No one predicted a global virus outbreak that would shut down workplaces all over the world. Organizations had to scramble to figure out what work life during a pandemic should look like. But returning to work doesn’t have to be chaotic and fearful, if you plan ahead and think strategically before it’s time to transition back to the work site.
IDI is deep into our post-pandemic planning, and we’ve discovered that there is more to prepare for than we could have imagined. To ensure you have a smooth reopening, now is the time to create your plan for returning to the workplace.
Related reading: How to Build a Strong Remote Team from a Company That's Been There
While IDI isn’t an expert on this topic, we have learned a lot about preparing for post-coronavirus work. In this article, I’ll share how we’re approaching the task and provide some important considerations for your organization. When it comes to official advice or legal implications, seek out expert counsel.
What Will the New Normal Look Like After Coronavirus?
Expect to see a lot of changes in your organization’s work life. Your company’s culture may be significantly affected by the outbreak, especially depending on the way your organization’s leadership has handled the crisis. Work patterns may be heavily impacted by new safety precautions, and employees may rely more heavily on your company’s leadership for reassurance and guidance.
You should probably expect a transition period with increased safety measures, which could alter the way your teams and departments work together — both physically and relationally.
The physical workspace might need to be altered to accommodate state and federal requirements. We just moved into a new building at the end of 2019, and our cubicles and offices are already large enough to accommodate social distancing. Thankfully, we won’t need to retrofit and build plastic barriers on low cubicle walls or open spaces.
However, we do need to think about other areas in the office, such as conference rooms, training rooms, the kitchen and bathrooms. It may be necessary to install physical barriers, or rearrange the furniture layout of some spaces. Access to common areas may need to be limited, with schedules for lunches and bathroom breaks.
We also need to determine how to distribute sanitizing supplies — for example, should we use sanitizing stations, or provide personal supplies to each employee?
Michigan requirements state that we must have a process and procedure in place for building access. Every time someone enters the building, they need to answer a health questionnaire and have their temperature taken.
But it’s up to each organization to determine how to manage that — while protecting people’s health privacy under HIPAA. If we have to send someone home, we need to protect their privacy. How do you do that in a small organization where people can see that a coworker was sent home?
There’s a multitude of other policies to establish, and it gets more granular than I ever would have guessed:
- Should employees wipe down surfaces after they use them, or when they’re about to use them? You need a universal practice to ensure safety.
- Do you need to wear your mask when you’re sitting at your desk, or only when you leave your cubicle?
- Do we need one-way arrows in the hallways to direct traffic?
- Where can people eat without needing to wear masks?
Your organization will need to have answers to questions like these before you reopen your doors.
All of these changes can make a familiar work environment feel strange and alien. Emotions may run high, and some employees may resist change. You’ll need to be aware of the psychological aspects of returning to work, and be prepared to deal with them.
Many employers are finding that their employees are relying on the organization’s leadership to provide them with the true facts that are happening in the world. For example, early on, some employees thought their banks were closing and didn’t understand that it was just the lobbies that were closed.
Many of IDI’s employees have stopped watching the news because it’s too stressful. So we release updates twice a day to educate them on select items that impact us as citizens or as a company. We include some thoughts about what each item means for us right now.
I can’t overstate how important it is not to ignore the psychology of returning to work. Make sure as an employer that your employees trust you. Communicate frequently how you’re preparing to reopen. When you’re ready to open up again, they’ll know what you’ve done to get ready and that they can feel safe at work.
As you begin your plan for reopening, survey employees to find out what their concerns are, and what they’re most worried about. Ask what needs to be in place for them to feel safe and protected. Getting your workers’ input helps your leadership to be sure they’ve thought of everything.
Further reading: What Are Your Responsibilities to Remote Employees?
If you signed up for the PPP loan, or if you’ve been using the COVID codes, you’ll have payroll implications as you move forward. The current rules are in place through December 31, although the federal national emergency is open-ended.
The national emergency also has impacts on the enrollment period and notifications for things like COBRA and HIPAA. Timelines that are normally very rigid and regimented are now open-ended. Until an end to the national emergency is declared, the notification deadlines and acceptance deadlines are open.
Your organization will need to have your finger on the pulse of these issues. If you’re self-administering COBRA, you’ll need to be on top of that. If you’re outsourcing it, make sure your provider is aware of it. Also make sure that your payroll provider has the right infrastructure in place to keep you compliant.
How to Get Started with Your Post-coronavirus Planning
These are just a few of the considerations your organization will need to tackle as you prepare to return to the workplace after the coronavirus. To develop your own return-to-work plan, here’s a few resources to get started:
- Find out what’s required in your state, in your industry, and in your specific type of business. Other than what you should do, you need to start with what you have to do — what’s been mandated. What are the guidelines?
- Visit the website of your state’s small business association. IDI is a member of the Small Business Association of Michigan (SBAM), which provides daily briefings and information at the local, state, and federal level. They distill this information and provide excellent resources for small businesses. All of that information is freely available to anyone, even if you aren’t a member of SBAM.
- Many large and small CPAs, law firms, and payroll companies have jumped into action with very good content. Make use of the webinars, seminars, free guidebooks, and articles that are available.
There’s a lot of information out there. Don’t hesitate to use it!
Plan Now for a Smooth Transition
Strategically, it’s important to think now about how to prepare your organization for returning to work after the coronavirus. You’ll quickly realize there’s more to think about more than you ever thought you would need to consider. Organizations that plan early will have the smoothest transition back to onsite work.
As we all move forward, you can trust that IDI will be there to help your team succeed in any way we can. We're your resource for reliable solutions that are backed by dependable support.