Preparing For Workplace Re-Entry

Apr 30 / Margaret Stockley

Preparing For Workplace Re-entry After COVID-19 Lockdown

A Gallup study conducted through March 2020 revealed that nearly nine in 10 people were not ready to resume normal daily activities and 81% expected a negative effect at their place of work.

With much uncertainty and little control over outside circumstances, employees and employers are now faced with navigating the shifting changes as each week passes. Workers will be returning to a changed environment and it’s not business as usual. Based on discussions with industry professionals in small and large companies and non-profit industries, the following suggestions may help you to instill confidence as you prepare your workplace for re-entry.

Phase the return

Having many employees returning to a shared workspace at the same time increases the workload of tech support, facilities and deep-cleaning crews, and limits the ability of a company to maintain hygiene and other communal requirements.

Work with employees to phase the re-entry and manage the numbers by varying the schedules. If possible, offer shift work or flexi-time so that the start and end times are staggered, as well as ensure that functions are covered across roles.

Where achievable, limit the number of employees who are in the building as well as in certain areas. For example, if your company has a designated lunch area or cafeteria, consider having managers and employees collaborate to assign lunch breaks (at everyone’s preferred timeslot) so that the areas are not crowded.

Consider incentivizing employees to continue to use PPE at work to minimize potential flare-ups.

Reconfigure workspaces

Social distancing and strict hand-hygiene will most likely still need to be observed for the next few months. This will mean that workspaces and dining room seating areas will need to be six feet apart. The increased distancing space will also limit the number of people who can now be in an area.

New internal guidelines will be required for potential interactions such as in common areas, water cooler and coffee machines, and a common-use refrigerator.

Think about meetings. Is it necessary for people to be physically present in the building or in the same meeting room? Can you continue with video conferencing while in the workplace?

Maintain a thorough cleaning schedule of rooms and facilities.

Remote working

Working remotely has exposed many to this way of working and may have already impacted how employees interact with clients, how they communicate with colleagues, and how your company manages employees.

This type of work has financial as well as practical implications for both the employee and employer, from reduced travel to spending habits, and can help minimize potential disruptions if an employee unfortunately tests positive for the virus or a state mandates another lockdown in a few months.

Communication

While people are coping as best as they can, financial and health concerns are the main issues that they are facing. Employees are asking for more communication and information regarding their security and what will happen in the future to both the company and themselves.

Frequent communication will ensure accuracy rather than speculation, promote two-way conversation channels and reassurance, and provide opportunities for engagement and boosting morale.

As offices, meeting rooms, and workspaces will currently need to be cleaned after each use to reduce potential contagion, communicating with employees that frequent cleaning is taking place will potentially minimize their unease about being in a public area.

Continue to promote individual and team achievements as well as what the company is doing to support employees and even the local community.

What’s next?

For some employees, being at their present workplace is worrying or unsettling. For others, it’s been a while since they’ve spent many hours in a public space. Working from home has revealed a new way of working and may impact their choice of future roles as they reconsider if they want to return to their previous position and responsibilities. Employee surveys will capture how your own employees feel about being in or re-entering the workplace.

Additionally, state guidelines may also determine if self-certification or temperature checks will either need to be continued or implemented.

Many of us are making significant changes to our working and personal lives while facing an uncertain future. We can continue to show ourselves and our coworkers compassion as we work through the new normal, especially as some colleagues may not be returning.

Margaret Stockley is the CEO of the online wellness training company POWCERT.

She is also the author of multiple books including “Transforming Workplace Wellness” and “Stress Management At Work.”