August 20, 2020
NACA Director of Finance & Operations
Last month, I shared some information about the psychological aspects of bringing staff back to the workplace following the lengthy period in which they had to adapt to remote work or furloughs. While navigating these changes, they also have been challenged by sometimes confusing guidance and suggestions from various sources on how to remain safe during the pandemic. Without doubt, the events over the past months have created a range of emotions, not the least of which is fear. As the virus continues to surge, the fear of returning to "normal" routines may be heightened, but employers must make plans if businesses and organizations are to survive.
As mentioned in the
July blog, the first "Big Picture Goal" to reboarding is the health and safety of employees. First and foremost, businesses can't function without their most important asset, their employees. Not only is their health and safety a moral and ethical goal, it is also a sound business goal. A win-win, if you will. Communicating this goal early and often, along with the steps being taken, will help allay much of the fear of returning to the workplace.
When planning for the reboarding process, cut through the noise of the many would-be experts who bring bias and unproven opinion to their advice and counsel. Culling the information should start with dismissing those that have a political bias, then those that may have a hidden agenda of profiting from the information they are sharing. Sometimes the hidden message in, "we are here for you," is, "we're here to sell you something." Look to credible sources for guidance on processes and procedures that will protect your workforce.
Some of the obvious choices for best practices would be the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). These are international and national agencies, respectively, that are non-partisan and whose guidance will be the most up-to-date available. Human resources associations, such as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) can offer sound advice as well. But you may also have other resources, such as similar businesses and workplaces that have already successfully been through the reboarding process and may have successful and specific practices they have been able to implement in addition to the broader advice from the WHO, the CDC and other organizations.
The WHO recommendations include low cost measures that will help prevent the spread of the disease. Measures that should be taken prior to and following the return of staff are:
- Clean and sanitize surfaces and objects
- Place hand sanitizer dispensers in prominent places around the workplace – and refill regularly
- Display posters to remind employees to wash hands often
- Provide surgical face masks for use when staff are not isolated in a private office
- Enforce stay at home rules for anyone who exhibits symptoms such as fever or cough
- Communicate sick leave policies that may apply
The CDC recommends taking into account the level of disease transmission in the community and revising plans as needed. In addition to the WHO recommendations, the CDC also recommends:
- Conducting daily health checks
- Conducting hazard assessments
- Improving the building ventilation system
SHRM and many other organizations that specialize in best practices and legal requirements of managing human resources usually have a great deal of information that is available publicly on their websites. According to information from SHRM on this topic, employers should be prepared for questions that may arise from employees. Among those would be questions such as:
Do I have to come in or can I continue to work remotely? The answer is not always cut and dried, but you need to consider how much flexibility you can offer for someone who may be in a more vulnerable category or still have homebound children.
How will you keep me safe? Communicate all the precautions being taken and a reiteration of the reasoning behind bringing employees back to the workplace.
What are the rights of the employer with regard to health screening? Inform employees that questions, temperature readings and other COVID-19 related health screening are legally allowed. But employers do not share personal information to others. Coronavirus testing may also be requested. Remind employees these measures are in place for their health and safety.
Will everyone be required to wear a mask? This should be determined by proximity of staff to each other with specific guidelines as to when and in what situations masks must be worn.
If I or one of my family become sick, what are my paid leave options? Remind staff of organizational leave policies and any that may have been temporarily altered due to the virus. Be familiar with and communicate to your employees all state and federal programs created to assist businesses and their workers who are forced to miss work due to the virus.
What if one of my coworkers becomes sick with the virus? Have plans in place in the event of a workplace outbreak and communicate those to employees as part of the overall plan for reboarding.
Every workplace is unique. Employers should implement plans that are specific to their workplace, assess areas with potential exposure risk and take the recommended measures to reduce or eliminate those exposures. Drawing on practices that have already proven beneficial for other businesses who have similar staff size and office logistics may help to avoid trial and error experimentation. Reach out to those in your networks to find out what lessons have already been learned about what does and does not work. Ask about unexpected challenges and how they were met.
Utilize all resources at your disposal, whether the WHO, the CDC, other organizations, and businesses within your own network. Employees will feel more comfortable coming back into the workplace if they know that planning for their return is based on proven best practices from experts and the experience of other businesses. Continue to communicate that the number one "Big Picture Goal" is their health and safety and that compliance with safety policies and procedures is a way to ensure that goal is met to the benefit of employees and the organization as a whole.
Brenda Baker is the director of finance and operations at the National Association for Campus Activities. Baker has dedicated her 40-year career to managing associations' financial resources and services.
Related Professional Competency: Volunteer & Staff Management