As I sit here, at home like almost everyone else around the world, waiting for the current pandemic to end, I’m thinking about what we need to do now, and what we’ll need to do later, to make sure we get back to work quickly and safely once the shelter-in-place rules lift.
Emphasis on safely.
Many people I speak with are chomping at the bit to get out of their pajamas and back into the office; they talk as if they imagine that if the second the stay-at-home order is rescinded they’re going to be able to unlock the doors to business as usual. That’s not going to be the case. When the order is lifted, and before anyone sets foot in your offices, there are a number of critical tasks that have to be done to make the return safe—and to make it last.
It starts with deep cleaning. Your building management, in-house or out, is responsible for taking care of full building cleaning. That’s a rigorous task and it demands a methodical process. Every surface in every space—whether common spaces (such as the break room), shared spaces (conference rooms and bullpens), or private offices—must be cleaned and decontaminated, just as if they were known sources of infection.
It’s critical that you establish a direct understanding with your staff that if they have been exposed, they’re going to have to stay home longer. And don’t forget that employees, because of closing schools, may be dealing with caring for their families at that point. There must be an understanding of the policy in place for those situations: whatever those policies might be.
Failing to establish a policy about a delayed return to work could have damaging consequences. Employees who need the paycheck may hide symptoms if they fear they’ll be forced to stay home even longer and lose more pay. If someone wants to hide that information there’s not much you can do—it’s Protected Health Information and you have no right, as an employer, to know. They have to volunteer the information and should be supported as they help to protect their fellow workers.
Establishing policies about return to work, worker safety and more is only half the job. Communicating that information is just as important. And here, you have to be in control of that messaging. You have to reach everyone, with the same message, at the same time. Using a mass notification system that does this is essential to keeping people informed and stops the spread of misinformation. Some organizations in certain locations may want to continue with some kind of physical distancing while you are in the office. Some employees will continue being anxious about infection and may still want to wear masks and gloves when others don’t. And some may even need a little time to readjust to working back in the office.
Even once the doors open, and even after everyone is healthy and back at their stations, there’s another challenge waiting—a challenge that in my experience is often overlooked. Please, don’t underestimate the effort and planning that will be involved in getting people to re-socialize with each other.
We all want to get back to life and work as it was. Understanding the steps that need to be taken before that can happen, and putting in plan a place today for that eventuality, is the best way to ensure that your return to work is safe and enduring.