As companies discuss how to safely transition employees back into the workplace, they are raising questions about legal guidelines, face masks, testing, and more. Many employees are hesitant to return to the work environment for fear of being exposed to the coronavirus and spreading it to their loved ones. Employees are trusting that their employer has prepared a thorough return-to-work plan which includes disinfecting the office, providing face masks, temperature testing, and enforcing social distancing guidelines.
Most employees are anxious about transitioning back into the workplace. According to a recent survey involving remote workers across the U.S., 70 percent said a COVID-19 related fear would hinder their ability to return to the work environment. Reasons include:
- Fear of getting sick from being at work – 51 percent
- Unwilling to use public transportation for my commute – 24 percent
- Responsibilities as a parent or caregiver – 21 percent
- Taking care of sick family members – 15 percent
Employers have a powerful opportunity to protect their employees’ safety and well-being. In the Detroit region, 83% of employers plan to implement new safety measures as they transition employees back into the workplace, according to a PwC survey.
In a recent Tele-Town Hall, hosted by the Detroit Regional Chamber, PwC leadership discussed methods for limiting physical interaction and minimizing the spread of the virus as companies move through their phases of reopening. The following procedures could benefit employee health and safety throughout this process:
- Staggered arrival times at the workplace
- Touchless entering and controls throughout the workplace
- Temperature screenings
- Self-care questionnaires
- Face masks
- Social distancing
- Workstation partitions
- Common area closures
- Contact tracing
Step 1: Ask your employees
Talk to your employees to pinpoint their specific anxieties about returning to the office. When PwC asked U.S. workers what safety measures would help them transition back into the workplace, 56 percent said providing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, while 51 percent said assurance they would be notified if a coworker has tested positive.
Step 2: Develop a phased return-to-work plan
This should be employee-centered with a focus on managing their health and safety. Determine which employees need to return first based on job functions. If some employees are capable of fulfilling their roles from home, let them continue to do so. For more information on how to create this plan, see return-to-work resources from the Society for Human Resource Management.
Step 3: Implement new safety measures into the workplace
For those returning, employers can ease concerns by providing PPE, organizing temperature checks, and rethinking the office layout to minimize contact between coworkers while maintaining productivity. Some organizations are using tracing tools including apps or wearable devices that monitor an employee’s location and proximity to people who have tested positive. This is a controversial topic, but it is an option if your team is on board. Other strategies include required COVID-19 testing before returning, workplace cameras to monitor and enhance safety protocols, and daily symptom surveys.
As an employer, it is important to recognize the role you play during this critical time. You have the tools and resources to protect the health, safety, and well-being of your workforce. Take the time to learn what anxieties employees are faced with and work diligently to address them. This will allow employees to feel comfortable and confident as they transition back into the workplace.