When and How to Re-open the Office
As some states and municipalities begin to relax stay-at-home restrictions, employers have a big decision to make as to when and how to re-open their businesses. Two of their biggest challenges are how to ensure the workplace is safe and how to convince employees it’s okay for them to return.
Maintaining social distancing measures and rigorous sanitation measures will be critical to restarting operations. Spell out your cleaning and sanitation protocol for your team. If you have a small office space for the number of staff you employ, consider staggering their shifts or continuing a mix of on-site and telecommuting hours.
All staff members should be provided with and required to use protective gear when interacting with other staff. Desktops should be free of any items or materials not in immediate use. Surfaces, including keyboards, cellphones and other equipment, should be cleaned several times a day. Consider having a thermometer that can take temperatures without contact so that employees can be checked when they come in.
Unless mandated by law in your locale, you are not required to take health measurements but should discuss with your staff what protocols will make them feel most secure, both for their health and their privacy. Another issue to work out before having employees return to the office is their commute. Those who normally use public transportation may be reluctant to do so until safety measures have been proven effective. Other options need to be explored.
Recently, I’ve been hearing from some firm owners that staff are expressing a reluctance to return to the office. Some are concerned that it will not be safe for them and/or their family members to do so. Some face the dilemma that schools in most parts of the country remain closed but are still in session, so they have a duty of homeschooling to fulfill. Even when the school year ends, it will be difficult to find safe child care.
You have the right as an employer to require employees to return to work or risk termination, unless they have a disability, such as a suppressed immune system or pregnancy, that the workplace cannot accommodate. However, for the sake of your business and staff morale, a more productive course of action is to work out policies and procedures that apply to everyone and will accommodate as many individuals as possible. This might involve temporarily reassigning some duties, staggering schedules, introducing flextime, or alternating work days in the office. Decide which tasks need to be done on site and which can be done remotely. In addition, review with employees their healthcare coverage and sick leave benefit to reassure them in the event they should get sick.
None of us know as yet what the “new normal” will look like, for our firms, our suppliers or our clients. We are all learning as we go, and each new step will involve trial and error. Be patient. Gradually, we will figure out the best ways to function in this new environment.