Our two-part introduction to returning to work includes these guidelines for Policies and Procedures as well as a guide to Facility Management, which you can explore here. See more resources at our Return to Work Essentials page.
Bringing the entire workforce home created a vacuum and an urgent need to set expectations for employees. Perhaps its most challenging element was the immediacy and the lack of pre-planning that was possible. In stark contrast, making a return to work can be a thought-out initiative, taking advantage of shutdowns or stalled business to make adequate preparations.
Making this return isn't a one-size-fits-all process. Your company's industry, size, layout, location, and culture will influence the unique needs of your organization. What works for one business might not work for another, yet sharing information and resources can help us all explore considerations we may not have arrived at on our own.
Modeled after some of our own internal planning, as well as the thought leadership of industry leaders, NBF has created content that can help you get a running start to getting back to business. Alongside physical changes and rearrangement, the policies and procedures you put in place will determine the success of your return to work. Holding the following three tenets to be true, we're here to cheer you on and help you stay safe as we all navigate the new normal.
A Sense of Humanity
CLEAR, CONCISE, AND EASY-TO-FOLLOW
Policies and practices are only as successful if they are followed at all times. Avoid overwhelming, confusing, or conflicting information at every juncture, opting for simple steps and easily accessible resources. Use a combination of written communication, visual cues, and in-person instruction to make each new policy change as clear as possible. From overarching memorandums to posted signage, expectations should be designed to become second nature without much effort.
SET THE RIGHT TONE
Returning to work after a radical worldwide disruption might be a stressful or emotional experience for some employees. While using simple syntax and easy-to-follow instructions, ensure that the overall voicing and tone speaks to the workforce on a person-to-person level. Stick with informative and compassionate language that encourages everybody to work together towards common goals. Alarmist, flippant, or judgmental sentiments will make new regulations seem off-putting or unnecessary.
INTERNAL CONTENT & COMMUNICATION
Keeping your organization well-informed and up-to-speed takes many forms. To keep the most recent rules and guidelines clear, the creation of internal content will need to be orderly, informative, and easy to access.
- Immediate, Transparent Communication: After initial decisions are made, a large amount of information will need to be shared, but policies will ultimately undergo changes once they're put to the test. Send frequent communication to all employees and employ a combination of both written communication and video messages.
- Create a Guidebook: Use this guide and other tools to determine the best practices for your company and create an initial guidebook. As policies change, so will this handbook, and notes on revision dates and additions should be included. Keep this in a shared digital location to ensure that it maintains its most up-to-date form.
- Accept Feedback: Create a dedicated email for COVID-19, Return to Work, and policy-related questions, concerns, and suggestions. Consider using an additional anonymous source, available in multiple formats online and even integrated into existing collaborative software, to encourage those hard-to-ask questions.
- Location-Based Signage: In each area, be sure to post highly-visible and well-designed signage that outlines space-based expectations.
- Use Gentle Reminders: Don't be afraid to go overboard with wayfinding materials, such as floor decals or guide ropes, and use different mediums to make sure there isn't too much "noise" generated by text-heavy signage.
- Share Outward-Facing Content: As you create client or customer-facing blogs and materials, these pieces are already inspired by your company's thought leadership and culture. These pieces are valuable to employees as well.
- A Central Location: Use shared folders, cloud locations, HR management software, or another easily-accessible and easy-to-update location to store guidebooks, guidelines, and up-to-date materials.
What works for your company might be more or less strict than another's. Tailor each expectation to multiple factors, including the size of your organization, the date they're imposed, company culture, and more. Some of these will be dictated by your state and local government agencies; when necessary, default to these restrictions. For each scenario, consider a jumping-off point that can be relaxed as time goes on, such as the following examples:
- Specify a single date when all employees should return to the office
- Provide a tiered option, allowing employees to return in waves
- Specify a date by which employees should transition to full-time office work
Enforce mandatory mask use by all employees at all times
- Enforce mandatory mask use by all employees in hallways and common areas
- Encourage optional mask usage by providing single-use PPE
- Encourage employees to bring their own single-use or washable PPE
Employees are required to self-monitor their personal health
- Employees receive a brief evaluation upon arrival, including taking temperature
- A thermal scanner is located at entrance points for contactless and automated temperature readings
- A RN or NP can be hired on a temporary basis to conduct health checks for added privacy
All out-of-territory travel requires a minimum 14day self-quarantine
- Only air travel requires a minimum 14-day self-quarantine
Personal hygiene guidelines must be clearly communicated and followed. These simple steps are valuable and, beyond COVID-19, are behaviors that everybody should continue to follow in public and private spaces. These include strict hand hygiene after using the restroom, before touching food, after using shared supplies, and periodically throughout the day. Soap and water is the best solution, however the compulsive use of sanitizer is an excellent stand-in that can be placed in any space.
When using shared spaces, such as conference rooms, training areas, or breakrooms, cleaning behind oneself is a best practice that can be solved by keeping disinfecting wipes handy or, in lunchrooms or other food-involved environments, FDA-approved spray disinfectants for intermittent use. These measures won't replace daily deep-cleaning by trained janitorial staff, but will make casual use of shared items safer. Expect employees to personally wipe down phones, shared tech-enabled conference peripherals, breakroom appliances, door handles, and any other multi-touch surface after it is used.
For workstations, see our Complete Guide to Furniture Cleaning to best care for your pieces in the long-term.
EVALUATE COMMUNAL GOODS
Aside from one's workstation, the vast majority of in-office resources are shared between staff. Each area requires special attention beyond the aforementioned cleaning guidelines and regulations. Alongside the expectation of cleaning behind oneself, an added measure may include designating a series of point people to periodically monitor individual spaces. Consider these high-touch and constant-occupancy areas, creating and prominently displaying requirements of use:
- Document Technology: Copiers, printers, scanners, and paper-based materials are shared resources, all of which involve paper, one of the most porous carriers of germs and viruses.
- Breakroom Resources: Appliances are naturally high-touch and require use-by-use disinfecting. Don't forget any of the following-- refrigerators, microwaves, toasters, toaster ovens, stand-alone ice machines, dishwashers, and coffee pots.
- Washable vs. Single-Use: When possible, store all reusable items and stock breakrooms with single-use alternatives. Cutlery, condiments, storage containers, cups, and dishes should be replaced with disposable alternatives.
- Trash Receptacles: Add covers to all exposed trash receptacles and, when possible, use foot-operated lids to further reduce touchpoints.
- Conference Peripherals: Especially in tech-enabled spaces, conference areas often include shared docks, conference phones, wireless computer peripherals, and screens. When selecting disinfectants, ensure that your choices are safe for use on screens or other sensitive materials.
- Incoming Mail: The reception and distribution of mail should be handled by one designated party, following a surface disinfection that doesn't harm the integrity of contents. Evaluate your company's existing procedures and determine if it's preferable for mail to be distributed individually or if a centralized cubby system is preferable.
There's numerous places and reasons why employees might gather, be it for a meeting, lunchtime, or any type of casual conversation. While some of these need to be completely eliminated, others can be remediated by following set social distancing guidelines.
After spending several months working from home, teams learned to use collaborative software to have productive meetings. Even while back in the office, start by maintaining online-only meetings, even if everybody is in the same building. For employees that don't already have them, offer headsets or microphone-equipped headphones to cut down on background noise.
In the beginning, imposing strict restrictions on breakrooms cuts back on employee interaction, but to keep up morale and maintain employee happiness, using a mixture of clear acrylic panels and strict guidelines can allow for the casual conversation that wasn't possible during quarantine. Ensure that tables are well-spaced and uncrowded by physically arranging furniture and placing laminated, cleanable signage at tables to signify occupancy.
Maintaining one-way flow cuts down on contamination and airborne spread. Use stick-on floor decals, gaff tape, or posted signage to denote one-way hallways, up or down staircases, dedicated entrances or exits, and directional aisles between cubicles. Any physical activity, including walking, increases air droplet spread, further increasing risk.
Since employees won't be the only presence in your building, providing predetermined visitor guidelines keeps the entire organization informed on expectations. Alongside other variable policies, these are unique to your industry and should be accompanied by a tentative tiered relaxation schedule.
Start by determining essential visitors and staff. Repair people, cleaners, and mail carriers are essential to keep businesses running, however there can be restrictions imposed on visits from outside vendors, clients, and other parties that can be connected with an online meeting. Invest in a service that enables outside video conferencing in order to keep these business meetings running.
Whatever your existing cleaning schedule had been-- increase it. Daily deep-cleaning of the entire facility is a necessity and, for particularly large organizations, consider adding a midday service to wipe down high-touch areas with more powerful disinfectants. Ensure that your cleaning service uses supplies that are FDA-approved for defense against SARS-CoV-2 while remaining appropriate for furniture and fixture materials.
While the majority of cleaning companies have adapted their procedures, hazard-informed companies that specialize in total sterilization have been continually trained on thorough, surface-specific cleaning. As the office has been dormant for some time, these services will be most beneficial after the office has been occupied and should be considered for intermittent, supportive use. In particular, warehouses, plants, and other high-activity environments require more stringent cleaning, as any increase in physical activity increases viral spread.
PREPARE FOR THE FUTURE
Things will get better. As infection rates decline and state governments relax requirements, all of your policies and procedures should have tentative relaxation and discontinuation plans. Sharing these benchmarks can boost employee morale, however make it known that they're tentative and not guaranteed.
Things might get worse. Particularly in the fall, it's likely that there will be resurgences of COVID-19. This might truncate your return to work or halt any guideline relaxing. At worst, this might trigger a period of working from home. Put in place specific triggers that will tighten restrictions and possibly send employees back home.
Some improvements are for the better. Better hygiene doesn't hurt and for years to come these practices will make regular cold and flu season less of a struggle. Further, the collective realization that employees are productive while working from home has increased trust and created new opportunities for a healthy work-life balance. Find the good in these changes.