Positioning Your Business for Reopening

By RealHR Solutions
Contributors: Jill Krumholz and Ariana Levine

positioning-your-business-for-reopening-a-practical-and-human-approachReopening your workplace and returning to the office is on everyone’s mind, both employer and employee alike. As an employer, how can you ensure a successful transition for your organization?

We speak with business leaders daily to discuss their challenges and concerns, and to help them navigate the complex process of business recovery and reopening. We recommend focusing on compliance with federal and state guidelines, flexible and sound management practices, strong leadership, and support to employees throughout the stages of return-to-work planning and reopening.

While the challenges of return-to-work will look somewhat different for every organization, there are common challenges and concerns. Consider how your return-to-work plan can achieve the following goals:

Anticipating and Easing Employee Concerns

When it comes to handling employees’ anxieties about returning to work, an empathetic and proactive leadership approach goes a long way. Some important themes:

  • Sensitivity: Consistent expression of your concern about employee well-being, and interest in and responsiveness to their concerns, will increase your team’s confidence during this transition. It is important to establish yourself as a receptive leader who values open discourse.
  • Collaboration: Input from your direct reports is important. At the same time, consider forming an internal COVID-19 task force that includes a cross section of employees from different departments and different seniority levels, to ensure a representative understanding of employee perspectives. The task force can help to develop, and propose changes to, your return-to-work plan. Whether or not you choose to form a task force, widespread employee participation in the reentry process should be encouraged.
  • Compliance: Stay informed about and compliant with federal and state guidelines. Your organization’s task force (or other responsible parties) will benefit from convening regularly, even once your team is fully back at work. They will need to review new information from public health organizations and government agencies and assess company policies accordingly.
  • Mental Health: Supporting your employees’ mental health is critical to their well-being and the well-being of your business, and bolsters morale and productivity. Look to adopting strategies such as subsidizing access to mental health and counseling services, establishing company-wide or staggered mental health days, and promoting healthy methods of stress relief like yoga and meditation.
  • Organizational Unity: Now more than ever, employers need to cultivate a company-wide culture of community and mutual respect, initiated and guided by your leadership. Rally your employees around your shared goals of keeping the company and its workforce strong. Your staff wants to know that you are invested in them, and they in turn are invested in one another and the success of your organization.

Supporting a Healthy Work Environment

Implement protective practices in the workplace to limit the spread of COVID-19 and keep your team and community healthy. The CDC offers many recommendations and resources for businesses, but adapting and implementing these guidelines will vary by organization.

A healthy work environment must be compliant with all federal, state, and local directives. Depending on your organization’s particular needs, it will also require attention to:

  • Office Protocols: Your office building management has an important role to play in your reopening process. Their plan for reducing the spread of the virus may include posting proper signage, implementing elevator procedures, establishing protocols for maintenance staff, and improving air ventilation and purification systems.
  • Social Distancing: Social distancing, which requires employees to be six feet apart, is critical in limiting the spread of COVID, and needs to be maintained in the workplace. Consider gradually returning staff members to the workplace as needed, or staggering in-person workdays, to facilitate social distancing.
  • Health Screening and Hygiene Practices: Consider implementing health screening practices (like using contactless thermometers to screen for fevers), requiring hand washing, and providing hand and surface sanitizers. Wearing of masks or plastic shields in the workplace should be required wherever possible.
  • Education: As employers welcome employees back to the workplace, OSHA has made clear that employers nationwide should provide workers with up-to-date education and training on COVID-19 risk factors and protective behaviors. Several states, including NY, mandate COVID-19 employee training for certain businesses, and more states and localities are sure to follow. Most of these states outline specific content that must be included in the employee training.
  • Organizational Culture: Promoting a culture of honesty and trust, while maintaining confidentiality, is key to managing the spread of COVID. Ensure that employees report COVID exposure and symptoms to management, and stay home when necessary, without fearing it will impact their employment.

Instituting Flexible, Fair Practices 

Flexibility is critical to your organization’s success through reopening and beyond. What this looks like will be different for each company, but it involves:

  • Vaccination Policies: As cases of COVID-19 decrease and availability of the vaccine becomes more prevalent, employers face the task of creating a safe return to work plans. These plans involve encouraging vaccinations and, in some cases, mandating vaccination before employees may return to in-person work. Determine what is right for your organization, institute fair and equitable policies, and communicate your policies in a way that shows compassion. Click here for official CDC guidelines.
  • Remote Work Procedures: Consider that some of your staff members will continue to need to work from home indefinitely, either part- or full-time. Team members who are at high risk of contracting and/or developing complications from COVID-19 should be encouraged to work from home whenever possible. Employees caring for children or vulnerable adults will also likely have significant remote-work needs.
  • Commitment to Teamwork: It is important to work with your COVID-19 task force and/or individuals representing different employee teams and interests through your reentry process. They can help to develop the best possible procedures for your company, as well as to reassess these practices based on changing needs and to ensure fairness in execution.
  • A Glass-Half-Full Approach: There is no question that this is a stressful time for companies, and it is natural to worry about the impact of these changes on your business and bottom line. However, with the challenges presented by COVID come opportunities to reimagine and revise business practices, that may or may not be right for your company, based on this new way of life. For example, your organization may benefit from reexamining which employees need to be at the workplace and when based on job functions and short- and long-term business objectives. These decisions can positively impact efficiency and morale.
  • Paid Leave Requirements: The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) under FFCRA no longer requires businesses to offer emergency paid sick and family leave benefits to employees, However, as an employer you have the option of providing paid time off for COVID related reasons, for which you can receive tax credits. Since providing this additional leave is no longer a requirement, you must evaluate if you will be offering the extension to your employees. Keep in mind that while emergency paid sick and family leave may no longer be mandatory, COVID sick and vaccination leave may be required depending on state and local leave laws.

The Right Balance

Developing and implementing a successful return-to-work strategy requires business leaders to balance many competing interests, and while there are best practices, there is no one approach. Success will look different for every organization, and for each organization over time. In addition to remaining responsive to new state and federal guidelines, each company will have to revisit and revise its approach to the “new normal” as needed.

We welcome you reaching out to RealHR Solutions to discuss your organization’s specific priorities and needs as you plan and undertake your return to the workplace. We are here to provide real, smart, custom solutions.