For HR and risk professionals, keeping employees as safe as possible from coronavirus – while achieving and maintaining regulatory compliance – should be a top priority right now. However, with new rules and guidelines continuing to be introduced across different states, counties and industries, creating a COVID-Safe working environment is far from straightforward.
Having an effective return-to-work strategy is essential to creating a COVID-Safe environment. While many of these challenges have never been faced in our lifetime, and there’s no playbook for returning to work safely in a pandemic, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a proactive, detailed plan for bringing people back to work.
So let’s make a plan. In our recent webcast with HR.com, our CEO and Co-founder, David Kindlon, was joined by HR and risk experts, Robin Schooling and Corey Gooch, as we explored five key considerations for creating an effective return-to-work plan. We’ve summarized some of the key practical tips below, or you can check out the full webcast recording here on Vimeo.
Health and Safety
The health and safety of your workforce should be at the heart of any return-to-work plan, with local guidelines for specific sites continuously being reviewed and adhered to. In some states, failure to comply with guidelines can result in hefty financial penalties, so it’s essential you stay on top of the latest health and safety regulations for your locations.
For larger organizations, with multiple sites spread across various states, this could be extremely complex. Such businesses might consider consolidating and standardizing protocols across the board – using the most rigorous regional guidelines as the baseline across all locations to ensure a consistent approach.
For example, in California businesses now need to be screening employees for COVID-19 symptoms before allowing them on the premises – and some organizations may choose to adopt this across all regions to help minimize exposure to the virus.
But it’s not just about planning the right procedures and physical measures: training your staff on those new protocols will be essential to any effective return-to-work plan. As Corey Gooch explained in the webinar: you can have the best procedures in the world, but they’re useless if no one knows how to follow them. So, training, communication and documentation of new protocols is key.
In most cases, you will need to reengineer your work environments to accommodate the new health and safety guidelines – such as creating more space to enable social distancing and minimizing shared touchpoints.
The specific physical measures you need to implement will very much depend on the types of sites you operate. However, all organizations need to ensure proper ventilation in indoor spaces to minimize the risk of transmission via respiratory droplets. This may include a mask mandate, but ensuring a COVID-Safe airflow system is essential – whether that be achieved by opening windows, enhancing the ventilation system, or introducing portable air purifiers.
You may also need to consider staggering shift patterns to reduce entry point bottlenecks, with employees starting and finishing at different times. Establishing one way systems for areas such as hallways, staircases and doorways can also help to minimize such bottlenecks.
Of course, in some instances the best way to protect your employees will be to continue enabling them to work from home – but in cases where this isn’t feasible, you need to recreate your workspace to help your employees feel safe and comfortable coming to work.
Policies and Benefits
In addition to physically rethinking the way your business operates, HR leaders should also be scrutinizing, updating and adapting their employee benefits and policies to support those changes.
For example, many businesses are putting focus on keeping potentially symptomatic employees away from work, with self-screening solutions such as Screenin.me to help identify potentially high risk individuals. But if you haven’t reviewed your sick leave policy to align with this initiative, you might struggle to encourage employees to miss potentially several days of pay during difficult times.
You should also be engaging with employees and listening to what benefits and changes could help improve their work and personal lives. A recent survey found that 75% of people want to continue working from home in some capacity, and where practical, organizations should review their flexible and home working policies for both the short and long-term.
Your entire strategy for becoming a COVID-Safe business needs to be coordinated, with physical measures, policies and employee benefits aligned to support your workforce through this new way of working.
This is a phrase that gets banded about a lot, but ultimately it means looking out for your employees’ emotional, physical and financial wellbeing.
Of course, this can cover a myriad of personal circumstances. In the current climate, people are enduring personal, professional and financial stress – and you need to be ready and able to support them through those difficulties.
Responding empathetically and compassionately will be key here. Employers should understand that many people are extremely anxious about catching the virus, and may have vulnerable or elderly relatives at home who they want to protect.
Creating a COVID-Safe environment, and showing empathy and understanding towards your employees, can help them gain the confidence they need to come back to work. People whose wellbeing is looked after tend to be more productive; more capable of dealing with stress at work; more adept at building relationships; and better able to collaborate and develop professionally – but to achieve this, they’re likely to need more support than ever before.
Finally, you need to ensure all of the above changes to health and safety measures, processes and policies are effectively communicated to your entire workforce.
This is easier said than done. Even though you may feel that you’re communicating clearly and effectively, your employees may still feel left in the dark.
HR leaders need to embrace transparency and streamline their messaging to help people understand the changes that are being made to protect their safety. Employees need to know when to stay home, and what will happen financially if they do; likewise, they need to understand what processes to follow when they do attend work, and what benefit those changes deliver to both themselves and their colleagues.
It can be effective to establish a set schedule for communicating, so employees know when they can expect the next update. Not only will this help you to ensure continuous communication – it will also give employees more certainty and, in some instances, reduce the amount of enquiries and questions you receive between updates.
Your Next Steps
If you don’t already have a plan in place, it’s crucial you start putting one together now. Even if you’re still operating remotely, in all likelihood your business will need to reopen to some extent in future – and the more preparation you do now, the easier that transition will be when the time comes.
For HR and risk professionals who already have a plan in place, it’s important to continuously review and update that plan. The rules, guidelines and attitudes surrounding COVID-19 are changing constantly, and failing to maintain a compliant, COVID-Safe environment could result in financial penalties, workplace outbreaks, and damage to your company’s reputation.
Screenin.me is supporting businesses of all shapes and sizes to get back to work safely. Whether you’re operating offices, factories, warehouses or any other type of workplace, our daily symptom self-screening platform can help you identify employees with potential symptoms and automatically instruct them to stay home.
To find out how we can support your organization, get in touch with our team today.