Back to Work: How to Prepare During a Pandemic

Thursday, September 24, 2020

As business owners prepare the workplace for returning employees, they aren’t the only ones feeling nervous about resuming in-person operations. Half of all U.S. workers said they are afraid to return due to health concerns surrounding COVID-19, according to a Korn Ferry survey.

Despite their fears, 75% of respondents also believe their employers will create a safe workspace that follows recommended guidelines. To help ease anxiety and foster a positive environment, business owners should develop and implement a strategic plan that keeps employees informed, maintains health and safety protocols, and addresses workers’ needs.

Communicate clearly and consistently
Before employees walk through the door on their first day back, managers and business owners should already have been in regular communication with each individual – listening to team members is just as important as talking to them. Communication clears confusion and quells anxiety because it helps workers plan for what’s to come, express hesitations and ask important questions.

Employers are encouraged to ask questions, too, such as:

  • Do you have suggestions for our return-to-work procedures?
  • Are you worried about coming back?
  • How can I help you with this transition?

Your employees’ answers will provide insight that can help guide the direction of new policies and proactively handle issues you might otherwise overlook. Once you have all your new standards in place (more on that below), communicate them to your staff clearly and often. Weekly meetings or consistent emails keep everyone informed and reiterate to staff your commitment to maintaining a safe space.

Update operations and protocols
Businesses and employers can take the lead in preventing and slowing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Update standard operating procedures to account for current conditions and provide the new protocols to employees prior to their return.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines detail how to maintain healthy operations and a safe work environment, including:

  • performing routine cleaning
  • discouraging sharing equipment when possible
  • requiring employees and customers to wear masks
  • posting social distancing signs and marking floors with directional arrows
  • reducing conference and meeting room occupancy
  • providing PPE, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and other cleaning products that kill SARS-CoV-2

When revising policies, be sure to check local ordinances to ensure you are in compliance.

Employers should also consider daily health checks and encourage sick employees to stay home. When at all possible, maintain flexible sick leave policies that allow workers to care for children and other family members. Additionally, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires certain employers to provide paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.

Keep an open door policy
Most people have some level of stress concerning COVID-19. Keeping your door open for ongoing questions and concerns allows employees to be honest and transparent, which lays the foundation for productive solutions. Every worker’s situation will be different. Flexible policies are an opportunity to show your company cares about the people who make success possible. Simple steps, like being an active listener, can alleviate your employees’ anxieties and promote productivity, even amid a pandemic.

For additional help getting your workforce back to business, download this Return to Work checklist from the HR Support Center, our online tool packed with resources, information and a dedicated COVID-19 section. You can learn more here.