4-23 What does Return to Work look like? There's a lot to think about here!
We’re all anxious to get back to normal, but normal will actually be a brave new world for every one of us, whether employer or employee. Over the next few weeks you’ll start receiving guidelines on how to open your businesses and bring back employees. Here are the high notes.
Just because restrictions are being lifted does not mean that the coronavirus is defeated. The rolling back of restrictions is acknowledgement that we have managed to not knee-cap our healthcare system (although that risk remains). It means we have taken collective measures as a community to slow the spread and give our first responders time to get over the initial surge. However, we have to remember that the virus is still there, still spreading, and still has the potential to harm your employees, your customers, and everyone’s loved ones.
Continue to be judicious, mixed with a dollop of empathy. Employees are still concerned, but if we can’t operate, we won’t have businesses and therefore we won’t have employees. That is a delicate conversation we may have to have with everyone.
Understand that we’re never going to return to “normal.” What does that even mean? We’re entrepreneurs and small businesses. We have to be responsive and innovative. It’s what we do best, so let’s do it here, too!
Continue following the daily press briefings from your state (fondly referred to as Wine with DeWine or Action with Acton here in Ohio). At this point, re-opening is being left to the individual states with a phased approach recommendation provided by the federal government. Monday, April 27 is the expected date for the first round of information and guidance.
You’ll hear many recommendations and it is likely you will need to customize some of the guidelines to your unique business. Talk to your business partners (attorney, accountant, HR, CPA, etc.) to figure out the best approach for your business and your employees. Don’t forget to engage your employees in finding and implementing solutions. You’ll be amazed at how awesome they are and how well they step up!
Just because business is back up and running does not mean things will be humming along at the same rate as BC (before coronavirus). Part of being judicious will be to continue to look at how you can control expenses. Again, work with your business partners on devising your strategy.
From the employer’s perspective:
Sanitizing and cleaning will be part of the “new norm (NN).” Obviously, you already had a cleaning protocol in place BC that probably included a once-per week visit by a cleaning company and all employees acting like adults and picking up after themselves. Now you will need to be militant in your protocols. Having Clorox wipes, hand sanitizer, paper towels, and disinfectant spray on hand all the time is your new norm. Having those supplies available throughout your offices and easily accessible will be your new norm.
Create cleaning schedules and make it a requirement that employees clean their personal workspaces every day. (Doing so at the end of the day will prepare it for the next day; if you have multiple shifts, everyone should be required to clean their spaces daily and by shift.) Don’t forget, you may have to train your people how to care for equipment they may not have otherwise been responsible for cleaning, etc. Keep those handwashing posters up in your bathrooms, kitchens, etc.
Wearing masks will likely become a strong recommendation and a best practice in our NN, especially for those positions that interact with customers, go in and out of the office onto work sites, etc. Keep supplies of masks and gloves available for your employees. (If you need access to a supplier of masks, one of our clients here in Columbus can help you. Just message me and I’ll connect you.)
Arrange (or re-arrange) your office to reinforce social distancing. Not every company can support individual offices, so you may need to get creative to accomplish this.
It is expected that remote working (working from home) will become standard practice to support many of these new expectations. We’ve been thrown into it and know it’s possible. Now we’ll have to fine-tune what that means in the NN. By continuing this for certain positions, you will be able to more likely accommodate the social distancing requirements. Think about remote work agreements, data security, technology, use of equipment, etc. Also remember that employees do not have a home office deduction option any longer, so can you give allowances for increased use of their personal devices and resources?
Eliminate gathering places. Don’t allow employees to congregate in breakrooms, conference rooms, outside to smoke, or in other “group” areas. This should definitely be a Phase I and Phase II requirement.
Remote working agreements may be your primary weapon to protect and accommodate your vulnerable employees.
Speaking of vulnerable, you may want to think about setting aside specific business hours strictly for your vulnerable clients.
You may also want to consider staggered schedules (including lunches and breaks). This, combined with remote working, is a great way to manage all of this. (Remember, trust is part of letting people work remotely, but so is the implementation of technology and, more importantly, setting measurable outcomes for your employees.)
Continue screening and observing your employees. It is unprecedented that the federal government encourages employers to conduct what is the equivalent of a medical exam (taking temperatures) on employees, but you need to make this a normal protocol (or have them take their temps at home and verify they did so and they are not carrying a temperature, if you can’t manage standing at the door every morning). The CDC has a great “self-checker” that employees can complete if they believe they might be symptomatic.
Develop keens skills of observation and train your supervisors to do the same. If you or your supervisors observe any of they symptoms outlines on the CDC’s website, they should quietly ask the employee to leave the work area and then work with you to get the employee home. Remember, you must still protect an employee’s medical privacy, so if an employee exhibits symptoms and you send them home, advise other employees that they may have come into contact with an employee (do not mention names) who may have the virus and advise them to watch their own symptoms and check with their doctor about next steps.
Limit business travel. Get used to teleconferencing and train your people on how to conduct effective professional conferences.
Finally, remember that the FFCRA is active through December 31. That means your employees could ask for paid sick leave or expanded FMLA through the end of the year for any of the reasons outlined in the FFCRA notice. As employees ask for this time off, have honest discussions with them and help them understand that once they exhaust these leaves, and if they have no other leave policies in place (such as PTO, vacation, etc.), any additional time off will be unpaid. This will help them make informed decisions.
From the employee’s perspective:
Unlike me, many people do not like working from home, thought they liked it and discovered they did not, or simply need the social aspect of their jobs (maybe not all of the time, but some of the time). Engage them in the discussion of working remotely versus at the office and understand what may be making them anxious.
Help your employees create boundaries. They should work on set schedules (and if they’re exempt, you should prohibit them from working outside of their scheduled hours or you may be required to pay overtime), and have defined breaks, just as they would if they were in the office.
If our workforce is mixed (some at the office and some at home), don’t forget the ones at home when you do lunches, have trainings, etc. Find ways to include them.
Regular communication will become more critical. If you have Office 365, get familiar with Teams and use it. If you don’t have Office 365, set up COMPANY (not individual personal) networks to create a communication channel that everyone can access and that retains the communications for documentation purposes. (If you need IT referrals, I have a few. Message me.) And make the communication fun, too. From time to time, break out the emojis and gifs (appropriate ones only), or do a picture sharing event (themed, of course), and celebrate the little and big wins, because we all need celebrations right now.
Remember that your employees are scared (about getting the virus, about losing their jobs, about their future opportunities, about the future of the company, about them not being in front of you and missing potential opportunities, about whether you have forgotten about them…the list goes on and on). Just like you would have them reach out to your customers to do a check in, you should be doing the same with your employees (or their managers should be).
If you want even more nuggets about opening your business, join me and a few other local business owners and experts (they could become your new business partners) for a panel discussion on Thursday, April 30 at 1:00 p.m. You can register to attend here.
Welcome to your NN. Be calm and carry on. Be kind. Be flexible. Be consistent. Carry on.
Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need anything!
Sharon DeLay, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, CPCC
GO-HR (a dba of BoldlyGO Career and HR Management, LLC)
[O] 614-473-0122 ▪ [C] 614-233-1522