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  • Hannah Brown

Planning for a Return to the Workplace

Many clients have reached out to ask about policies and plans for returning to the office. I prepped this post on Wednesday and yesterday we learned 2 new things with big implications for work in the Bay Area. First, the CDC has updated their guidelines for businesses to recommend that employees avoid mass transit and that the recommended method of getting to work is to drive alone. Second, Mayor Breed and The City of San Francisco has released the first clear timeline for re-opening businesses. It is notable that more businesses are slated to re-open on June 15th, but at the same time, "all who can work from home are encouraged to do so". So while advice on Workplace Procedures may be early, beginning the preparations for some of your staff to return to work may not be premature, particularly when you think about supplies which may need to be garnered.

I recommend that you create 2 documents for your firm in planning for a return to the office.  Site Visit Procedures should be clearly spelled out for visits to construction sites which are now open and advise employees on new steps to take to protect themselves while on site and traveling to the site. The second document spells out the Workplace Safety Procedures which will walk through many of the needs for some or all of the staff to return to the office.  The Workplace Safety Procedures outline things the firm, building management, and any cleaning crew will do for the office, as well as new protocols for the employees when they are sick with any illness.  The CDC has checklists and signage samples for Businesses, and a special section for Small Businesses. It's a lot to take in and prepare, but looking at the recommendations may help you decide either to hold off on returning to the office or to proceed with planning, re-organizing and purchasing supplies now.

As a checklist, here are the highlights to consider and prepare before we go back into the office:

  • Appointing a Health or Safety Officer, who for the next 12-18 months is going to be the point person for all questions and concerns regarding the below. This person should frequently review CDC, WHO, state and local ordinances and will need to adapt the below accordingly.

  • A new sick leave policy and procedure to follow before returning to work after illness.  Employers should require that employees stay home for 72 hours fever free without medicines, even if the employee thinks it’s just the flu.  That's 3 days healthy before stepping back into the office. If someone comes in with a fever or symptoms, employers will be able to send them home, as always. 

  • A travel policy. Those who travel for work or personal reasons may be asked to quarantine and work from home for two weeks, and in fact, this two week quarantine may be required by some counties. Business and personal travel and travel policies should be closely monitored as CDC and WHO guidelines shift nearly every week.

  • Seating arrangements. Desks should be at least 6’ apart in all directions OR employees may need to work in staggered groups so fewer people are in a space at one time.

  • Air exchange.  There is lots of new and sometimes divergent information here.  Windows open seems to be the easiest solution and is highly recommended for fresh air. Firms will need to look at their HVAC systems with landlords/building managers and HVAC experts to understand how the systems improve air quality or may need an upgrade.

  • Supply of PPE. A supply of gloves and some masks for everyone, as well as hard hats, vests, and goggles for those who make site visits.  These should now be personal – ie. the hard hat is now used by one employee only and not shared. Masks are now required throughout California so everyone should have plenty of their own, but in case a mask is soiled, forgotten, or lost, plan to have some in office for emergencies.

  • Disinfecting and cleaning. Providing disinfectant and sanitizers throughout the office and polices for cleaning. Scheduled cleaning of handles, keypads, high touch surfaces, common areas with an assignment of who is responsible for the cleaning.

  • Removing personal and shared items including:

    • Removing personal items and extra, excess belongings from desks so that the cleaning crew can clean more thoroughly or asking staff to disinfect desks before they go home for the day.

    • Removing shared food items in the kitchen. The latest recommendation from the CDC includes removal of shared coffee pots and water dispensers.

    • Each employee to bring their own plates, silverware, coffee mug and water bottle and clean/store at home.  The firm may wish to offer some disposable items for those who forget. 

    • No dirty dishes or personal items left behind for others to clean or pick up. 

  • Signage in the kitchen and commons areas with reminders about the above items.

  • A policy for UPS and FedEx, such as asking them to leave packages at the door with a knock only.

  • Significantly limiting visitors to the office and warning all staff when someone is coming into the office.

I will be continuing to attend webinars with SHRM, ThinkHR, and the CDC on Workplace guidance and have templated some of the above into documents which will updated at least every two weeks. I look forward to being in the office very much and to creative solutions we will likely be designing in the coming weeks, but I will pass on a plastic cone.

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