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4 steps to a safer reopening

Jun 24, 2020

As states and cities across the U.S. reopen in some capacity, companies must balance the need to return to business with the continuing concerns surrounding the risk to employee health — and the organization’s business reputation. 

Lessons learned from reopenings in Asia and Europe may prove valuable for U.S. organizations as they begin to open within tight new regulations that are likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future. 

As you get back to onsite business, consider these four steps to help you maintain safety for your employees, your customers and yourself.

1. Update the workplace 

Open-space office design, which gained popularity over the past decade, were touted to encourage employee interaction and innovation. Today, they pose significant health concerns and are rapidly being scrapped in favor socially distanced workspaces that limit physical contact. 

  • Forget workspace clusters. Instead, consider installing high-sided cubicle partitions or even individual glass-fronted offices. 
  • Close break areas and cafeterias to discourage mingling. Remove or relocate office watercoolers or coffee stations to help maintain social distancing rules. Eliminate shared food items.
  • Analyze the flow of office traffic to determine which routes people typically take to reach their desks and where jams most frequently form. Lay out distance and direction markers on the floor to avoid office gridlock or crowding around entry and exit points, such as elevators. 
  • Consider maintaining remote work where feasible, even as staff return to the office. For example, use video conferencing for meetings instead of sitting around a conference table.

Creating a safe environment is critical to enticing workers back into the office, so actively communicate any changes to help put employees’ minds at ease.

2. Stagger shifts for social distancing 

Social distancing and other restrictions often mean that only a segment of your workforce can be in the organization at the same time. This can create challenges for work schedules and production timelines. 

To minimize the impact, invest in cross-training to help employees fill in for colleagues who can’t physically be in the same location simultaneously. When such multitasking isn’t an option, alter work schedules to balance particular skillsets across select days. 

3. Be flexible 

Not all employees feel comfortable returning to the workplace, even as stay-at-home restrictions are lifted. This might be especially true for staff who are at-risk or have at-risk family members or those who rely on public transport. 

This is not the time to cling to previous ways of working. By being flexible, you can reduce employee stress. This in turn can improve productivity and morale, enabling your organization to better weather this time of uncertainty.

  • Consider flexible scheduling. Allow people to work longer hours over fewer days, for example, to manage childcare needs or to minimize the trips they must make on public transport. 
  • Evaluate the family-friendliness of your policies. Many parents are still struggling with limited childcare options. Those challenges could increase in the fall if schools remain closed.
  • Make exceptions for staff in high-risk categories. Explore ways to enable them to continue working remotely. Consider extending those allowances to staff with high-risk dependents. 

4. Prioritize health and safety

As employees return to the workplace, many organizations are implementing safeguards to help protect employees:

  • Daily temperature checks 
  • Required use of facemasks 
  • Strict social distancing rules 
  • Disinfection and quarantine procedures
  • Response procedures in case someone falls ill at work 
  • Contact tracing policies to alert workers and contacts who might be exposed 

As you determine which of these tools to implement, refer to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), state and local regulations for your industry and location. 

Regularly update staff. Reinforce the importance of rigorously applying social distancing measures and keeping up with the latest health guidelines from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Julia A. Johnson
Director, Organizational Performance
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