Making Important Business Decisions with a Back to Work Roadmap

September 9, 2020

Fall is here, and most businesses are in one of the following stages as they debate the benefits and drawbacks of asking employees to return to the workplace:

Waiting and Planning: Watching the public health data around their specific workplace geographies to determine their next course of action.

Preparing to Return: Creating new policies that are both nimble and flexible, and figuring out the resources they’re going to use to support their employees and how they’re going to answer their frequently asked questions.

Returning to Work: Reinforcing the first two steps, and developing methods for consistent monitoring. This may seem intrusive, but it must be communicated to employees that health monitoring, contact tracing, and other similar techniques are being used to make the workplace safe and to prevent exposure.

Back to Work Roadmap

In our recent webinar, public health policy expert, Brookings Institution Fellow, and Evident Advisor, Dr. Kavita Patel, explained the benefits of using a simple roadmap to help businesses develop a successful and proactive return-to-work solution:

Assess Your Environment

Understand your environment incredibly well by analyzing regional and local data. Companies will greatly benefit from tracking the data from relevant geographies to help them determine their next course of action.

Find a way to make local data analysis easy and frequent (every 1-2 days) and either delegate this responsibility, or handle it yourself. Bookmark relevant data about your specific county, and keep a spreadsheet with your city or county’s reopening phases and protocols for quarantine or isolation.

“Have a strategy in your own head or with your team about how you’ll look at the data and the changing environment of COVID-19 in your locale from a raw numbers perspective,” said Dr. Patel. “You don’t need a public health degree to do this. Attend webinars, read in-depth articles from credible news sources, and make digging into the raw data something that’s a regular occurrence for you and your team.”

The pandemic is affecting people differently depending on their geography, and companies need to understand how this impacts their business. Tracking data for one office is certainly more straightforward, but if you have 15 workplaces, or 50 workplaces, it’s a bit more difficult. It’s important to know how the pandemic is impacting your local environment and make the rest of your decisions within that context.

Assess Your Team

The first step is understanding how your employees are feeling and their vulnerabilities about returning to work, as there are hundreds of scenarios that can affect employees’ decisions around this. The pandemic gives us an opportunity to communicate with employees regularly and make sure that if they’re sick, they’re not coming into the office, and unfortunately you need to do all of this within the context of your day job.

Create a list of questions about things you don’t understand. While you may not have all the answers, you can do your best to find people who do so you can be ready with a response to your employees’ concerns and accommodations.

“Take a fresh look at your employee communications strategy, especially if you’re in a remote work type of situation, where everything’s being handled with conference calls and there’s been a lot of fatigue,” said Dr. Patel. “You have to assume people don’t know what you’re asking. Think of creative ways to convey workplace expectations. Remember that even in a fiscally constrained environment, partnerships can make the organization run more efficiently.”

Manage Your Workload

It’s getting more challenging for HR professionals because we have an economic contraction that’s happening in tandem with the pandemic. There may be broader changes in your business and you’re often faced with the challenges of managing the pandemic and health status of your employees.

“There will be things that are out of your control,” Dr. Patel adds. “There are government orders, transit shut downs, and more. The local guidance can change regularly, and this is why I emphasize that you should not try to do everything yourself, but try to identify partners that can help you cover all your bases.”

Manage Liability & Compliance

There are a variety of regulations that companies must now consider – new EEOC (ADA), OSHA, and CDC guidelines, for example – but there are other regulations that impact how you handle health data and how you maintain those records over time. Privacy laws dictate that health monitoring results must be stored separately from employee records, and ultimately, employees need to feel comfortable that their data is being protected if they’re going to confidently participate in health monitoring or contact tracing. Employees will be more willing to participate in these programs if a business can demonstrate that it’s taking care of both their employees’ health and their health data.

Where We Are Now with COVID

With cases continuing to surge, employees are understandably worried about the impact COVID-19 will have on their workplace, and will not feel confident about spending time in any environment unless they know they are safe. Simultaneously, many public health experts have expressed concerns about a potential “twindemic” in the fall when the flu season starts up again.

In an effort to assuage employees’ fears and tamp down contagion in the Fall, businesses may want to consider holding a flu shot drive in the workplace, or look into ways that would make it easier for employees to get vaccinated in preparation for the flu season ahead.

“I’m not in the business of predictions, but I don’t think we’ll see a dramatic decrease in the number of COVID cases. It’ll be a downward plateau of sorts and potentially a spike,” Dr. Patel said. “We expect businesses to take this time in between to start thinking about how you can help look at the data and encourage your employees and families to reach out for routine health needs.”

Depending on which stage your company is in with returning to work, you may want to consider scheduling virtual huddles for your management team every morning to discuss new data, new policies, and how things have changed.

“This is something that’s very important in a time of uncertainty,” Dr. Patel added. “Nobody is ever going to say ‘We communicated too much.’”

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