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Planning for your team to return to the office.

Most business owners are starting to prepare for their employees returning to work as well as how to logically and safely prepare for visits from outside vendors and clients. No matter how we feel about the current situation the reality is there are emotional, perceptual, health and legal issues to consider and it’s important you have reliable sources to turn to for information.

We offer this guide in the spirit of wanting to be helpful. This event has created unprecedented legal, practical, and ethical challenges for employers who face the prospect of reopening their businesses and returning employees to the workplace. We encourage you to seek the advice and counsel of your legal and HR teams, and your insurance provider. However, now is the time to plan ahead concerning infrastructure, planning, supplies and policies that will affect everyday life in what we are calling "Business Unusual."

There will be no one-size-fits-all solution, and all protocols will need to be employer-specific considering several factors, including the type of industry, OSHA requirements, CDC, and other federal guidelines.

Below is a list of issues for you to consider when developing a Return to Work Plan:

  • Determine when to return employees and whether to implement a phased return. How will employees be notified, and with how much notice?

  • If you've done a good job at maintaining company culture in this remote environment, it will work in your favor with the return. If you have fallen short, consider ways to make employees feel cared for and secure. Most of them worry about whether or not there will be a job for them to return to, let alone how it will be implemented.

  • What will jobs look like with the return, will they continue as full-time employees, part-time, work at the office or continue to remote work with reduced schedules or wages or changes in duties? Begin by mapping out the companies objectives in the next 12 months and what talent and work focus needs to be implemented to ensure the companies forward momentum.

  • How will you develop the process for determining if employees are safe to return? Self-certifications? Temperature or other screenings (or testing if available). What is the protocol for returning employees who have tested positive or may have been exposed?

  • Logistical challenges may exist that you've never needed to consider before. For example, many employees may have childcare issues as schools remain closed or implement partial returns. Some employees may have elder parents that need looking after, and there may be limited public transportation and/or employees that are fearful of returning to work in environments that may place them at risk.

Develop and implement social distancing plans, which may include the following:

  • Changes to open work spaces and their configurations.

  • Installation of physical barriers (research guidelines regarding barriers, some may not work very well for the control of contagions but may provide a sense of security for employees).

  • You may consider the installation of convenient handwashing stations.

  • Consider the redesign of production lines to allow for more space between employees.

  • Will you stagger entrances, departures, break times, lunch activities, etc., to optimize social distancing and limit the number of people allowed at any one time in meetings, work areas, elevators, bathrooms, etc.?

  • Will you integrate virtual meetings in the workplace during the day to limit face-to-face human work?

  • Will you enforce social distancing in parking lots, company transportation, hallways, bathrooms, and throughout the workplace?

  • Will you put in place procedures for reporting and dealing with viral symptoms noticed by employees at work?

Consider additional workplace safety protocols, such as:

  • Daily temperature checks and screening protocols (many contact-less options are available).

  • Periodic mandatory testing for all employees, especially those in high-risk positions (public-facing, jobs that require close contact with other employees, or third parties).

  • Develop action plans for when employees may test positive—what information the employee must disclose, how is it disclosed, and with whom should this sensitive information be shared?

  • How will you document those positive tests, and what steps will the company take to contact trace and notify employees, visitors, cleaning crews, and others?

  • What personal protective equipment will you provide to your employees.

  • Plan for periodic deep cleaning of office and facilities by a professional cleaning service.

  • How has your technology evolved to accommodate remote working, and will those technologies remain in place or be modified? For example, if employees took desktop workstations home with them, will they remain there, and new desktops are necessary for when they return to work?

Finally, your most significant assets for your success are your employees. They have been forever changed with this event, and it will require finesse, courage, and compassion to deal with the myriad of issues concerning their return. Consider meeting with them one-on-one to get their feedback about returning to work and what they need to see to feel safe, secure, and a valuable member of the team—not just a commodity to be returned to higher performance levels.

Here are a few resources we've found that may help.

US Chamber Small Business Return to Work Playbook

Disclaimer: The preceding is not intended to replace or provide legal or medical guidance for the safe return of your employees. It is up to you to consult with your professional advisors about the various issues and the ramifications for each choice you make. However, we are here to provide you with expert guidance on your technology needs, both for growth and to sustain you during these troubling times.

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