Just as many businesses were settling into remote work as the “new normal,” they are now faced with challenges on how to transition their workforce again as several states begin lifting stay home orders. What will that look like for employers and employees, and how can remote workers return safely to the office?
Government officials are encouraging most employers to resume business as usual on-site while remaining compliant with state and federal guidelines concerning overall employee health. The Center for Disease Control, as well, urges employers to follow its recommendations when returning a remote workforce to the office. These recommendations include: 1) regularly monitoring staff for illness; 2) practicing proper distancing on-site; 3) promoting frequent sanitation; and, 4) practicing open-door communication with your employees.
- Practice Monitoring your Staff
It is important to regularly monitor your staff for any signs of potential illness. The CDC recommends asking your employees to take their temperatures at home before work each day and to assess their overall health for any symptoms of illness. Some jurisdictions may mandate employers also take temperatures as workers arrive.
For any employees who are experiencing symptoms, such as a fever, cough, or shortness of breath, they should be encouraged by you to stay home and to follow the CDC recommended steps before returning to work. Oftentimes, employees fear being reprimanded for missing work and report to work ill, where they can infect others. Consider being flexible with your attendance policies to allow these sick employees to stay home without fear of admonishment.
Employees who appear to have COVID-19 symptoms upon arrival at work or who become sick during the day should immediately be sent home. If that employee is later diagnosed as positive with COVID-19, then you should inform your staff of possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace. Please be aware that you should always maintain employee confidentiality with any positive COVID-19 cases as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Do you have employees older than 65? Any employees who are 65 and older and/or who have a chronic health condition, should still be encouraged to work remotely, if possible, or distanced as much as possible within the workplace.
- Practice Proper Distancing
The CDC recommends practicing social distancing and maintaining a “6 feet apart” rule as work duties permit in the office. Is your workforce able to adjust shift work? If so, you should consider establishing alternating workdays, creating extra shifts, or returning the workforce in waves to reduce the total number of employees in the facility at a given time.
Also, spreading out desks and workstations can ensure a limited number of people are in a shared area at a given time.
Consider staggering breaks to limit the number of people in a shared break area. Encourage them to not share food or drinks with others in the break area and to follow the “6 feet apart” rule as much as possible.
- Practice Frequent Sanitation
The CDC and OSHA urge employers to continue the practice of frequent sanitation while in the workplace. Provide (if supplies allow) and encourage staff to wear face masks and coverings when in shared spaces in the office. Check local and state orders as to whether masks are mandatory.
Encourage the constant and consistent disinfection of common areas and workspaces. You should increase the frequency of cleaning commonly touched surfaces and ask staff to sanitize the areas they touch. If you have a cleaning service, ask that they disinfect commonly touched surfaces daily, as well.
Promote frequent handwashing! Proper handwashing is perhaps the most important guideline the CDC and OSHA have urged the public to follow. Be sure to provide soap and/or hand sanitizer to your workforce to encourage them to stop the spread of germs. The CDC provides fact sheets that can be printed and placed around the office, especially handwashing stations.
Discourage employees from sharing supplies, such as headsets or other objects that are near the mouth or nose, as well as shared computers and phones. Limit the use of any shared office materials. Consider eliminating any snack stations, candy jars, or food sharing events such as potlucks, as well.
- Practice Open-Door Communication
A crucial step with returning your remote workforce back to the office is to remain transparent with your expectations to your team members. Make sure your team knows when they return to the office any steps and guidelines they should be mindful of and follow. Consider printing the posters available on the CDC website and posting throughout the office to constantly remind employees what they should do to limit the spread of germs.
Make known to your employees that you promote and support an open-door policy, and that they can communicate openly with you about any concerns or questions they have about returning to the office. Consider designating a director or HR representative to be available for those concerns and questions.
Ensure that you, your company, and your employees stay safe when returning to work by contacting one of your HR professionals at Resourcing Edge.
- Tips on Returning Remote Workers to Office-based Work - May 4, 2020