At FormulaMed, it is our primary goal to make the work environment as safe as possible – especially in the midst of a global pandemic. Many of our clients have the same goal in mind.
Having a strategic plan for health and safety provides a level of comfort for employees. Plus it also makes an impact beyond the workplace, since principles and practices initiated at work often serve as guides for other areas of an employee’s life.
Just as what happens at work can influence employees outside of the workplace, the opposite is also true. For this reason, your employees might have several concerns when re-entering the workplace, based on what they hear and read outside of the workplace.
Address employee concerns from the outside in, starting with a self-assessment policy.
Conducting Self-Assessments Before Re-Entering the Workplace
To return to the office, your employees need to be free of COVID-19 symptoms. On-site individual health screening and testing, like those offered by FormulaMed personnel, is a viable option for many companies. Alternatively, employees can conduct self-assessments before re-entering the workplace. Your company can create a policy that outlines the following:
- Employees are required to check their temperature at home before arriving at work.
- If their temperature is less than 100.4ºF with no fever-reducing medication in their system, then they can come into the office.
- Upon arrival at the office, employees sign in to attest that they’re symptom free and present or are willing to have their temperature checked by the employer (if that is an option).
This policy also has the additional advantages of:
- Facilitating contact tracing
- Fostering greater trust among co-workers
- Comforting employees with your commitment to their health and well-being
How To Alleviate Common Concerns When Re-Entering The Workplace
When your employees re-enter the workplace, you will find they may have several concerns. Fielding and appropriately addressing these concerns is essential to maintain a work culture of trust and safety. Here are the most common concerns when re-entering the workplace and how to alleviate them with practical policies.
Identify Quarantine Triggers
Exposure to the virus outside of the workplace is virtually inevitable; however, the likelihood of actually contracting the virus will vary depending on the level of exposure.
When exposures occur, it will trigger concern about whether or not to quarantine.
There are two categories of quarantine triggers:
- Soft triggers
- Hard triggers
A majority of employees will likely experience soft quarantine triggers. These are instances where someone has a brief, low-risk exposure to the virus.
For example, an employee who interacted with a friend while wearing a mask and not physically interacting but later found out their friend tested positive for the virus would indicate a soft trigger.
To alleviate concern around soft quarantine triggers, reassure employees that:
- The likelihood of the employee contracting the virus in this instance is low
- They took the appropriate precautionary measures to preemptively minimize likelihood of infection
- Nearly everyone has been exposed to the virus at some point (e.g you may have passed a virus carrier in the grocery store)
Alternatively, a few of your employees might have experienced hard quarantine triggers. These are instances where someone has a prolonged, high-risk exposure to the virus.
For example, an employee recently traveled on an airplane from Wuhan, China, or another COVID-19 hotspot (e.g. New York) would indicate a hard trigger.
To alleviate concerns around hard quarantine triggers,
- Direct the exposed employee to self-quarantine for 14 days before returning to work
- Have them perform a standard self-assessment before re-entering the workplace
- Offer an on-site Abbott COVID‐19 high sensitivity FDA Authorized IgG antibody test and COVID‐19 PCR test
Overall, pre-establishing guidelines around soft and hard quarantine triggers will help your organization dispel concern and confusion around employee quarantine.
Educate on Travel and Commuting Best Practices
During stay-at-home orders, travel was at an all time-low for most people. Transitioning from barely leaving home to commuting to work each day is another common concern when re-entering the workplace. Here are some guidelines to provide to employees about travel and commuting to work to help alleviate concern.
Travel Best Practices
In general, avoid any taxis, rideshares, or public transportation when commuting. In other words, have employees drive themselves to work whenever possible.
Carpooling Best Practices
It may not always be feasible for employees to drive themselves to work; not everyone has a car of their own. When carpooling, individuals should
- Wear a mask and ask the driver to do the same–masks protect both parties
- Remember they are in a “dirty state”
- Take appropriate precautions (e.g. not touch face, use hand sanitizer, wear mask)
- Try their best not to talk during the carride to avoid dispelling aerosols and droplets
Enforce Masks in the Workplace
Although some individuals have stopped wearing masks while outdoors, masks should always be worn inside the workplace and common shared locations. Below are some of the most common concerns employees have about mask-wearing in the workplace:
- What kind of mask should I wear, and where will I get it? Management should provide 3-ply non-medical grade surgical masks. These should be replaced or cleaned/sanitized on a regular basis per CDC recommendations.
- When should I wear a mask? Employees should wear masks whenever they are outside of their workstation. This includes hallways, common areas, conference rooms, copy rooms, and break rooms.
- Why do I need to wear a mask? Masks are designed to protect others more than yourself; therefore, if everyone is wearing them, everyone is protected.
- Do visitors need to wear masks? Yes. Management should keep a small supply of spare masks at the door for distribution to visitors AND safely dispose of them after use,
Establish Safe Distance Protocols
The world is now very familiar with the term “social distancing.” However, in an organizational context this term is vague and has poor optics. You’ll need to establish safe distance protocols for your specific work environment. Do this by:
- Promptly socializing safe distance methods. Establish the safe distance protocols as quickly as possible – preferably, as soon as they reenter the workplace.
- Requesting employees to stay at least 6 feet apart whenever possible. Certain work environments may require closer proximity, which can be done safely with the right hierarchy of controls.
When combined with mask-wearing, these safe distance methods become even more effective.
Create Easy-to-Clean Workplaces
It is typically “business as usual” for organizations to maintain a clean workspace; however, during a pandemic, workplace cleanliness plays a particularly crucial role in safety. Management and employees alike need to organize their workspaces to be easily sanitized. This includes removing the following from the desktop:
- Paper clip containers
- Personal items and mementos
- Sticky notes on common-space surfaces
- Coffee mugs
Management should also direct employees to prepare their station or desk for routine cleanings daily or more frequently.
Handle Mail and Deliveries Safely
To keep the workplace sanitary, employees need to properly handle any mail and deliveries that enter the office.
Exterior packaging of mail (e.g. envelopes, boxes, and bags) are exposed to many germs along the delivery route. The contents inside the packaging have probably received far less germ exposure. For this reason, FormulaMed clients find the following mail-handling policies to be extremely effective:
- Require mail collectors to sort all incoming mail using an event-based gloves plan and process confidential materials through an intra-company folder
- Keep unopened mail in a dedicated location (e.g. a small conference room)
- Require employees to open deliveries and discard the exterior packaging in the dedicated location before bringing its contents into other areas of the office
- Avoid bringing exterior boxes and personal deliveries into the workplace
- Establish a designated food delivery location
With these mail-handling policies, employees will be more at ease receiving their deliveries.
Address Workplace Symptoms Promptly
Organizations that carry out all of these safety measures are still not immune to symptoms appearing in the workplace.
If an employee is experiencing symptoms, they will be concerned about whether or not your management team is there to support them. Similarly, if an employee sees a co-worker exhibiting symptoms, they will be worried about how management will prevent their co-worker from spreading the virus.
Have a Real-Time Action Plan
To alleviate concerns of both symptomatic and non-symptomatic employees, create an action plan for both instances.
If an employee witnesses someone else with COVID symptoms during the work day, then instruct them to contact the COVID-19 Point of Contact (CPOC) for the office. The CPOC will:
- Tell the symptomatic employee that they need to go home
- Require that they immediately isolate themself and wear a mask at all times
- Ask them to quickly gather essential belongings and to limit their movement through the office building
- Send the symptomatic employee home – exiting through a solo elevator ride
- Acknowledge concerns of other employees that even if that co-worker tests positive, they were likely protected by company safety procedures
- Require symptomatic employees to get tested
Develop A Culture of Transparency
Beyond a real-time action plan, organizations should take time to develop a culture of transparency and open discussion about concerns. This can help resolve confusion, promote workplace trust, and foster altruistic attitudes toward safety.
Re-Enter the Workplace Safely
Re-entering the workplace during a pandemic is not something that a company can practice or prepare for on its own. That’s why FormulaMed consults with companies just like yours to prepare the office for re-entry, reintroduce your workforce back into the office, and keep your employees safe. Learn about our tailored solutions here.