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  • Brigette Prater, Senior Consultant

Practical Guidance on Steps to Take Now for Reopening the Workplace: THRM (The HR Manager) COVID-19

When the time comes to reopen the workplace, it’s pretty clear we won’t be returning to business as usual. While there is certainly no shortage of predictions and projections on what our new “normal” may look like, it is still anyone’s best guess on the specifics of how we will move forward. Despite the fact there is no clear path forward, business leaders can take actionable steps now to prepare for future reopening.

1. Invest in your people managers. People managers are on the front line. Educate them on identifying the signs of stress and trauma, connecting with and supporting employees, and knowing when it’s time to bring HR into the conversation. Here is a great general PTSD employer resource from the Center for Workplace Mental Health and another resource specific to how employers can support employees working remotely during COVID-19. This is also a great time to shore up or develop managers’ soft skills (active listening, coaching, communication, stress management) through the myriad of available online training resources.

2. Continue to support employee well being. Go beyond providing employees basic information about accessing healthcare remotely and services offered through an EAP. Promote employee health and wellness with regular information sharing, tips and check ins – look to your insurance carriers, brokers, or EAPs for these resources. Consider hosting virtual social hours, remote team building activities, or access to online meditation and yoga. Prior to reopening, but after you decide who by role needs to come back to work from home or return to your physical location, you will need to have 1:1 conversations with your employees to understand and address the unique challenges each employee faces for returning to work. Remember that deciding who comes back to work must be based on operational needs (not a person’s family status or other protected classes). Will there be childcare issues if there is a delay in daycare or school reopening? Does the employee or employee’s family member have an underlying health condition that might delay their ability to return to work if “vulnerable” individuals need to continue to shelter in place? Has the employee requested a reasonable accommodation triggering your obligation to engage in the interactive process? Have a plan for responding to these concerns in a consistent and non-discriminatory manner by ensuring there are policies in place that support your employees as well as your business decisions.

3. Coordinate planning to align with state, county and city guidelines; create an in-house team to help evaluate workplace readiness. Expect directives on reopening to happen at the state, county and city level, and expect that this will be a phased approach. This will pose additional challenges for businesses operating in multiple locations / jurisdictions. Additionally, businesses need to consult with a variety of internal and external experts including facilities, environmental health and safety, HR, legal counsel, and sales & marketing to determine if and how a workplace can reopen. Consider all aspects from anticipated volume of business to optimal staffing levels, how your business will interact with customers/guests, public relations, spatial considerations that support social distancing, availability of sanitation, people traffic control, hygiene products and required PPE, etc.

4. Reinvent hiring, onboarding and training for COVID-19 and beyond. Perhaps it’s time to reboot your company’s hiring and onboarding process. If you continued hiring during shelter in place, it’s likely you’ve already started to make this change. Consider what hiring might look like if your business reopens in a phased approach, limiting visitors to your office. Turn to technology to streamline and virtualize the hiring and onboarding process. Video interviews are already the new norm from both a cost-effective and social distancing perspective. Could you create a virtual office tour for prospective or new employees that can’t visit the office? Are you maximizing the capability of your ATS or HRIS to streamline onboarding? How can you foster team building and cultivate your company culture remotely with video conferencing technology?

5. Develop and revise company policies. Company policies must also adapt to this new world of work. There are a number of polices that businesses need to consider creating or updating in light of COVID-19 including: social distancing in the workplace; health screening policy with mandatory temperature checks and protocol for sending workers home; enhanced teleworking policy that addresses cybersecurity protocols, guidelines for non-exempt employees, expense reimbursement for phone, internet, office supplies, and employee refusal to come to work or comply with requirements, etc.; an Exposure Control Plan with guidelines for workplace sanitation, employee hygiene, contact tracing, recordkeeping, and OSHA reporting, and; an IIPP that covers infectious disease and as CDC guidance suggests, a designated COVID-19 Coordinator.

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