Lately it seems every business story is about returning to work. It’s important to remember that during the pandemic, most essential workers never had an option to work from home. They stayed on the front lines and kept our world moving. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the people who risk their lives each day.
On the flip side, many people in the workforce spent the bulk of 2020 at home – logging in to video conference meetings to collaborate and staying engaged with their organizations. While some may never desire to go back to the old ways – commuting to work, sitting in an office, sharing common spaces (refrigerators, copy machines, rest rooms) — working where you live and living where you work will always present challenges.
Continued isolation has resulted in increased rates of mental health issues as the pandemic goes on, according to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation. With persistent stress, many remote workers feel themselves reeling toward burnout, affecting their productivity and morale.
However, a key challenge for organizations is that they can’t rush their employees’ return to the workplace. The appropriate safety protocols must be in place before employees come back.
To prepare your workplace and welcome your employees back, start with these four critical steps:
1. Double Down on Communication and Collaboration Software
Since the pandemic began, the use of communication and collaboration software has exploded. As employees return to the office, these tools will stay in high demand, which means IT teams must be ready to support the software for the long run.
Most CTOs believe the demand and use of software will continue as businesses evolve their workforce strategy to a hybrid model – one in which some employees continue to work from home, while others work in the office.
In addition, new touchless technologies like voice-activated intelligent assistants are already being deployed in the workplace to help employees conduct virtual meetings from home or at work. This new technology can even measure the number of people attending a meeting in person to ensure compliance with conference room occupancy guidelines.
No matter the size of your organization, returning to work will require both financial and human resources to ensure employee health and safety. If the right measures are implemented and communicated effectively, the result will be confident employees who trust their organizations and are able to remain productive wherever they are.
2. Establish New Health and Safety Policies and Guidelines
Studies show that more than two-thirds of office workers feel anxiety about returning to work. To minimize concerns, your organization’s top priority must be developing proper safety guidelines for the office. These guidelines can be designed and implemented to reduce exposure to coronavirus. Such policies you’ll want to consider include:
Flexible working arrangements for those who are anxious about commuting into and working in the office
New check-in and screening processes for all employees and visitors.
Paid time off for employees who feel they have been exposed to COVID-19 and are awaiting test results; mandatory 14-day quarantine for those who test positive
Face covering and social distancing requirements
New workspace configurations
Detailed procedures for using common areas such as conference rooms, shared areas such as kitchens, and share office equipment
New cleaning regimens with a focus on high-touch areas such as doorknobs, elevator keypads and touchscreens
Once new guidelines are created, communicate them clearly to ensure all employees are aware of the measures your organization is taking, and the expectations for employees. Above all, be flexible with the policies – revising them as needed as new information and guidance from entities like state health departments and the CDC are updated.
3. Consider Thermal Cameras to Monitor Employee Health
Organizations will need to implement procedures designed to identify and isolate employees who are suspected of contracting COVID-19. Such measures should include conducting body temperature screenings as a condition to enter the workplace and encouraging employees to self-monitor and self-report if they experience coronavirus symptoms.
At Seattle-based Boeing, employees are encouraged to perform a daily self-well-being check before going to work and encouraged to stay home if ill. To help employees stay healthy, Boeing developed and distributed more than 129,000 care kits (two face coverings and a digital oral thermometer) to employees.
Technology solutions such as forehead thermometers may seem like the easiest solution, but more sophisticated heat-detection cameras paired with facial recognition software can help your organization monitor and identify employees who have a fever.
Thermal imaging systems enable the individual managing the process to do so from a separate room. These solutions offer better accuracy and measure surface skin temperature faster than forehead or oral thermometers. In addition, it may even eliminate the need for Occupational Safety and Health Administration required training typically required for those taking the temperature of employees.
4. Start with a Phased or Staggered Approach to Work Shifts
If yours is like most companies, employees have not yet been invited to return to the office on a full-time bases. Many are creating a phased-in approach for employees – enabling individuals to occupy their desks on a gradual basis to limit occupancy at work at any given time. A phased approach will reduce the burden placed on your company and the staff responsible for cleaning the workplace.
At San Francisco-based Salesforce, for example, phase one of the company’s return-to-work plan involved bringing in only those employees whose presence at the office is crucial. In addition, Salesforce will only allow its offices to be at 15 percent of capacity. In subsequent phases, the company plans to use staggered arrivals and multiple shifts to slowly increase office occupancy.
Using a staggered schedule, teams will be physically separate, which further reduces exposure to the virus. Any phased or staggered return-to-work approach should include employee input. Survey employees regularly to identify issues and the need to adjust to ensure employees are confident in the schedule.