The coronavirus pandemic has expanded the boundaries of how far organizations thought flexible workplace policies could stretch. Even organizations with more traditional workplace cultures, such as utilities and universities, are directing staff to work remotely to keep employees healthy and slow the spread of the virus. And organizations that already had a substantial work-from-home population before the crisis are finding the need to quickly and unexpectedly expand their remote work program for what may be an extended period.
For companies across all geographies and industries, workplace disruption might be inevitable. The companies who effectively manage that disruption will be well-positioned not only to maintain business operations throughout the outbreak but better prepared for future crises, too. As employees pack up their laptops to work from remote locations, workplace strategists and corporate real estate leaders can play a key role in shaping productive, engaging workplace culture and behaviours wherever work happens.
As long as COVID-19 is spreading in the community, transitioning back to a place of business safely and productively presents challenges. However, some organizations face greater risks than others simply because of the industry they are in and the work their employees do most notably in health care, where employees face a high potential of interacting with individuals infected with COVID-19.
But there are other risk factors as well. At some organizations, employees find themselves near to one another or maybe performing tasks where wearing masks all day is difficult. In other instances, workers are expected to share equipment and machinery regularly or deal with customers, visitors, suppliers, vendors, and others, creating additional opportunities to contract the virus.
Here are some of the useful tips for employers to manage workplace risks during COVID-19.
As the COVID-19 vaccine, social distancing, and public health protocols carry over into new workplace policies, many states have started recommending those protocols begin with screening employees for COVID-19 symptoms before they enter the office or job site. There are several ways to accomplish this:
Risk management departments may have to create protocols for vendors, customers, and other visitors, which may include restricting third parties from entering specific areas. It is critical to consult with cleaning crews to ensure that proper disinfecting and sanitation protocols are being followed regularly. For employers in large buildings, coordinating with the building’s facility management team, other vendors, and tenants may be required around shared spaces such as the lobby and elevators.
Clearly and effectively communicating safety plans is imperative at any place of business. Risk managers and supervisors should incorporate COVID-19-related policies into their regular team meetings and updates. For new workers and new tasks, orientations should be modified to include information about face coverings, social distancing, and proper hygiene. Regular communication through bulletin boards and email can also help to promote awareness and use of these safety precautions.
Risk management professionals should set social-distancing protocols with adequate signage and evaluate the safe use of shared spaces such as conference and break rooms. Employers should provide hand sanitizers, tissues, and no-touch trash containers, and employees should be required to wear masks while in open environments.
Whether it is the printer, a manufacturing station set-up, or the company coffee pot, equipment sharing must be kept to a minimum. Where equipment must be shared, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for disinfection should be practiced before sharing. Disinfectant wipes should also be kept near all the shared equipment.
Employers must not request information from employees that are not legally entitled to or consider such information in making employment decisions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has shared clarifying policies for what medical information employers can request from employees during a pandemic. Risk managers and company leaders should review those guidelines and ensure compliance.
Given the evolving nature of this pandemic, staying up to date with shifting rules and regulations is essential. Risk managers should monitor the websites of state and local regulatory agencies, trade associations, and news outlets regularly for updates.
It’s impossible to predict the long-term implications of a massive shift to remote work, but a few outcomes are possible. One is that employees and business leaders alike will open their eyes to the value that can be unlocked when each individual has the freedom to work where and when it makes most sense which may be from home for a while now. Yet it’s just as likely that we will emerge from this period craving the face-to-face interaction that has been sorely missed and with a greater understanding of how physical space influences the way we all feel and work each day. Workplace strategists and designers will have an ever-more important role to play in shaping the future of places and spaces where we can come together to connect, work productively, and be inspired.
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