As the curve of COVID-19 infections begin to level-off, employees recover, and government lockdown orders begin to expire, businesses are now being confronted by the complexities of returning employees to work in a manner that is safe and ensures business continuity.
Businesses must implement a plan that is tailored to their corporate mission and responsive to the culture and unique dynamics of their industry. When lockdowns end, companies will be faced with all manner of issues with regards to returning employees and workforce management.
In order to conduct a successful return-to-work plan, leaders and HR will need to be intentional with policy development and ensuring effective communication with the workforce about what changes will be occurring, why it is happening, and the employees’ role in making it a success.
While it is not possible to create a one-size-fits all approach to RTW issues, most businesses will want to at minimum take the following measures:
- Create an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan
- Conduct a Hazard Assessment for new protocols and equipment put in place
- Create or update existing policies on issues impacted by COVID-19 and RTW issues, such as remote work, leave of absence and travel policies
- Craft communications to returning workers ensuring that they are aware of the safety measures in place and how to comply with them
- Ensure that proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and general cleaning materials such as soap and hand sanitiser are available
- Designate who within the company will be a resource for RTW questions
While employees might be allowed back to work for the time being, the practice of social distancing should still be maintained to some extent. Workers should be encouraged to keep some distance from each other and to not gather in groups. Companies should consider rotating staff throughout the week, allowing a few to come to the office while the rest continues to work from home.
A social distancing policy should also evaluate how and whether third parties can safely come to workplaces and whether access to the workplace should be narrowed to allow employers to control the point of entry.
Companies should also take the time to ensure the hygiene and sanitation of their office space. Well-defined sanitation plans should be developed and implemented. Because COVID-19 can live on surfaces for hours or days, the plans may include more frequent cleaning than was previously provided, as well as protocols for cleaning of high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, workstations, keyboards, handrails, and smaller items like pens throughout the day.
Businesses should also try to ensure that there is plenty of soap and water for handwashing as well as hand sanitisers in multiple locations around the workplace to encourage hand hygiene.
Sanitation plans should also include protocols for cleaning in the event an employee is diagnosed with or suspected of having COVID-19. Guidelines for such an event can be found throughout the internet, including the World Health Organisation website.
Businesses and the leaders behind them must stay on their toes. The world appears to be on the path to recovery, but it can never be too safe. Take the appropriate precautions to ensure that employees stay clean and safe as they return to work so that we may prevent another outbreak of COVID-19.