As the majority of states transition toward some level of economic reopening, many professionals are scared that the economy is claiming priority above their health and wellbeing. If not addressed directly, this perception could easily lead to a disconnect between leadership and the ground-level team, significantly hampering our collective ability to make a strong economic recovery.
Addressing and reducing reasonable employee anxieties in the wake of COVID-19 is absolutely essential to our new way of business. Moving forward, we’ll explore:
- The increased importance of clear and humanistic communication
- How health screenings can provide employees with reassurance
- Why it’s crucial to articulate a vision for the “new normal” of each role
- How you can connect with impactful resources to aid your reopen
Explain Your COVID-19 Response Strategy Ahead of Time
In an information vacuum, panic is the default setting. The less your employees know ahead of your reopen, the lower their morale/enthusiasm/buy-in level will be. That means communication is the first cornerstone to a successful transition back to business.
Before you order employees back to their workstations, you need to clarify how you’re adapting or modifying the way you do work to protect everybody’s health. You also need to explain why you’re returning to work – why it’s the right choice for the business as a whole as well as your team in general.
If you fail to address either of those two concerns, your employees will probably have trouble believing you have their best interests at heart. If you aren’t making modifications, it seems like you’re taking them for granted. If you can’t explain why this is the right time to reopen, how can they be sure leadership is being strategic and not just reactionary?
Use Screening Questions & Temperature Checks
Your employees’ main concern about reopening is that they will be exposed to COVID-19 or bring it home to their families. In order to earn their trust, you need to show them that transmission isn’t going to happen in your workplace.
By creating a screening protocol to use before and during your reopen, you communicate that you’re dedicated to keeping COVID-19 out of the office and maintaining a safe, healthy environment.
Screening Before Reopen
While it’s true COVID-19 is frequently spread by people who are not yet feeling symptoms of the virus, you can still take major steps to protect your team collectively and as individuals by preventing as many symptom-positive individuals and recent exposures from entering your office or workspace.
Before your official reopen date, you should contact your employees to determine:
- Who is currently ill with COVID-19 or similar symptoms
- Who has been exposed to or cared for someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days
- Who has been advised by a doctor to stay home due indefinitely due to increased risk (i.e. who requires ADA accommodations?)
- Who is currently the only source of childcare for a minor
Those questions will help you determine the scale of your re-open and identify areas of HR need in terms of transitioning employees to expanded sick or FMLA leave under the FFCRA. If responses indicate that staffing is not currently feasible, you may need to consider delaying your reopen or considering alternative staffing solutions.
Temperature Checks as Your Reopen
Temperature checks at the door prove to employees that nobody in the building currently has a fever (one of the most common COVID-19 symptoms). That reassurance goes a long way to helping people feel like they’re in a COVID-free environment.
However, if you’re going to administer temperature checks, you need to think about things like:
- What is the exact temperature threshold for denying an employee entry?
- How will you transition employees with fever to paid leave or work-from-home?
- Who will administer the temperature screenings?
- How will send-homes be documented?
- How will you address employees who come to work with other symptoms but no fever?
What about Customers? What about Visitors? What about the Public?
To this point, we’ve been discussing screening your employees to keep the environment safe. With that said, the members of your team probably trust each other fairly well; it may be potential outsiders they’re nervous about.
If you run a hospitality, retail, healthcare, or other business where there’s frequent interaction with customers/the public, you need screening procedures in place to prevent your employees from becoming sick. Similarly, if you maintain an office where business travelers are often hosted, you need to reassure your core team members that you don’t have an open-door policy for the virus.
Whether it’s temperature checks, sneeze guards/partitions, or some other solution that makes sense for the work you do, it’s absolutely crucial you let your employees know you’re thinking about protecting their health from others.
Provide a Clear Vision for Every Role
In order for each employee to feel safe and empowered continuing their career in general and role in your organization specifically after COVID-19, they must feel like there is a specific plan in place for them.
Right now, professionals are hungry to know what their day-to-day work will look like moving forward for the next year or two. The more information and transparency you can provide, the better you can win your team’s trust and buy-in.
That means getting together with departmental and team leaders to make sure you’ve addressed what work will look like when you re-open for each individual employee. If that sounds like a challenging task, that’s because it is – but it’s absolutely a best practice for getting return-to-work right on a level that allows you to leverage the full productivity and enthusiasm of the team you’ve built.
For each role within the company, you need to address:
- How their physical workspace needs to/will be modified to keep them safe
- How their interactions with colleagues, customers, and the public need to/will be modified
- What kind of personal protective equipment (PPE) they’ll need on a daily basis and what you will supply
- What new cleaning/disinfection responsibilities they’ll have, both for individual workstations and common/shared spaces they use
- A chain of command for reporting concerns/issues about reopening, adherence to new policies, etc.
Returning to the office in the aftermath of the unexpected coronavirus pandemic is truly the great challenge of our time. If we just flip the switch back to “on” and act like nothing’s changed, we’re sure to lose the employee buy-in that makes productivity and innovation happen.
If you’re hoping to reopen in a way that rallies your team and sets the tone for safe, positive work moving forward, it’s important to remember:
- Your employees need advance notice of new policies and procedures to feel safe
- You need to be able to explain how you’re protecting employees from potential COVID-19 exposure
- Your approach to reopening needs to address every role and business process that’s directly or indirectly affected by COVID-19
How to Learn More
If you’re an HR or business leader looking to guide a successful reopening as COVID-19 continues, be sure to download Launchways’ Complete Return to Work Toolkit. The toolkit provides a variety of checklists and other resources that help you consider every aspect of reopening, including:
- Recalling furloughed or laid off employees
- Modifying your physical workspace
- Best practices for employee safety
- Personal protective equipment (PPE)
- New policies for meeting, communication, shared space, etc.