Navigating COVID: Best practices to safely return to the office

Navigating COVID: Best practices to safely return to the office

As employees around the globe adapt to normalcy in the wake (or next wave) of the COVID-19 pandemic, there can be a range of emotions and thoughts when returning to the workplace. 94% of workers are stressed according to Forbes, and this can have a negative impact if companies don’t manage the transition properly.
The office can contribute to collaboration and efficiency, providing an opportunity to work in a focused team setting – free of the distractions of the home. While working remotely also offers many benefits, the office environment allows a tangible and focused collaboration.

However, there are also employees who remain reserved or fearful about returning to the workplace. Concerns about health and safety, potential layoffs and overall social anxiety can affect even the best employees as they return to the office.

So what can you as a company do to help alleviate the anxiety and stress of returning to the office? By enacting policies that contribute to health and safety in the office and follow the latest guidance from trusted sources, backed by scientific evidence. Read on to learn how you can help your employees feel safe and confident when returning to work.

1) Provide adequate sanitization

Everyone was supposed to wash their hands regularly before COVID, but we all know that person in the office who took that as a suggestion rather than a rule. One of the common suggestions related to COVID prevention is to regularly wash your hands with soap and water. When you are not in a position to use soap and water, alcohol hand sanitizers are a good stand-in, and that includes cleaning your workspace.

To help alleviate your employee’s anxieties your company should work to ensure a clean space, and provide sanitizing stations near high-traffic areas – don’t limit them to bathrooms and entrances. Plan ahead, and consider measures like disinfecting spray for:

  • Common areas
  • Water coolers
  • Bathrooms
  • Building access points and workspace entry points
  • Lunchrooms or break rooms
  • Cubicle blocks
  • Printers, fax machines, and administrative offices

If your company is mandating that employees return to work, it is especially important to provide them with convenient ways to sanitize their hands and workspaces. This is critical if employees frequently share office resources like printers and scanners, or supplies like pens and paper.

It is recommended that you not only provide sanitization resources but also create a refilling schedule. This will ensure that disinfectant bottles are checked, cleaned, and replenished.

Image of a woman working in a warehouse with COVID precautions.

2) Sick? Stay home!

Before COVID it was all too common for people to come to work if they had a mild (or sometimes severe) cold or flu. The fear of financial instability and potential layoff can be enough to drive a sick employee into the office, regardless of symptoms.

You should instruct all employees to stay at home in case of illness, even if their symptoms are not typical of COVID – you don’t want to bring more health hazards to the office! Also consider that their immune system could be compromised, making them more vulnerable to COVID. This is a preemptive measure to protect your office staff, and minimize sick days within the group as a whole.

Many companies have also started allowing work from home when an employee has an illness that is not so severe that they cannot do their work (if it is severe, please rest!). By allowing some flexibility to work remotely when an employee has a mild cold or flu, the chance the employee comes into the office and puts others at risk is greatly reduced.

Companies should take it upon themselves to create an environment of support, where an employee feels comfortable and covered when using sick time or paid leave to heal. This requires open dialogue and a clear sick day policy, with the understanding that health is a top priority. This goes a long way towards establishing trust in the post-COVID era.

A group of employees get a daily briefing about their factory’s COVID best practices

3) Stay informed about COVID

Both the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US have ongoing COVID-19 research – this includes how to create safer workplaces and keep employees healthy. If your company operates in Canada and the US, you should check the latest updates from both agencies.

As you work on your COVID prevention policy, make sure you are informed of the latest developments from trusted scientific sources and government agencies. You can check the latest updates from Canadian and US agencies by visiting their websites, and you can update your prevention measures based on the latest recommendations.

Your employees will greatly appreciate seeing that you are enacting the latest suggestions and recommendations from these agencies.

4) Create an open dialogue

Employers often underestimate the power of an open dialogue with their team. By fostering an atmosphere of openness and honesty, your team will feel comfortable in voicing any fears or concerns about returning to the workplace. With just the power of conversation, you’ll be able to break down potential barriers to productivity, and solve any issues that could sink your employee morale.

You can encourage higher levels of attendance, productivity and positivity with a collaborative attitude while your office navigates the transition.

5) Make your employees comfortable

If your workplace does not offer a choice between the office and working from home, keep in mind that some employees may need additional protection measures to feel safe. For example, if your company does not have any policies requiring masks, you may still find some employees who feel uncomfortable without them. It is important to make those employees feel safe and comfortable to practice the level of caution that reduces their stress. So while 90% of your team might not be wearing masks in the office make sure there is no judgment or ridicule levied at anyone who does choose to wear a mask at the office.

The opposite is also true – if 90% of employees are masked, but a few do not not feel comfortable working that way they should not be shamed or judged so long as they are not breaking your company’s safety policies. Everyone should be able to practice the level of caution that allows them to feel good and be productive within the policies set out by your organization.

Managers can’t control all aspects of workplace culture, but they can influence it. Some employees may not feel comfortable with only the mandatory requirements – and therefore may experience more anxiety about returning to work. Employers should provide support and reassurance, setting the tone for the entire office.

The time to support your employees is now

Returning to work can pose several challenges for your employees – affecting them emotionally, while creating logistical challenges. These issues can undermine employee confidence when returning to the office.

Companies can support their employees through the transition, encouraging a mindset of acceptance and flexibility as the office adapts. Employers can also help by creating policies that put employee health first – they must create an environment of safety, with sanitizing stations and personal protective equipment policies that favor the most vulnerable employees.

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Learn more about COVID-19 and how it can impact your office or work site, and learn what you can do about it.


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