16:59 PM

7 Tips to Safely Reopen Your Office



HR leader shares her insights for creating a back-to-work plan that works.

When you’re ready to bring your workforce back to their offices, warehouses, shops and plants, many team members will be understandably concerned about returning safely and with as little risk as possible of contracting COVID-19.

Preparing each physical location for your team’s return, as well as ensuring those spaces remain safe in the weeks and months to come, is only part of the job. Equally important is maintaining open lines of communication every step of the way.

Your team members will have questions. LOTS of questions. Will they be required to wear a mask? How many people can be in a conference room together? What happens if a co-worker tests positive? Where can I go for help in finding new daycare options?

Based on our experience at Atlantic Health System – where critical healthcare areas, of course, remained open, with a few non-clinical functions handled remotely – here are some suggestions for building a thorough “back-to-work” plan and successfully implementing it:

  • Tap into the experts. You don’t have to do this alone. Numerous government agencies and other resources are available to guide you in this journey. One source is Guidance for Preparing Workforces for COVID-19, a publication from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It is an excellent resource for identifying COVID-19 risk levels in workplace settings and determining any appropriate control measures that need to be implemented.
  • Leverage your leaders. Readying for the reopening begins with all levels of leadership. It is vital that your leaders are involved throughout the process, and that teams are aware of their involvement – and buy-in. You can’t expect your workforce to be confident that your organization is properly prepared and committed unless leaders are engaged, enthusiastic and committed.
  • Safety first. It’s obvious, but worth emphasizing: You must take every step and precaution to ensure your team returns to a safe, supportive environment. That means acquiring and maintaining a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) that is appropriate for your particular workplace, as well as developing procedures and protocols and purchasing supplies for deep cleaning before and after your office reopens.
  • Be explicit. The pandemic has unleashed a multitude of conflicting guidelines, varying opinions and rumors. So make it as easy as possible for team members to understand what they need to do, and where/when/why/how they should do it.

For instance, signage – on bulletin boards, in elevators, outside bathrooms, as screensavers and even on office floors – can provide clear, concise and frequent reminders of precautions colleagues should be mindful of. We’re using an easy-to-remember slogan -- “Standing Together, Six Feet Apart” – that has been effective in encouraging our team to take smart steps, always, to control the spread of the virus.

Of course, in the midst of a busy workday, it can be easy to forget some of this guidance. So, we’ve helped by removing conference room chairs that exceed the new capacity. Plus, we have a team member stand at the entrance to cafeterias and other heavy traffic areas to monitor the number of people and let others know when it’s safe to enter.

  • Think outside the box. Sure, you want to do everything required for a safe, risk-limited workplace. But doesn’t your team deserve even better than that? Do some research into best practices, and ask your workforce for solutions that may go above and beyond what is required. That could mean staggering work shifts, adjusting delivery schedules and taking other exposure-reducing measures.
  • Celebrate when you can. We can all use good news during these trying times. Celebrate – virtually, or via appropriate social distancing – some big wins (promotions, birthdays, anniversaries, new customers, etc.) in your organization. That could start with a “welcome back” gift basket, with goodies and hand sanitizer, for each member of the team.
  • Communicate constantly. Two-way communication is essential. People need to know they work in a trusting environment, where they can safely share their questions and suggestions, needs and concerns. Each member of your workforce knows their job best, and they might identify an area where people are congregating or working in close proximity that leadership had not considered. With millions out of work, some folks may be leery of saying anything that might seem to put their jobs in jeopardy, but they must feel safe to speak up. And it’s up to your leaders to make that happen. To that end, it’s critical to create a process where team members can directly voice their concerns, unfiltered, to decision-makers within your company. It could be as simple as using communications platforms that employees are comfortable with – from email to social media, online forums or town halls.

Above all else, vow to take extraordinary care of your workers – and live up to that promise. They’ve been through a lot and deserve the extra attention. Your efforts may even permanently bolster your company’s reputation and workplace culture.

Nikki Sumpter is Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer for Atlantic Health System, which operates hospitals and health care facilities throughout New Jersey. Atlantic Health System, through the OMNIA Health Alliance, partners with Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey to develop and deliver innovations that can only be achieved when the two organizations work together as one team devoted to improving health care cost, quality, and the member experience. Nikki has helped guide COVID-19 preparedness and response for Atlantic Health System's 17,000 team members, whether they work onsite or remotely.