As provinces ease into the second and third phases of their reopening plans, business owners are wondering how they can safely bring their employees back to the workplace. They’re rushing to buy hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes but what are some other ways business owners can make their workplace safer for their employees?
In this blog you’ll learn five strategies that can help increase the safety of your workplace and reduce the anxiety of any employees returning to work.
Rotate Remote and In-Office Work Days
Many businesses have discovered that much of their employees’ work can be done from the comfort and, in this case, safety of their own home. Virtual protocols for meetings and communication have been established and employees have adjusted to life working from home.
However, not all businesses want to keep the current remote arrangement going indefinitely. Some do not operate as efficiently as normal. Large files are harder to share and access, home internet problems cause delays, and cross-team collaboration is hampered without communal meeting spaces. Also, some business owners simply miss having their employees together in the office.
If your office typically has a lot of employees, or is a small office with minimal spacing between work areas, consider reducing the number of employees in your workplace at one time by having smaller groups of your employees alternate working from home and working from the office. Make sure the same employees are physically in the office together. That way, if someone does get sick, you can ask that group to stay home for the next two weeks instead of shutting down the entire workplace.
Stagger Shift Start and End Times
Some businesses simply can’t function with their employees working from home. No amount of virtual meeting rooms and Slack channels will make physical tasks (organizing books, greeting customers, retrieving hard copies of files) doable in the virtual world. And some businesses simply can’t afford to stay shuttered any longer than absolutely necessary. They have to open, while ensuring any employees coming into the workplace stay safe.
A solution as simple as staggering when employees start and end their shifts provides a buffer, and reduces the amount of close contact. Staggering start times by as little of 15 to 30 minutes reduces unnecessary crowding around coat racks, fridges and coffee machines.
In the same vein, stagger employee breaks and lunch times. Lunch breaks aren’t just a time to eat, they provide respite and an opportunity to socialise.. However it’s not recommended that co-workers gather around a shared lunch room. By staggering lunch breaks between 11am and 1pm, having small groups eat apart from each other and wiping their area down when they’re finished, employees receive the benefits of their meal-time break.
One further note of caution. Be mindful of sharing place settings. People may no longer be comfortable using a communal glass even if it has gone through the dishwasher. Encourage each person to take a set of cutlery and dishes from the kitchen or bring one from home that can be for their exclusive use.
Rearrange the Office to Promote Social Distancing
Open concept offices became popular in the 1970s and never went away. However, under these unique circumstances, the free flow of close conversation and the spread of droplets is the last thing you want happening in your office. Move desks apart so co-workers aren’t sitting beside each other.
Spread the desks across the office or leaving an empty desk between each occupied one. Also, encourage employees to continue to communicate through electronic means such as Slack channels.
If your workplace involves interaction with customers, or requires employees to spend time in specific areas, provide masks for employees and encourage them to stay 6 feet apart.
Finally, recommend that staff who work indoors take regular breaks outside to reduce time in recirculated air and to stretch their legs.
Reduce Number of On-Site Employees
For businesses such as restaurants, retails stores, and the trades, remote work was never a viable alternative. Given the new relaxation of social distancing measures, these businesses will be looking to get their employees back to work and their doors open as soon as possible. But the safety of their customers and employees is still a key issue. What can businesses do to keep everyone safe?
One answer is to reduce the number of employees on a shift and provide, where possible, PPE such as masks and gloves to anyone expected to come in close contact with other employees and customers.
Most restaurants and retail stores are operating at a lower capacity, so the number of employees required on the floor is already reduced. Trades or manufacturing workers, however, may struggle to social distance. The nature of their work often requires being in confined spaces for long periods of time. In these circumstances, requiring masks and gloves be worn at all times go a long way to keeping workers safe.
Make Travelling to the Workplace Easier
For some employees, coming to and from the workplace involves hours spent on public transit and being in close proximity to strangers. It’s a trade-off that may leave them unwilling to visit their elderly parents or grandparents for risk of exposing them to the virus. To help out, consider reimbursing employees for parking and/or mileage. Ride-share is another option and potentially more environmentally friendly Also, for employees who live close to each other, encourage carpooling with appropriate safety protocols in place. Lastly, encourage people to walk or cycle. Although the latter, may require some ingenuity to establish changing facilities or bike storage.