When companies sent workers home this spring, they did so with the intent of bringing workers back later this year. As those employees return, employers face the challenge of making them feel safe in the workplace as case counts continue to rise.
Thankfully, there are many things company leaders can do to show they’re safeguarding their employees’ well-being. In this article, you’ll learn ways to make your office safer and more productive during Covid-19.
1. Model Good Behavior
Good bosses lead by example. Make sure you are following the guidelines set by your local health experts. These include consistently wearing a non-vented face mask, social distancing, holding meetings via video, and frequent handwashing. Set aside any personal opinions you may have on the matter, and demonstrate that you are taking the coronavirus seriously.
Following current guidelines also communicates to your staff that you care about their well-being. Asking employees to come back to work may have sent a message of disregard for health concerns. Counter that by leading a company culture of practicing good Covid-prevention habits.
2. Hold Employees to Local Guidelines, Too
While you are following local guidelines, set the expectation that others do so as well. Enforcing these policies may annoy some employees, but more importantly, it will reduce the concerns of others.
Put up signs reminding people to wear masks and to wear them properly — no exposed noses or token “chin guards.” Post reminders in bathrooms and break rooms about proper, thorough handwashing. You can also mark out spacing on the walls or floor to ensure everyone is adequately distanced.
Once you’ve set the expectation for following guidelines, come up with a plan for enforcement. Determine how you will hold employees accountable and communicate this openly with your staff. Address questions and concerns they may have about the guidelines by referring them to local health experts’ information. You don’t have to have all the answers on why a policy is necessary, but you must enforce it.
3. Keep Track of Symptoms
Despite everyone’s best efforts, Covid may appear in your workplace. Prevent it from catching your company off guard by tracking employee symptoms. Knowing that everyone’s symptoms are being tracked can make employees feel safer in the workplace.
Symptom tracking can be as robust as using a COVID symptom screening tool or as informal as a self-evaluation questionnaire. Work with your HR team to determine which approach makes the most sense for your company.
Make sure your staff knows the information collected will only be seen by those who need to know it. It’s more likely that employees will use a symptom tracker if they are confident their information is kept private. The more symptom information you have, the better you can lead your team through any health concerns that arise.
4. Reconceive Your Office Space and Practices
Help prevent disease transmission at your business by reorganizing offices before employees come back to work. Working in close quarters will likely stress your employees and goes against expert advice on disease prevention. Make changes to your workspace to increase the safety of the environment.
You may have to invest in dividers to place between individual workstations. These come in a variety of sizes and price points. If cost is a concern, consider a no-cost alternative like moving desks apart. Your office will be less aesthetically pleasing but safer for your employees.
If you can’t physically change the workspace, consider staggering employee schedules. Reducing the number of people in the office per day will allow for better distancing.
Finally, encourage your organization to embrace video meetings, emails, and phone calls over face-to-face meetings. It may seem silly to meet over video with people in the same building, but it will make everyone safer.
5. Improve Ventilation
While dividers and social distancing are all well and good, a growing body of research shows that Covid is airborne. This means it can spread via aerosols, which linger in the air for hours, not just respiratory droplets, which fall quickly to the ground.
Consistent mask-wearing will help prevent aerosol transmission, but your building’s ventilation system also plays a critical role. “Mixing ventilation” systems, used to maintain comfortable temperatures and increase energy efficiency, can make the problem worse.
If your climate allows, keep windows open whenever possible. Consult your building manager about increasing the percentage of outdoor air in your system’s airflow, and improve central air filtration.
Most importantly, tell your employees about these changes and why you are making them. They will be reassured to know that you’re keeping up on the latest research and making science-based decisions to keep them safe.
6. Review Sick Leave
Reorganized offices and videoconferencing will likely not prevent all illnesses. In the event that an employee gets ill, make sure your company’s sick leave supports them.
Take the time to review policies before bringing staff back to work. You may have to increase the number of allowable sick days and relax requirements for documentation. Also, familiarize yourself with any state resources for those needing to take time off due to Covid. Add that information to your sick leave policy, and make sure every employee has a copy of the updated version.
You should also do some self-examination. Are you one of those companies that offers generous amounts of sick leave but then tacitly discourages people from using it? If so, an explicit culture change is in order. Any unstated encouragement to “soldier on” while ill will only turn an isolated case into a widespread outbreak. Work with other leaders and managers in your company to get everyone on the same page about the changed policy.
7. Share Relevant Resources
Show your employees you care about their safety by making the health information they need readily available. You won’t have answers to all of their Covid questions, but you can point them in the right direction. HR and local health experts may be able to help you put together a collection of resources. Pay extra attention to information about mental health and financial assistance.
Let your employees know you have their back by creating programs that support them in this uniquely troubled time. If your business can afford to, supply masks and hand sanitizer to workers on an ongoing basis. It’s a small gesture that provides something your employees need and communicates their safety is important to you. Finding ways to help your employees will let them know their well-being is your top priority.
Your employees do their best work for you when they feel safe and are healthy. Ensure they are at their best by creating a work environment that addresses their concerns and supports their needs.
Everything is still a long way from normal, but returning to the office should bring a comforting sense of familiarity. If you feel that your employees are leery about returning to work, take the above steps to reduce their stress.