Organizations everywhere are attempting to reopen after COVID-19. Here are a few tips on planning for your return to the office - including how to change your air quality to better manage risk.
With the success of the vaccination roll-out and many people ready to return to a social life, companies throughout the world are navigating a new “normal”. Whether you’ve had a full facility throughout the pandemic or are just beginning to consider bringing staff back into your physical space, if you’re a business leader facing these decisions, you have a lot to think about! Remember that it’s your responsibility to keep employees and customers safe, and your staff is counting on you to put measures in place to protect their health. Here are 6 steps to guide you as you reopen your office, safely and successfully.
Understand local health and safety guidelines. First and foremost, you need to review the legality and regulations around re-opening. Can you resume normal business operations? Is there a limit on how to do so? Guidelines vary across states, so it’s important to do local research. Start with a simple Google search, and take advantage of USA Today’s real-time Covid restrictions tracker. Even if you can technically open up, you need to understand how to handle employees. Can you force them back into the office? How will you manage high-risk individuals? Make sure you’re crystal clear on all guidelines and fully covered as far as legal matters are concerned.
Create a written return to work plan. Most employers will create a phased plan for bringing employees back. Make sure everything is documented so that everyone in the organization knows what’s expected of them - and what you’re doing to ensure their health. Include the following:
The research you completed on what employees want and what their concerns are
Proper PPE (such as cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, etc)
Daily health checks - The CDC recommends that employees coming back into the office have some kind of health check each day
Temperature checks and COVID-19 testing
Contingency plans in the event that someone tests positive for COVID-19
Worker’s compensation updates - If an employee catches COVID-19 at work, you may be liable and need to understand your resources
Redesign your office with health in mind. All the written policies in the world won’t help you if you don’t make a few physical changes. You can start by reviewing the CDC’s guidelines. Concentrate on:
Encouraging proper hygiene amongst employees, including signage
Reconfiguring hallways so that people walk one way
Replacing high-touch items with single-use objects
Discouraging congregating and canceling travel
Intensifying cleaning and sanitizing procedures
Maintain employee's ongoing safety monitoring. If you’ve completed the steps to this point, you’re off to a great start! Once people begin coming back into the office, though, there’s more to do. Along with conducting daily health checks, encourage people who are sick to stay home. Properly communicate any new sick-leave policies. If you’re able, offer more flexible time-off policies. Have contingency plans in place and create emergency communication plans (and test them). Remember that it’s an organization’s responsibility to manage these processes on an ongoing basis.
Clean up the air. Along with all of the policy and physical changes you’ll be working on, remember to improve the air quality in your building. We know that COVID-19 is spread primarily through airborne particles and droplets. It’s important to do everything you can to limit those particles in the air. Begin by installing air purifiers in high-traffic areas. A high-quality air purifier will remove 99.9% of airborne particles down to 0.1 microns - smaller than the size of a COVID-19 particle. You can choose the size and quantity of air purifiers based on your unique needs. Small units are great for conference rooms or individual offices, while larger units or even wall-mounted systems are appropriate for bigger spaces. Make sure to research and order your air purifiers a few days before bringing employees back into the office.
Have a plan for positive cases. Remember how we mentioned that contingency plan? No matter how careful you might be, it’s impossible to safeguard your entire staff all the time. Someone may eventually test positive for COVID-19. What will you do then? How will you track the people that individual was around? Do you have backups for employees who need to be out? Develop a thorough plan in the event that the worst happens, and communicate to everyone what will happen in the event of a positive case at your workplace.
Remember that COVID-19 is a new reality that we all need to navigate. Create and document plans that will keep everyone in your business safe, and remember to make physical changes in your office space as well.