Best Practices for Returning to the Workplace Post Covid-19

As non-essential businesses start to reopen, public health authorities around the world are continuing to take action to manage the COVID-19 outbreak. Long term success cannot be taken for granted. All sectors of our society must play a role if we are to minimize the spread of this disease.

Many businesses will not survive 2020. For those that do, it is crucial that every survivor acclimates. Adapting to life in a post-2020 world will be a key component to building and maintaining a successful business.

Businesses across the globe are planning how to transition their employees back into physical offices. Returning workers will face new policies designed to protect their health and lessen the effects of a future outbreak on their employer. The question we’re getting the most right now from the companies we represent is simply this: What do we do?

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, below we have listed some considerations and procedures that may help guide organizations that are confronting these unprecedented challenges.

Safety Protocols

  • Screening procedures for anyone entering the office, which may include using Infrared Fever Scan Systems (IFSS) or other health assessment measures. 
  • Staggered work times and shortened work weeks reduce the number of employees in the office at the same time.
  • Limit usage of office space to 20%-50% of total permitted occupancy 
  • Lunch and break times should also be spread out to minimize congregating in break rooms.
  • In addition to social distancing and capping group sizes, centralizing trash and recycling bins with frequent disposal can slow the spread of germs. 
  • A clean desk policy free of employee personal belongings will enable the cleaning crew to thoroughly clean all workspaces.
  • Consider a “no handshake” policy.
  • No-touch options can be considered for doors, badge readers and garbage/recycling bins along with readily available hands-free faucets, soap, and paper towel dispensers.
  • Employees may opt to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as masks and/or gloves when returning to offices to protect themselves from germs through contact and droplet routes. Organizations may also make these available to employees for personal use outside the office as a further safety precaution.

Identify Essential and Vulnerable Workers

  • While many office workers have shifted to working from home, some simply cannot work remotely for a variety of reasons. These essential workers may still be going to the office or will be the first staff to phase back in. Businesses must adopt a policy regarding which workers will be the first to return so that accommodations can be made.
  • Decisions about vulnerability are being made based on considerations such as an individual’s age, health conditions, or cohabitation situation. The risk of serious illness increases with age: early data indicates people over 40 are more susceptible to COVID-19 than those under 40. Individuals with weakened immune systems and those with conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease are also more vulnerable to serious illness. Organizations must identify their employees who fall under these vulnerability criteria and consider an enhanced work from home policy for them.

Workplace Guidelines

Reception Areas

  • Plexiglass screens or “sneeze guards” can be installed at check-in points.
  • Rearrange or remove seating in the reception area to manage social distancing.
  • To manage sanitation, remove magazines, pens, treats, or company goodies from the reception space, and keep the hand sanitizer dispensers in plain sight.
  • Have hand sanitizer available and encourage frequent use.

Workstation Areas

  • Determine your maximum capacity per floor or wing by beginning with a floor plan indicating the workstations to be occupied. Seating should be assigned to accommodate six feet of social distancing until the widespread threat of virus transmission has diminished. You could also place shields between workstations or rearranging workstations, so employees keep a safe distance from each other.
  • Consider converting conference rooms, focus rooms, or break out spaces as dedicated seating areas, which can increase the headcount of staff in the office while maintaining social distancing.
  • Knowing where employees are assigned and their probable routes throughout the day can support a direct sanitation response if an employee does exhibit symptoms, and also indicate other employees assigned to the same proximity.

Meeting Room Areas

  • The recent outbreak has exposed the fact that most meetings can be held virtually rather than in person. Virtual meetings should continue when possible even as mandatory restrictions are relaxed. Virtual meetings ensure social distancing while maintaining employee culture and morale.
  • For meetings that cannot be held remotely, to satisfy the 10-person maximum gathering rule imposed by many states and municipalities, remove extra conference room chairs and put up signage indicating the maximum number of people allowed in each room until the rules for social distancing have been removed.
  • Have cleaning supplies on hand in meeting areas and require surfaces to be cleaned before and after each use.

It goes without saying that employees are returning to a changing workplace. It is essential that employers embrace a proactive, data-driven strategy for reopening their offices. Effective communication, clear direction, and healthy doses of flexibility and compassion are fundamental to smoothly navigating the post-COVID-19 transition.