Getting Back to Work: 5 Things to Consider

Getting Back to Work: 5 Things to Consider

As businesses reopen and employees return to the workplace, it’s important to have a plan in place that will protect the people in your office from the ongoing threat of Covid-19 infection. Most experts agree that the pandemic is far from over, which means that the possibility of health threats in the workplace remain very real. In fact, current projections put the end of the pandemic as far out as mid-2022, after a vaccine is available and 70 percent of the U.S. population is immune. But for companies that rely on  having multiple employees in a fairly confined physical workspace, that’s not a realistic timeline, and most are looking for ways to conduct business without putting their people at risk. Here are five things to consider as your company welcome employees back to work.

#1 Make Your Company’s Safety Policy Clear
As we’ve seen from images in the news, the response to the possibility of Covid-19 infection varies widely. Many people voluntarily wear facial masks, gloves and other PPE gear when interacting with other individuals and groups, both indoors and out. Others choose to wear no protective coverings at all, and in many cases, even fail to maintain “six feet apart” social distancing guidelines shown to prevent the spread of the disease. You can’t know in advance how your employees will respond to potential Covid-19 threats in the workplace, so it’s vital to establish and communicate a policy that you believe will result in a healthy and positive work environment for everyone. By making your commitment to safety protocols clear, you send an important message to your employees about your company culture and values—and it goes without saying that it’s crucial to enforce them.

Tip: Put your company’s policies in writing and have each employee formally acknowledge his or her acceptance of Covid-19 safety protocols with a signature.

#2 Make Social Distancing Possible
It’s well documented that when people congregate—especially indoors—the chance of Covid-19 transmission rises significantly. And while The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that workers maintain six feet of distance between each other, achieving that in an office setting has some very real challenges. Here are some suggestions that can help make adequate social distancing among your company’s employees a success:

  • Allow some-- if not all-- employees to continue to work outside of the office 
  • Stagger shifts or workdays so not all employees are in the office at the same time
  • Temporarily modify your office layout to create a greater distance between employees  
  • Restrict attendance at in-person meetings, and use video conferencing for large groups 
  • Consider installing physical barriers such as plexiglass panels between workspaces
  • Limit occupancy in common areas such as kitchens and copy rooms.
  • Adopt online estimating and project management tools that allow staff to work remotely

Tip: Define personal workspaces with floor tape and prominent signage that remind employees of correct social distancing guidelines

From the CDC… 

Updated strategies and recommendations for employers responding to COVID-19, including those seeking to resume normal or phased business operations:

  • Conducting daily health checks
  • Conducting a hazard assessment of the workplace
  • Encouraging employees to wear cloth face coverings in the workplace, if appropriate
  • Implementing policies and practices for social distancing in the workplace
  • Improving the building ventilation system

#3 Establish Consistent Prevention Practices
The daily conduct of your employees is essential to maintaining a healthy work environment while the threat of Covid-19 infection exists. OSHA recommends that hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and tissues, as well as plenty of trash receptacles, are readily available throughout the office, especially in high-touch areas. In addition, you should encourage your employees to:

  • Wash their hands frequently for 20 seconds using soap and water
  • Cover occasional sneezes and coughs
  • Avoid touching their faces with their hands
  • Stay home if they are displaying symptoms
  • Avoid using other employee’s desks, keyboards, phones and supplies

You can also consider taking the temperatures of employees as a preventative measure. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has determined that taking the temperatures of employees is an acceptable practice during the current Covid-19 crisis, but it’s important to remember that temperature evaluation is considered a medical examination, and subject to prevailing confidentiality rules. It’s also worth noting that not everyone with Covid-19 has an elevated temperature, so it’s not a fail-safe detection technique.

Tip: Encourage any employees who has been traveling to work from home until the accepted two-week incubation period has passed.

#4 Take Immediate Action If Symptoms Appear
As employees return to your office, make sure that they’re fully aware of the symptoms typically associated with this coronavirus, which can vary widely in type and severity. Stress the importance of monitoring possible symptoms and staying home if any appear. It’s also essential that your employees alert you to their situation so that you can inform other employees in a timely way. 

As in any health crisis involving a communicable disease, timely communication is vital. Make sure that other employees are aware that they may have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus without disclosing the sick employee’s medical details. Then, implement sanitation procedures recommended by the CDC, including closing any exposed areas, or even the entire office, until it is has been thoroughly disinfected.

If an employee shows symptoms at work, isolate them right away. Immediately offer him or her a mask to minimize the spread of infection and send them home as soon as possible. Affected employees should remain out of the office until they are cleared by a medical professional through testing. 

If an employee does get sick or needs to stay home in order to care for a family member, it’s good business to make sure your office is adequately prepared for a prolonged absence. If possible, train your employees on the fundamentals of each other’s jobs so that productivity levels can be maintained and projects can move forward without interruption. Online productivity tools are of particular value for job roles that can accommodate remote work, including cloud-based estimating, accounting and business management solutions. 

Tip: Stay up to date on possible Covid-19 symptoms; as the body of research grows, a wider range of physical symptoms is being detected.

#5 Create a Just-in-Case Contingency Plan
No one wants to hear that stay-at-home mandates will be imposed again, and that businesses will be required to operate as they did during the early days of the pandemic, but as we’ve seen, the unexpected can happen and future scenarios are hard to predict. That’s why it’s essential to formulate a workable plan for your company if and when another lock-down period—or periods-- occurs. The next time around, you can take advantage of what you and your employees have learned from firsthand experience, and be better prepared to put effective emergency preparedness and business continuity measures in place before you actually need them.

For many companies, that may mean moving to a remote work model, and could require an upgrade to existing office technology. In fact, many companies have already committed to an off-site workstyle for their employees, in spite of the fact that the majority of businesses have been allowed to reopen. Remote work, once only a developing trend in the professional world, has now emerged as a legitimized mainstream choice for companies in every industry. And while some office job roles do not easily align with remote work, many more do, encouraging a growing number of executives and managers to experiment with a primarily offsite workforce.

They key to success from a technology standpoint is the availability of an online platform that connects employees to relevant information and to each another.  ProEst Cloud is a powerful web-based estimating and pre-construction solution that allows multiple teams to access and share project information in real-time, all from any internet-enabled computer or mobile device. The advantages of an online platform over an on-premise solution is clear: employees can remain engaged and productive even from remote locations, and because data is shared by everyone, the risk of inaccuracies is all but eliminated.

Tip: Decide which Covid-19-driven modifications to your workspace and office routine should be adopted as permanent operating procedures.