With many companies considering a return to the office, it is important to make sure you are protecting the safety of your employees. @ClearCompany sheds light on 5 things #HRLeaders can do to provide a safe workplace:
Creating a detailed response plan for when questions or concerns arise will be crucial for HR leaders. HR professionals need to ensure that employees feel informed, safe, and confident in their employers’ ability to facilitate a safe and healthy workplace.
In addition to a strong plan, HR leaders need to ensure that communication is transparent and consistent across all levels. Every employee should feel highly educated about the plan for returning to work and should feel as though they are prepared for any potential audibles. Part of any strong and successful organization is effective communication, and HR leaders now more than ever should prioritize transparency in their processes. Added visibility into the reasons behind decisions will help to reduce uncertainty among your employees.
Make your plan easily accessible in more than one location. For example, start with a recorded meeting, then follow up with an email and/or Slack message with easily accessible links to plan documents. Set up office hours, an email thread and/or Slack channel for employees to ask questions. If you will require that all employees return to the office full time at some point in the future, be sure to clearly communicate the reasoning and date. Additionally, make sure your recruiting team is sharing the information in the hiring process and again when onboarding new hires.
2. Require Safe and Healthy Practices
At ClearCompany, we surveyed our employees and decided to make office space available to those who wanted it in October of 2020 after closing in March. This required putting together a health training and new personal conduct policy. Many office spaces don’t naturally allow for social distancing. Rethinking desk placement and room occupancy might be necessary for leaders to facilitate a safe return to work. Some things to consider:
- Furniture placement — do you need to move or remove furniture to provide more space between employees?
- Shared spaces — are you prepared to keep shared spaces clean and disinfected throughout the day?
- Traffic flow — does your office enable one-way traffic to help limit exposure? Is this something your office could implement?
- Hand sanitizing — have you provided employees with resources such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes to stay healthy?
- Protective barriers — do you need to invest in protective gear or barriers to keep employees safe? This is especially important for employees with a lot of interaction with non-employees throughout the day.
Keeping in mind that we have made the return to our office spaces voluntary for the foreseeable future, read on for part of our plan for Massachusetts and Colorado employees:
Maximum Office Occupancy:
In Boston, the max concurrent occupancy will be 15 employees.
In Fort Collins, the max concurrent occupancy will be 10 employees.
Employees who wish to work out of the office on a given day must fill in their full name on a spreadsheet in order to facilitate the scheduling of you and your coworkers. This is also required to support contract tracing if necessary.
In order to social distance the employees at the office, we will be marking off many of the desks that aren’t to be used. We’ll be setting up specific desks that can be used by whoever is in the office that day.
Due to additional cleaning requirements, the conference rooms are to remain closed until further notice.
Only one person is allowed into the kitchen area at a time. It is highly suggested that you bring and use your own cutlery for any food you plan to consume in the office.
Shared Dining Areas:
Lunch tables and shared dining areas will be rearranged and marked off to enforce social distancing. The state recommends that you stagger eating times to avoid other people being around and/or eat at your desk if possible. Please remember to clean up any mess at your desk as the desks are now shared day-to-day.
Daily Cleaning Wipe-Down:
The designated office health screener for a given day will also conduct a wipe down of high traffic areas using the provided antiseptic wipes and cleaning supplies. After the cleaning, they must log their name in the cleaning log. The cleaning should only take 5-10 minutes per day. The surfaces cleaned should include:
- Door knobs/handles
- Kitchen faucets
- Paper towel dispensers
- Soap dispensers
- Water dispenser buttons
- Microwave buttons
Still trying to navigate performance management during the pandemic? ClearCompany has a full bundle of resources, tips, and guidelines for COVID response plans. Download your copy now!
3. Remain As Flexible As You Can
We’ve been in this pandemic for over a year now, but this is still an unprecedented time. While some of your employees will be excited to return to the office, some may still feel uncomfortable being around others. Part of creating a healthy workplace is ensuring that your employees feel safe and respected while working. To make their teams feel safe, some employers are offering flexible work schedules, with options for permanent remote work, a gradual return to the office, or even hybrid work options.
- Permanent remote work — With direct manager approval, some companies are allowing employees to remain working remotely permanently. This option works well for those who have shown continued success while working remotely.
- Gradual return to work — For employees who still feel uncomfortable or uncertain about returning to the office fully, consider using a gradual method. This strategy allows employees to adjust back to an office environment slowly and allows more time for people to get vaccinated.
- Hybrid work options — Hybrid work options allow employees to determine their schedule with their managers. Employees might agree to a 50% remote split, or managers may help create a schedule that allows for a reduced number of employees to be in the office at any given time.
Returning to the office will be an adjustment for everyone. Getting used to the old processes and working alongside others will take some time. Leaders need to showcase empathy and patience during this time so that employees feel supported and cared for in their role.
Tip: If your office space doesn’t have the square footage to support safe social distancing, consider alternating work schedules, so only a portion of your employees are ever in the office. This will help reduce the risk of a potential outbreak and help alleviate some of the discomfort employees may feel about returning to the office.
4. Require Employees to Stay Home When They Feel Unwell
Pre-COVID, it was not uncommon for employees to show up to work with a slight cough, fever, or other cold symptoms. People sometimes feel that they do not need to take time off work when they are sick, but HR leaders and managers need to ensure that employees stay home whenever they feel unwell. Coming to work with even slight symptoms drastically increases the risk of an outbreak among your team. Employees must be encouraged to rest and take the time they need to get healthy before returning to the office. If an employee comes to an office space with symptoms, they must be sent home for everyone’s safety. At ClearCompany, we implemented both a health training and screening protocols as required by the states we operate in:
Tip: Additionally, some people who have received the second round of certain COVID-19 vaccines report feeling under the weather in the first 24-hours. Be prepared for your employees to need to take a sick day after receiving the vaccine and consider providing this time off preemptively so employees feel like they can get vaccinated without penalty.
5. Stay Up to Date on Guidelines
To reopen your office safely, it is critical that you have the most updated information available. As vaccination efforts continue, it will be imperative that you and your employees understand your local and state guidelines.
The best way to receive the latest Federal health information is through the Center for Disease Control website. Over recent months, the CDC has been working on an extensive guide for HR Leaders and executives to reference when creating their own reopening plans. For more localized information regarding your state’s requirements and guidelines for reopening can be found on your state’s Health and Human Services site. As more individuals receive the vaccination, remember that guidelines may change.
HR leaders play an essential role in providing a healthy workplace. As organizations begin to transition out of remote work and welcome employees back into the office, leaders need to ensure they are taking necessary precautions to reduce the risk of an outbreak among staff. The best way to create a safe environment is to remain informed. Frequently check on your local, state, and federal guidelines to ensure that you are making a safe and healthy environment for your employees.
As the head of a department in the midst of a sustained period of rapid growth, Sara has spent thousands of hours interviewing, hiring, onboarding and assessing employees and candidates. She is passionate about sharing the best practices she has learned from both successes and failures in talent acquisition and management.