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Facing the Pandemic with a Return to Workplace Plan

Written by Rebecca Mitchell & Lucy Dominguez

Published in the PRIMA Press Newsletter, September 2020

Facing the Pandemic with a Return to Workplace Plan

It is amazing how quickly six months has changed the way America works. Faced with unprecedented risks under the Covid-19 pandemic, all companies have been faced with orchestrating critical realignments to meet their commitments to both employees and clients.

And it is hardly over. Companies must work diligently to manage the next wave of challenges that include how to return employees to the workplace with confidence and fresh perspectives. There are some practical first steps to take including the guidelines provided by OSHA and the CDC:

  • Returning to the workplace should align with the requirements of Federal, state, and local governments as well as with public health recommendations
  • Develop and implement policies and procedures that mitigate risk
  • Implement enhanced cleaning and disinfecting practices in workplaces, especially high traffic areas and surfaces or items that are shared
  • Make accessible disinfecting wipes, gloves, and hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol
  • Continue telework where possible
  • Initiate ADA accommodation for workers at higher risk of severe illness
  • Take temperatures and conduct screening questions/questionnaires with employees prior to entering the workplace while, maintaining confidentiality
  • Limit the number of people in the workplace at one time to enable strict social distancing practices. Consider staggered shifts, block scheduling and flexible hours
  • Educate employees on the importance of wearing cloth face coverings in the workplace
  • In the appropriate language and literacy level, provide training workers regarding their risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2, what the employer is doing to protect them and how they can protect themselves

An additional threat that employers must be prepared to face is the fear factor. Addressing employees’ fears directly will play a major role in the success, or failure of aa successful return to the workplace. The psychological barriers may be difficult to overcome and employers should be proactive in providing resources to address fear through concrete and practical information, encouragement and tactical support. Keep in mind employees will return with a new set of emotions and anxiety. Considerations may include:

  • Employees with school-aged children may need to flex their workday to accommodate school schedules
  • Informational webinars may be helpful, with topics focused on well-being. These webinars may be informational, inspirational or skill building. All should include building resilience and resourcefulness in the form of goal-focused messages
  • Have coaching available either virtually or through TEAMS, Zoom or other similar platform
  • Implement quarterly employee surveys to keep a pulse on what is working and learn what else is needed to reduce anxiety in the transition
  • Assess what tools are available through your group health, EAP and various partners that can be offered up as optional ways for connection, relaxation techniques and coping mechanisms
  • Encourage coffee or lunch breaks through Zoom or Teams so coworkers can see other faces and interact with each other

We are all in this together, while we prepare and equip for a return to the workplace. We must be consistently compassionate about current circumstances that accompany the pandemic including the ramifications in our homes and work lives.

Eleanor Roosevelt acknowledged, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face”. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

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