10 Tips for Returning Employees to the Workplace

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek May 28, 2020
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preparing workplace

​Organizations that are readmitting employees to the workplace after the coronavirus pandemic forced many to work from home will need to take precautions, experts say.

SHRM Resource Spotlight
Coronavirus and COVID-19

FleetCor Technologies, a financial data services provider based in Atlanta, is reopening in phases to mitigate employees' exposure, said Crystal Williams, chief human resources officer. The company employs 8,000 employees around the world and 200 at its headquarters. 

Employees who have an office with a door will come back during phase one. These employees have the option of continuing to work from home if they prefer.

In phase two, the company will rotate schedules for employees who work near one another in cubicles. These employees will work from home one week and in their office cubicles the following week.

"This phase will also introduce temperature-check kiosks [for workers and visitors] and possibly a nurse on staff," Williams said. Temperatures will be taken daily.

Phase three—a full return of all employees to headquarters—will not happen until there are significant advancements in COVID-19 prevention and treatment, she said. 

All returning employees will receive masks, personal bottles of hand sanitizer and instructions on how to use both. They will be asked to wear masks when moving outside of their work areas and to sanitize their hands before and after using shared resources such as the printer or vending machine.

"We all know the new office environment will be vastly different from office life pre-pandemic," Williams said.

Preparing the Workplace 

PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted a survey May 5-7 with 288 chief financial officers and finance leaders in public and private companies and found that:

  • 58 percent of respondents anticipate changing or having alternate shifts to reduce employee exposure.

  • 73 percent anticipate reconfiguring worksites to promote physical distancing.

  • 28 percent plan to do contact tracing.

What else should employers do to ready their workplaces for returning employees? SHRM Online has collected the following 10 tips:

  1. Thoroughly clean your offices, including air ducts and ventilation systems.
  2. Post signs indicating that common areas—such as elevators, conference rooms, break rooms and bathrooms—have been sanitized and the date and time this was done.
  3. Follow federal, state and local guidelines. Some states have forbidden offices from exceeding certain capacity levels and are requiring employee workstations to be 6 feet apart. Additionally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, state and local governments have all released guidelines for returning to the workplace. "Every state is reopening at different speeds," pointed out OneDigital in an e-mail to SHRM Online. It is an HR and employee benefits company in Atlanta. "Before returning [to the workplace], employers need to align their workplaces with new regulations or risk fines or closures."
  4. Communicate the actions you are taking. "Employers are going to have to be very communicative, not just with signage but with reminders through e-mails, texts and every meeting you're going to have … that you are doing everything in your power to make it a safe environment," said Moe Vela, chief transparency officer at TransparentBusiness. The remote work platform is headquartered in New York City. "Employees are going to be fearful, they're going to be reticent, they're going to be reluctant" to return to work in some cases. "The employer is going to have to demonstrate policies that rebuild that trust."
  5. Provide masks and place sanitizer throughout the premises—including in elevators and other areas it had not been located prior to the pandemic. Simply covering elevator buttons with plastic, Vela said, provides a false sense of security.
  6. Offer counseling. "Everyone is coming off a very traumatic experience. It's been traumatic for all of us, even for those of us who feel we are [emotionally] equipped," Vela said. "It's the right thing to do. It's the least you can do when coming off a trauma.
  7. Limit the number of people in meetings and maintain social-distancing protocols for in-person meetings. "You're going to have to figure out a seating arrangement" for meetings, Vela said. "It may mean some people on a speakerphone and some people in person. You may have to divide it up. I don't even know if you could do an all-hands meeting to give people [enough] space."
  8. Rethink in-person social gatherings. Asking employees to join in a birthday celebration in the break room can backfire, Vela said, with employees feeling that the employer has "a complete disregard for their well-being.
  9. Be flexible. Employees who are able to work remotely should have the option to continue doing so if they are uncomfortable returning to the workplace, said Sarah Hamilton, senior director of HR at Workhuman, a social recognition and performance management platform headquartered in Framingham, Mass.
  10. Make no exceptions to the rules. "Companies should also resist the temptation to make exceptions for certain employees or executives when it comes to the guidelines they are putting forth for their employee safety," Hamilton said. "We have and will continue to be very purposeful and calculated, as to our return to work plans. " 

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