Much of the advice about reopening the office has focused on the logistics of floor plans, cleaning, and new norms. Now, experts discuss the practical policies related to smoothly managing your people and addressing their concerns as they come back.
As states reopen following coronavirus closures, associations may start considering the same with their workspaces. While industry groups and building management companies have offered guidance, a lot has been focused on the building. Recently, the Society for Human Resource Management put out a checklist of HR-related items to help employers manage the staff portion of the return.
When it comes to bringing employees back, there are several factors to consider. I spoke with SHRM Senior HR Knowledge Advisor Julie Schweber about those factors, and have some real-world advice the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) offered at a recent ASAE webinar, “Preparing Your Office and Employees for Returning to the Workplace.”
Deciding who to bring back first. Most reopening plans suggest bringing back employees in tiers, because social-distancing requirements won’t allow for the return of all staff. So, how does one choose who to bring back? “A lot of it may depend on the business needs,” said. “Who are they servicing? Is it a group of professionals who can work from a laptop, or is it a front-facing business?”
While bringing back essential personnel first, or allotting it based on seniority are fine ways to go, there are some things you don’t want to do. “An employer doesn’t want to base it on age, race, gender, or any non-job-related factor,” Schweber said. “Give it some thought, have a strategy, and communicate that strategy to the staff.”
Mandy Frohlich, APTA chief operating officer, noted that they are planning to start small, and consult with staff as they bring employees to their new headquarters building. “At APTA, our phase-one staff will be very, very limited, and we’ll bring the majority of our staff back much later—September or later,” Frohlich said. She noted that APTA plans to communicate “with staff about what their preferences are based on their personal situation.”
Childcare issues. With schools, camps, and childcare providers still closed in many places, it makes returning to work difficult for some employees. If those factors have already been considered in the reopening decisions and it’s still a problem, Schweber reminds organizations they are still bound by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which requires them to provide two-thirds pay for up to 12 weeks to workers whose childcare is affected by coronavirus closures.
Immunocompromised staff. If a person is immunocompromised or has other health concerns that would preclude them from working safely in the office, Schweber said, “they may need to look at an accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act.” That could include continued remote work or an in-office accommodation. “It’s really very employee-specific based on circumstances and facts.”
Communicate. “Prior to rolling it out and saying, ‘Everyone reports to work on Monday,’ start communicating,” Schweber said. “It’s going to be more than once and continue through a variety of methods: email, memos, conference calls. It’s almost impossible to overcommunicate.”
Policies. Organizations may want to revise or look at certain policies when people come back, particularly reminding people not to come to work if they are sick. “If they’re well enough to work but coughing and sneezing, maybe they can work from home,” Schweber said. “Though, employers need to tread carefully. If someone truly is sick, we can’t have employees feeling like they have to work through sickness and can’t take leave.”
Health screenings. Schweber said the government has said it’s OK to do temperature checks in the workplace, but noted that many people are asymptomatic, so that might not help. She did note many organizations are asking their employees to do daily health checks. APTA has adopted this approach.
“We are going to [ask] our staff daily do a checklist of their health,” Frohlich said. “We are going to ask, ‘Can you go through this daily and make sure you are not having these symptoms? Also make sure no one in your household experiencing these symptoms.’”
Employees who are not ready. There may be people who don’t have underlying health issues or other concerns who still don’t want to come back to the office due to general coronavirus fears. Schweber has advice for addressing them. “The general guidance is to listen to an employees’ concerns privately,” she said. “Have a conversation. Say, ‘tell me what you’re concerned about,’ and listen. Say, hey, ‘I hear you.’” The employer should tell the employee any safety measures that address concerns, and if the concern is reasonable and not addressed, they should look to address it.
What is your association doing to help employees transition back to the office? Share your response in the comments.