Has the pandemic forever changed the landscape of the workplace? It’s possible. Changes that were implemented out of necessity — such as working from home and video conferencing — turned out to have long-term benefits for both workers and employers.
Even so, for many, the novelty of working in pajamas is wearing off. Brainstorming via Zoom just isn’t the same. The jury is still out on remote productivity, but one thing’s for sure: If or when workers return to the building, health and safety measures will be taken more seriously than ever before.
Stopping the spread of COVID-19 is a widespread group effort. Companies of all sizes in all industries are in this together. The importance of keeping everyone in the loop can’t be overstated.
For example, take the busboy who’s doing everything right to keep co-workers and customers safe. If management is careless, he’s wasting his time. A shareholder who balks at the cost of safety training isn’t protecting her investment; the next company lockdown could wipe her out financially.
For offices in which teamwork and collaboration are engrained in the culture, establishing COVID-19 protocols is a piece of cake. Core values like open communication and role-modeling are crucial in a pandemic. When leaders demonstrate concern, keep workers informed, and set good examples, employees feel valued. Employees who feel valued enthusiastically buy in.
COVID-19 Best Practices for the Office
One of the clearest, most comprehensive guides for workplace safety comes from the nonprofit Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Its recommendations follow CDC guidelines and reflect the latest updates.
Workplaces are as unique as the people who inhabit them, so guidelines are rarely one-size-fits-all. This is meant to be used as a general reference for employers.
• Follow the latest CDC advice on cleaning and disinfecting the office.
• Educate workers at all levels about the risks of exposure and transmission associated with coronavirus.
Furnish recommended cleaners and personal hygiene products. Instruct workers to wash their hands and take ownership of cleanliness in their workspaces.
• Create a safety blueprint for employees returning to the office.
• Encourage all workers to get vaccinated.
Some companies, where the county allows, have mandated vaccines as a condition of employment. That’s because all the experts agree that vaccines greatly reduce the risk of getting COVID-19; limit the spread of the virus; and reduce the possibility of severe illness, hospitalization or death in the event of breakthrough infection.
Unfortunately, no vaccine is 100% effective. Unvaccinated people are at double risk. They could contract the illness from vaccinated people who have breakthrough COVID but don’t show symptoms.
• Follow current guidelines on masks.
After the vaccine, masks appear to be the second-most effective measure for staying well and preventing the spread of COVID. As recently as October, the CDC was urging even fully vaccinated people who meet these conditions to mask up:
o They work in crowded, indoor areas where high transmission rates are possible.
o They are at special risk of severe disease or live with someone who is.
o They live with someone who is unvaccinated.
o They were exposed to someone with COVID, in which case they should wear a mask in the office for 14 days.
Some workers have strong opinions either for or against vaccinations and masks. This is a good time for leaders to emphasize respect and privacy. No one needs to know why a vaccinated co-worker is voluntarily wearing a mask or why another colleague is refusing to get the jab. “Mind your own business” and “To each his own” are good polices to enforce these days.
• Encourage testing and/or quarantine after exposure or onset of symptoms.
The CDC advises even vaccinated people to get tested three to five days after known exposure to someone with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID. They should wear a mask or quarantine for at least 14 days or until they test negative for the virus.
Unvaccinated people who are exposed or become ill should quarantine for at least 14 days even if symptoms disappear before that time.
Employees who have some or all of these symptoms should be sent home and urged to get tested:
o High fever
o Loss of taste or smell
o Flu-like aches and pains
o Red, irritated eyes
More serious symptoms include difficulty breathing, chest pain, loss of mobility or confusion.
Encourage employees who feel sick to stay home.
• Consider measures to prevent crowding.
Some distancing is still advisable, especially indoors. Many employers direct traffic flow in one direction, hold virtual meetings, stagger shifts, or stagger break times to keep people spread out.
• Clear the air.
Poor air quality in homes, offices and other buildings was already a growing concern. The pandemic only added urgency.
Older HVAC systems should be upgraded or replaced. Modern technology addresses everything from poor ventilation to allergies to the spread of disease.
• Create a safe workspace for individuals at high risk.
Some workers are more likely to contract viruses than others. Conditions that weaken the immune system include chemotherapy, dialysis, a prior transplant, certain chronic diseases and others.
Again, collaboration is key. Employers who emphasize safety — and bring their workers on board — can expect smoother sailing when the office reopens.
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