What to Consider When Re-Opening the Office Post-Pandemic
The days of “business on top, comfy on the bottom” – AKA working from home and taking video conferences in our pajama pants – are gradually coming to an end. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of employees working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic is down from 23.2% in January. to 18.3% in April. Over 60% of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccination, and little by little, things are returning to normal. Slowly but surely, we see employees hanging up their Zoom headsets and returning to office after COVID.
But as an employer, how can you make sure that your office is safe? And how can you bolster your employees’ confidence about returning to work after the pandemic? Do you need tips for returning to office after COVID? Keep on reading for our guide with 15 tips on how to create a safe and healthy workplace.
In This Article
Preparing the Workplace
Under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, employers are required to provide a safe and healthy workplace for their employees. Below are five ideas for returning to office after COVID.
- Go through the entire office and identify hot spots -- areas where people may come in close contact with each other. This can include conference rooms, reception areas, break rooms, elevators, etc... Don’t forget to consider everyone who may enter the workspace, not just employees. Think about customers, vendors, delivery people, janitorial staff, etc...
- Rearrange desks, workstations and cubicles to maintain a physical distance of at least 6 feet. Install barriers like plexiglass shields where 6 feet of distance is not possible.
- Get rid of high-touch items like coffee pots and water coolers, and replace them with single serving bottles. Provide plenty of hand washing supplies and hand sanitizer if the use of high-touch items can’t be avoided.
- Do what you can to improve the indoor air quality. Open windows to let in fresh outdoor air, if possible. Make sure the filters in your HVAC system are properly maintained. Run the HVAC at maximum airflow for 2 hours before and after occupied times to “flush” the space. You may also want to think about installing an air purifier with HEPA filtration in high traffic areas.
- Post signs advising people of best practices for hygiene, social distancing and face coverings. Implement visual markers reminding people to stay at least 6 feet apart. This doesn’t have to be fancy. You can use colored tape to mark distancing lines or Xs on the floor.
Preparing the Employees
Your employees may be stressed and anxious about physically coming into the office. Make sure to over-communicate and make them aware of your plans to keep them safe. The more information you can provide, the more comfortable they will feel.
- Communicate any plans to re-open as early as possible and encourage feedback from your employees. It may be a good idea to send out a re-opening survey so you can address their biggest concerns. You won’t know what your employees are most anxious about unless you ask them.
- Inform your employees about all the safeguards you’ve taken to ensure that the workspace is as safe and healthy as possible.
- Provide your employees with education and training on how to protect themselves from infection. This should cover topics such as: signs of infection, best practices for hygiene and social distancing, what they should do if they feel sick. The CDC has tons of resources available, like this article on How to Protect Yourself & Others.
- Encourage employees to get vaccinated and provide them with information on the benefits, safety, side effects and effectiveness. You can offer small incentives like stickers, badges or gift cards to reward them. Try to be flexible with time off so employees can make their vaccination appointments.
- If you don’t have one already, consider implementing an Employee Assistance Program to support employees’ emotional and mental well-being. This is especially important to minimize the stress and anxiety employees may feel about returning to work.
Creating COVID-19 Protocols
Companies returning to work after COVID will need to create policies and have plans in place for multiple scenarios. Make sure everyone understands and acknowledges them so they know exactly what to do in any situation.
- Ensure that surfaces and high-touch areas are cleaned and disinfected at least daily. Don’t forget about things like door handles, light switches, keyboards, etc.
- Require employees to perform a daily health check before entering the workspace. These can be written self-assessments, verbal check-ins or touchless temperature screenings. There are even check-in apps available, which employees can use to self-screen on their mobile devices.
- Have an action plan for employees who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 (or who think they may have been exposed). Employees who are not feeling well should immediately notify their supervisor and stay home. Make sure your sick leave policies are flexible and non-punitive, so no one feels obligated to come to work ill.
- Have an action plan for employees who were in close contact with another employee who became sick at work or tested positive for COVID-19. Close contact means within 6 feet for 15 minutes or longer. The CDC recommends that people who think they’ve been exposed to the virus stay at home for 14 days and self-monitor for symptoms (don’t forget to provide education on how to self-monitor). You can arrange for these employees to work remotely while quarantining, if they are up to it.
- There is a small chance that you may have employees refuse returning to office after COVID. Have a backup plan to accommodate for these people.
We hope this information was helpful. Below are some resources, including a CDC checklist for returning to office after COVID.
- CDC Resuming Business Toolkit with Checklist (cdc.gov)
- Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (cdc.gov)
- OSHA Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 (osha.gov)
- Protecting Workers: Guidance on Mitigating and Preventing the Spread of COVID-19 in the Workplace (osha.gov)
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