As economies around the world start to reopen, people are beginning to return to work after a long period of isolation. These past few months have been tremulous, uncertain, and dank with fear. Most of us have undergone major lifestyle changes in such a small amount of time, and these changes apply to workplaces as well. As such, the prospect of returning to work may be jarring, awkward and scary for most of your workforce. To placate their concerns and ease the transition, you as a leader need to make some changes to the physical workplace, tweak rules and policies, and modify your approach to employee relations. Here are a few things you can do to ensure workplace readiness when employees return post-pandemic.
Make the Workplace Safe
Businesses may be resuming, but the threat of COVID-19 has still not subsided. As such, the health and safety of your workforce should be your biggest concern. Ensuring that the workplace is safe for employees to work in, will quell their fears as well, and put their minds to ease.
First things first, hire a professional cleaning service to deep clean the entire office, especially if the building has been left unused for a long time. These professionals know how to target every nook and cranny where germs and viruses could be hiding. Ask them to disinfect individual workspaces thoroughly, as well as the common areas. While you are at it, you may consider getting the carpets shampooed and the air ducts cleaned as well. Making the offices fresh and sparkling before calling people back to work will assuage their trepidations.
Now is also the time to increase the standard of daily cleaning at your workplace as well. In addition to sweeping and mopping, ask the janitors to disinfect the workstations before and after they have been used. Finally, make sure there is no food or edibles that have been sitting around in desks or cabinets since the office was last opened, and have those sorted out to prevent infestations.
Encourage Good Hygiene
In addition to having the workplace thoroughly cleaned, it is also important to make sure that employees keep it so. When everyone does their part, the whole office will feel more at ease. Ask managers, HR team, and the team leads to lead by example. Ask the top tier to wash their hands often, sneeze into a tissue, and practice good hygiene at all time. Employees are likely to follow in the footsteps of their superiors.
In order to keep employees mindful of good hygiene, have posters hung up in common areas, asking employees to follow hand washing practices, cough into a tissue, practice social distancing, wear face mask, not come into work when they are sick, as well as information on COVID-19 symptoms and ways of transmission. To ensure good hygiene, stockpile sanitary supplies before calling employees back to work. Make sure you have ample facemasks, tissues, paper towels, hand soap, sand sanitizers, and disinfectant sprays for everyone.
Keep disinfectant wipes or sprays in all communal areas, so that employees can wipe down all commonly used surfaces, such as kitchen appliances, elevator buttons, door handles, and counters. Place hand sanitizer around the office, too, for quick disinfecting when employees can’t wash their hands.
Update Policies and Procedures
The coronavirus pandemic has forever changed the way every industry does business. Similarly, you’ll need to take a look at your current policies and procedures and update them to fit current best practices. For instance, you may consider only carrying out essential work for the time being. Some operations may be resumed when the risk is lower. Ensure that only workers who are essential to the job are present at the workplace and minimize the presence of third parties.
Similarly, physical contact between workers need to be reduced as much as possible, for instance during breaks, meetings, and presentations. It is best to isolate workers who do not require specialized equipment or who can carry out their work independently and move them to empty meeting rooms or space rooms. If possible, ask vulnerable workers to work from home, especially those with chronic health conditions, pregnant woman, or who are undergoing some form of immunosuppression. Workers with close family members who are at high risk may also need to telework.
Next, change your policies regarding holding meetings. Cramming too many people into a conference room doesn’t allow social distancing and may make some employees uneasy. See to it that meeting rooms are only fill to half capacity and hold larger meetings over video conference. If possible, consider also changing the layout of the office to give each employee more space. Rearrange furniture to separate them to contain the spread of the virus and comply with social distancing protocols. If your office isn’t spacious, perhaps you can convert meeting rooms into offices for one or two employees. If employees are not being able to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet, Place an impervious barrier between them, such as plastic sheeting, storage units, or mobile drawers.
If close contact is unavoidable, keep it to less than 15 minutes. Reduce contact between employees at entrances and exists at the start and end of shifts. Arrange the timing of meal breaks to reduce the number of people sharing a cafeteria, staff room, or kitchen. Ask employees to enter the toilets one at a time. Organize shifts to take account of cleaning and sanitation tasks.
Last but not the least, update your sick leave policy to accommodate the current COVID-19 situation at hand. Do employees get extra days off if they test positive for the coronavirus? If so, how many? Are you offering leave for employees who live with or care for an infected person?
Support Employees’ Mental Health
Protracted periods of isolation, quarantining, and staying cooped up at home may have left its traces on the mental health of your workforce. Coronavirus pandemic may have evoked a whole range of negative reactions in people, such as confusion, guilt, irritability, sadness, anger, and fear. The pandemic may also increase feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression. It’s important that you understand what your employees may be going through and spot the ones who may be struggling with a return to work.
Start by gathering mental health resources and share them via a company-wide email. You may also consider setting up a mental health support group for employees to share their feelings and stories. As a leader, you may also designate a specific number of days employees can take off for mental wellness and include them in allotted sick days. Be sure to inform workers about the changes and provide them with new procedures and training, if necessary, before they resume work.