As COVID-19 restrictions are being reassessed on an almost daily basis it is evident that a return to regular work is imminent for many employees across the world. For businesses that have struggled through the disruption of reduced staff and revenues it’s a welcomed move but a reintroduction to office life can be risky if not handled properly. Businesses will have to plan ahead to mitigate threats to employee health.
Employers should develop and implement appropriate policies, in accordance with Federal, State, and local regulations and guidance, and informed by industry best practices, regarding: social distancing and protective equipment, temperature checks, sanitation, use and disinfection of common and high-traffic areas, business travel, the monitoring of workforce for indicative symptoms.
As for employees, it is imperative that workers stay informed and continues to adhere to State and CDC guidance, particularly with respect to face coverings.
We’ve put together a guide that includes ways employees and employers can stay safe when re-entering the workforce.
➢ CONTINUE TO PRACTICE GOOD HYGIENE
- Wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer, especially after touching frequently used items or surfaces.
- Avoid touching your face.
- Sneeze or cough into a tissue, or the inside of your elbow.
- Disinfect frequently used items and surfaces as much as possible.
- Strongly consider using face coverings while in public, and particularly when using mass transit.
➢ PEOPLE WHO FEEL SICK SHOULD STAY HOME
- Do not go to work or school.
- Contact and follow the advice of your medical provider.
1) MANAGE EMPLOYEE NUMBERS – When it comes to COVID-19 it is a numbers game and the higher the number the higher the risk. Managing the number of workers will be critical to protecting workplace health. Here’s how you can do that:
- Continue to ENCOURAGE TELEWORK, whenever possible and feasible with business operations.
- If possible, RETURN TO WORK IN PHASES.
2) RETHINK PHYSICAL SETUP
It is important to remember that returning to work doesn’t mean a return to normal. Businesses will still need to observe regulations governing social distancing, employee gatherings and hygiene practices. Businesses will need to reconfigure office spaces to provide 6 feet of space between employees.
- Close COMMON AREAS where personnel are likely to congregate and interact, or enforce strict social distancing protocols.
- Minimize NON-ESSENTIAL TRAVEL and adhere to CDC guidelines regarding isolation following travel.
- Strongly consider SPECIAL ACCOMMODATIONS for personnel who are members of a VULNERABLE POPULATION.
3) Review infrastructure needs
For most businesses, it will take many months to return to what it was prior to COVID-19 – if it returns at all. The pandemic has likely uncovered any underlying deficiencies in the infrastructure and equipment that employees need to perform their jobs remotely.
Employers should be looking for effective platforms that enable employee communication, connectivity and collaboration. Every department should review their operations and identify any areas of deficiency – especially in technology and communication infrastructure. Research, evaluation and implementation should be fast-tracked to avoid a crippling loss of productivity.
4) Minimize contact
Encourage employees to email, text, or call — rather than meet face-to-face — with coworkers. Remember, don’t shake hands. “I don’t think we should ever shake hands again,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said. “Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease, it probably would decrease instances of influenza dramatically in this country.”
The more we minimize contact, the more we minimize spread. Eating meals at desks, rather than lunch or break rooms, should be highly encouraged.
5) Rebuild workplace morale
Successful businesses thrive on motivated workforces, so it’s important leaders make concerted efforts to rebuild workplace morale.
Returning to office life post COVID-19 requires much sensitivity as any traumatic situation. There are people on staff who may have lost someone close to them or may have known someone who has been infected if not been infected themselves. Therefore people are afraid. Some staff may find it unsettling returning to work after months in quarantine. So much may have changed in the interim. Some teammates may not be returning at all.
It is important to keep the following in mind:
- Perception is reality and what employees perceive is what they will believe is happening.
- Transparency is essential for building trust and managing misinformation.
- Common sense should prevail, grounding decision making in practical sound judgment.
Acknowledge any employee concerns and dispiritedness and treat announcements regarding the new operating environment with sensitivity.
There are many ways businesses can step up the office vibes, including promoting achievements, encouraging collaboration and painting a positive vision of the future. When the time is right, and regulations permit, consider a fun team-building event to lift spirits and let off some steam.
Here are a few other ways to rebuild office morale:
Know the facts about COVID-19. Be informed about how to protect yourself and others. Understanding the risk and sharing accurate information with people you care about can reduce stress and help you make a connection with others.
Ask about how to access mental health resources in your workplace.
Increase your sense of control by developing a consistent daily routine when possible — ideally one that is similar to your schedule before the pandemic.
Keep a regular sleep schedule.
Take breaks from work to stretch, exercise, or check in with your supportive colleagues, coworkers, family, and friends.
Spend time outdoors with proper protection, either walking or relaxing.
If you work from home, set a regular time to end your work for the day, if possible.
Practice mindfulness techniques
Do things you enjoy during non-work hours.
Remind yourself that each of us has a crucial role in fighting this pandemic.
Remind yourself that everyone is in an unusual situation with limited resources.
Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting and mentally exhausting
Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns, how you are feeling, or how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting you.
Connect with others through phone calls, email, text messages, mailing letters or cards, video chat, and social media.
Check on others. Helping others improves your sense of control, belonging, and self-esteem. Look for safe ways to offer social support to others, especially if they are showing signs of stress, such as depression and anxiety.
If you feel you may be misusing alcohol or other drugs (including prescription drugs) as a means of coping, reach out for help.
If you are being treated for a mental health condition, continue with your treatment and be aware of any new or worsening symptoms.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) launched a statewide mental health hotline for Michigan residents. The hotline will connect individuals with certified peer support specialists who have lived experiences of behavioral health issues, trauma or personal crises, and are trained to support and empower the callers. The hotline operates seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. at 888-PEER-753 (888-733-7753).
Individuals in crisis, including those considering suicide, are urged to contact the Disaster Distress Helpline 24/7 at 800-985-5990 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 800-273-8255.