Without a lot of hard and fast rules to guide them, many businesses are weighing their options for how to safely reopen offices and resume operations as they begin what is likely to be a long road to recovery from COVID-19. Beyond setting a reopening date, Sentinel recommends developing a reopening plan to ensure that people, systems and processes are brought back on line carefully and deliberately. Communication is also critical to the business recovery effort, because no matter how well the reopening plan is drawn, success will ultimately depend on how much clarity and confidence it inspires in employees and stakeholders.
Establish a Reopening Timeline
First, make sure that the timing is right for reopening. Restrictions may be lifted, but is your business ready to meet the challenges of operating amidst ongoing social distancing orders?
The CDC recommends employers carefully weigh the following questions, and only open if and when the answer to all three is yes:
- Are you in a community no longer requiring significant mitigation?
- Will reopening be in compliance with state and local orders?
- Will you be ready to protect employees at higher risk for severe illness? (e.g. teleworking, tasks that minimize contact)?
Set a reopening date with plenty of time built in to prepare employees for their return from remote work or furloughed status, to upfit the office with new signage, install hygiene and health screening stations, and most importantly, to train employees on new pandemic safety procedures.
Understand What Is Required vs. Recommended
Next, begin to sketch out a plan in three key areas: (1) things you are required to do by state mandate relative to your industry (2) things the CDC, OSHA and others relevant to your industry recommend you do and (3) additional things you may choose to do because it makes good sense for your business.
Ultimately, your final plan should speak to what is expected of your business by those with a vested interest. The CDC expects you to do everything in your power to reduce the risk of your employees and the general public transmitting COVID-19. See the CDC’s full recommendations here. OSHA expects you to create and maintain a safe workplace that empowers employees to protect their health and that of their co-workers. Click here for OSHA’s Guidance for Preparing Workplaces.
Your employees have expectations, too, and your business recovery efforts may well depend on how well you meet them.
Using face masks as an example, here is how one firm came to a decision on offering, but not requiring, non-medical grade masks to employees as part of its reopening protocol. Masks were not required by any of the states where the firm operates or by OSHA for its particular industry, yet company leaders ultimately decided to provide disposable cloth masks, along with detailed instruction for proper use, to help reduce some of the anxiety employees are feeling as they head back to the workplace.
So whether your company decides to conduct daily, onsite employee health screenings, or gives employees the impetus to self-screen at home, choose the reopening strategy that makes sense for your unique circumstances, and for the people whose expectations you most need to meet. An employee who feels valued and supported is by far the best business recovery asset you have.
Formalize a Reopening Plan Around Key Policies
Finally, formalize your business’s COVID-19 reopening plan based on the following advice and recommendations from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).
Hygiene. All businesses have a responsibility to promote hygiene standards that cut the risk of COVID-19 transmission, and are expected to provide employees with the means and materials to keep hands and high-touch surfaces clean. Download SHRM’s Stop the Spread of Germs at Work PDF, here.
Face Masks. Understand what is required by state and municipality rules, and consider the feasibility of providing them if you are able to. Educate your employees on how masks are, and aren’t, effective in disease prevention and transmission, and be clear on how masks are to be worn, cleaned, used and reused. Refer to SHRM’s recent guidelines on mask compliance in the workplace, here.
Social Distancing. In North Carolina and in many parts of the nation, social distancing guidelines are expected to remain in effect for the foreseeable future. This poses a challenge for businesses as they bring employees back to the workplace and open their doors to customers and vendors. Keeping people at a prescribed six-feet apart won’t always be possible, and that’s ok. What’s most important here is the good faith effort; doing all that you can do, within the constraints of how and where you do business. Some are finding creative solutions that allow for both the natural separation of people–staggered scheduling, split shifts, rearranging offices, moving furniture, etc.–as well as placing physical barriers between people and work spaces. Download SHRM’s Social Distancing Guidelines at Work, here.
Employee Health Screenings. The federal government has given employers the option of conducting employee health screenings as a means of curbing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, though strict guidelines dictate how those assessments are carried out. If you decide that daily, onsite temperature taking makes good sense as part of your business’s reopening plan, be sure that you have the right people and enough resources to do it well. For instance, you’ll need official PPE equipment, not just rubber gloves and cloth masks. Many companies are justifiably concerned about the potential for confidentiality issues, and are opting instead to have employees check their own temperature before the start of the work day and self report readings above the CDC’s guideline of 100.4. Refer to SHRM’s recent report, A Guide to Employee Temperature Checks, here.
Sample Policies. SHRM’s member site has a host of sample policies to guide the reopening plans of businesses across multiple industries, as well as helpful checklists and best practice resources, here. Membership options start at just $55 per year. Capital Associated Industries, Sentinel’s workforce development partner, is another good resource offering COVID-19 business recovery tools and assistance via their free, online resource site, here.