How to prepare employees for reopening

Employees are the engine of any business. Even when physical workplaces closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses were able to keep operating thanks to the resilience of their employees, who continued to carry out their duties from home.

But as facilities begin to reopen, many employees are nervous about returning to the workplace, rightfully concerned about their safety. To create a smooth pathway back to work for everyone, preparation is essential. In this article, we’ll discuss some things to consider when it comes to preparing employees for reopening as well as some best practices for addressing questions and concerns.

Communicate with your employees

The most important thing you can do to prepare your employees for reopening is to maintain open and consistent communication. While it’s a cliche saying at this point, these are indeed “unprecedented times,” and everyone is dealing with high levels of uncertainty. Keeping channels of communication open with your employees can help alleviate their concerns, prepare them to return to the workplace, and support them through the transition.

Involve and engage employees

Before reopening, make modifications to your workplace to abide by new safety protocols. Whenever possible, involve employees in discussions about these changes. Solicit their ideas, concerns, and input about their needs when coming back to work.

Logistically, they may have useful ideas to implement, as they are the most familiar with the day-to-day interactions that occur in your business. On a personal level, this engagement helps employees adapt to changes, prepares them psychologically for how work will be different after reopening, and helps deepen their trust in their employer. Invite those who have specific concerns to discuss ways to mitigate them.

Support employees on a personal level

Remember that your employees are human beings, and each has had a different experience with the pandemic. Everyone is facing unique stressors, whether it’s mourning the loss of a loved one, dealing with the illness of family or friends, facing financial difficulties, or carrying new responsibilities at home. Nearly everyone is facing an unusual amount of stress at this time, so it’s critical to offer support.

Now is the time for leaders to express compassion, honesty, and openness like never before. Check in with employees and listen to their concerns so they feel heard. Show appreciation for what they bring to your company. Offer whatever support you find appropriate to help ensure their well-being, reduce their uncertainty, and foster their healthy return to the workplace.

Address safety concerns

“One of the biggest concerns employees will have when returning is around the safety of the offices they are reentering. Is the facility safe for them? What safety measures have been taken to keep their work environment safe? To what extent has it been disinfected?” says Zac Copper, owner of Northbay Maintenance, a cleaning and maintenance company in Northern California.

Copper recommends documenting the steps you’ve taken to prepare the workplace for a safe reopening and communicating these efforts to all employees to help address their safety concerns.

Designate someone to be responsible for COVID-19 issues

The CDC recommends designating one workplace coordinator to be responsible for COVID-19 issues at the workplace. This ensures employees know who to turn to when they have concerns, which will help avoid confusion and encourage a sense of safety.

The saying ‘When everyone’s responsible, no one’s responsible’ definitely has merit. Having one person take the lead on health-related concerns is going to be important so that people know who to report to should they start coughing or become COVID positive and need to let the office know,” says Copper.

Train employees on new policies

While having one point person helps organize your response, everyone needs to play a role in maintaining a safe workplace. This requires a cultural shift that starts with providing adequate training and guidelines.

“This situation really calls for everyone to be holding each other accountable for being safe. One person not wearing their mask — or touching their mouth and not sanitizing — can impact everyone else in the office. Creating a culture that respects and values practicing safety measures is going to be critical,” says Copper.

Upon or before their return to the workplace, educate and train employees on new safety protocols and best practices. If possible, re-onboard employees with a program that covers all of the new changes. Be sure to educate employees on the steps they can take to protect themselves, coworkers, and customers. This includes

  • Advising employees to stay home and contact their supervisor if they or family members are sick
  • Encouraging employees to routinely clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, and to avoid using others’ equipment
  • Requesting employees stay at least six feet from others when possible
  • Providing guidance on hand washing and the proper use of personal protective equipment
  • Training employees on all new policies and changes to their work

Implement health screenings for returning employees

Once it’s time to reopen the workplace, implement a health screening process for employees. These may be mandatory, depending on where you’re located. This process can be simple and composed of two steps: a temperature check using a no-contact thermometer and a simple screening questionnaire.

JotForm has several free employee COVID-19 self-screening questionnaires available as well as a range of other coronavirus-related form templates that you can use, including work-from-home requests, self-quarantine time off requests, contract tracing forms, liability release waivers, and more. Instruct employees to fill out the questionnaire online from home with their computer or mobile device or at an onsite screening station using a tablet or mobile device.

Crafting a thoughtful action plan to prepare your employees for reopening will help reduce potential health risks and ease employees’ fears about coming back to a shared office space.

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