As COVID-19 vaccinations continue to be rolled out nationwide, businesses are starting to reopen their doors and ask employees to return to the office. While this is great news for the economy, many people do not feel totally safe going back to work in-person yet.
Although the CDC has announced that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks or social distance, it’s important to take into account employees’ comfortability levels right now.
Consider: Only 24% of those currently working in an office feel safe at work, and 46% say it causes concerns about their health, according to Clever Real Estate’s 2021 Remote and Office Survey.
So what can companies do to put their staff at ease and build a safe post-pandemic workplace? This article will offer tips on what precautions organizations should take and policies to implement.
1. Take a phased approach
For more than a year, most employees have been in self-quarantine and working from home. They have been socially distancing from other people and are not used to being in large crowds.
Returning to a busy office will likely spark feelings of anxiety, even for those craving in-person interactions.
Taking a phased approach to reopening can calm some of these concerns. Consider creating a rotating schedule that requires only a portion of your staff to come in, or make a rule that only requires partial in-person attendance.
2. Space out desks
While social distancing is no longer required for vaccinated individuals, the reality remains that not everyone is fully vaccinated yet. Spacing out desks can show a good faith effort to protect team members who are not yet inoculated. It can also help boost concentration and productivity and people gather in-person again.
3. Provide easy access to sanitizing equipment
Employees want to know that their workplace and colleagues are following proper cleaning protocols. In Clever’s remote work survey, 62% of employees said they would feel more comfortable about returning to the office if there was easy access to sanitizing equipment.
Place hand sanitizer in common areas around the workplace, and make sure that there is disinfectant spray and wipes as well.
4. Require masks
If your entire staff is not vaccinated yet, ask team members to continue wearing masks. This can make workers feel safer while getting used to being in crowds again while also protecting any staffers who may not have received vaccinations yet.
Although masks are no longer required for those who have received a COVID-19 shot, the CDC is basing this on an honor system. Companies can set their own rules, however.
5. Require vaccinations
Vaccination policies are up to each individual business. Therefore, you are allowed to require that employees be fully vaccinated before reentering the office. Those who have not been vaccinated may continue to work from home.
Companies should make sure their vaccination policy is clearly spelled out. They should also determine how they will verify each person’s vaccination status before asking employees to come back into work.
6. Keep remote work as an option
The pandemic has changed perceptions about how, when and where work should be done.
According to Clever’s remote work survey, 63% of employees said they prefer working from home to in an office, and nearly 30% said they plan to continue working remotely even after the pandemic.
The same survey revealed that the reasons individuals preferred remote work included increased flexibility, saving time by eliminating their commute, saving money, and spending more time with loved ones.
The rise of remote work also inspired many people to move cities, so some of your employees may no longer be near your headquarters.
Keeping remote work as an option can help retain employees who found the virtual office environment more productive and attract new employees looking to keep their remote lifestyle.
7. Offer benefits
In addition to traditional benefits, such as retirement plans and healthcare, business owners may consider offering benefits to help employees recover from the realities of the pandemic. Things such as a hybrid work model, child care, elder care and even student loan assistance can all make the transition back into the office financially and emotionally easier.
8. Implement new cleaning standards
People’s ideas about what constitutes a clean space have drastically changed in the past year. Implement and maintain a cleaning strategy that reflects these new standards. This means disinfecting high touch surfaces, reminding employees to wash their hands, improving and disinfecting HVAC systems, and checking for hazards caused by long-term shutdowns (e.g., mold, rodents, and issues with stagnant water). Businesses may even consider hiring a nightly cleaning crew to come in upon first reopening.
9. Allow employees to communicate concerns
One of the most important things a business can do during this time is to ensure that their employees feel heard. Provide open channels of communication for team members to voice their concerns, and encourage people to ask questions. Prepare answers and solutions ahead of time to demonstrate that you have given your phase-in strategy thoughtful consideration.
Examples of questions to prepare for include: Do I still need to wear a mask? How have cleaning policies been updated/modified to reduce the spread of infections? To work in the office, are employees required to get a vaccine? Will remote work continue to be an option?
10. Ensure ventilation systems work properly
It is widely established that COVID-19 is airborne and can be transmitted via respiratory fluids (fine droplets released while breathing, sneezing, coughing, etc.). Therefore, to keep employees safe, offices should turn over the air inside their building at least every few hours. This could be accomplished by filtering and recycling indoor air or bringing in more air from outside.
11. Have a back-up plan
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
Even the best-laid plans can fall through due to unforeseen circumstances. Businesses should have a back-up plan in place in case they need to shut their doors again, either for a few days or a few months. If an employee catches coronavirus, management teams should have protocols in place for how and when to communicate this to other workers.