Money & Business

Four Factors to Focus on to Forge a Successful Office Return

By / Jul 21, 2021 (ferrantraite/E+/Getty Images Plus)

As associations prepare to welcome employees back to the workplace, there are key concepts to concentrate on. The president of the National Safety Council says communication, physical safety, readiness for change, and vaccination discussions are pivotal for success.

With many associations planning to bring staff back to the office by the fall, it’s important to do it in a way that makes employees feel comfortable and safe. Lorraine Martin, president and CEO of the National Safety Council (NSC), fleshed out some key areas for organizations to focus on.

Communicate in advance. Martin recommends surveying staff to “really get a bead on what’s right for your culture, what’s right for your team before you even start to announce dates and plans to bring people back into the building. You need a couple months run up to do that well. Then, make sure that as you put protocols in place, you make them very clear and concise and share them so folks can get them easily.”

The main misstep Martin has seen is organizations moving too fast. “I heard some organizations just put out a note that said, ‘Everybody’s back on Monday,’” Martin said. “It’s so disruptive and alarming because folks haven’t thought their way through it. That lead up time is really, really important.”

Prioritize physical safety. Before bringing employees back, make sure the office is safe. “That includes making sure that your office space is configured appropriately, ensuring your ventilation system has been upgraded with the right filters, and making sure that you test your water system,” Martin said. “You definitely have to make sure, before you come back to your workplace, that you’ve really prepared it for employees coming back.”

Associations that own their building have autonomy to make changes. If leasing, Martin has some suggestions. “The first thing to do is to go to your landlord and say, ‘These are what’s being recommended by the [Centers for Disease Control &Prevention] and [Occupational Safety and Health Administration]; please take care of it,’” she said. If there is resistance, “be as vocal and loud as you can on that.”

NSC was vocal, but Martin said the group still had to pay for water testing at one of its locations where a landlord refused to do it. “Ask yourself: if the landlord isn’t going to do what has been recommended for a safe work environment, can you do some of it yourself?” she said. “It’s possible that you can enhance the ventilation capabilities with floor units. It is important to say: you are responsible for your employees. Even if you don’t own the space, you need to make sure it’s safe to your expectations.”

NSC’s SAFER website gathers specific guidelines from federal agencies on issues related to building safety, as well as mask mandates, cleaning practices, and configuring space for social distancing.

Be ready to change. The Delta variant of COVID-19 has been in the news because it is highly transmissible. The Delta surge has caused some locales to reinstate masks mandates and other rule changes could come.

“Even if you bring people back to your physical location, still watch what’s going on because things are changing right now, right under our feet,” Martin said. “Make sure that staff know that this could be a fluid situation.”

Also, figure out what your organization considers important enough to trigger your policies to change. “You should not just have a plan of, if we need to pull back, what would it look like, and how would we do it?” Martin said. “You also need to know what you’re going to watch: the CDC, your local health data, safety experts in your community. Know what the triggers would be for you to say: ‘You know guys, we need to take a step back.’”

Martin recommends sharing those triggers with staff. “Employees just want to know why and when that something might occur, so they can be prepared for it and understand how the organization is keeping their safety and health first and foremost,” she said.

Talk vaccination. While many are not requiring vaccination, organizations can help encourage staff to get vaccinated. “This is a passionate issue on both sides, and for employers, it’s important to stay focused on the data, the facts, and use some of these resources we have to talk about vaccinations,” Martin said. She also noted that providing paid time off to get vaccinated and recover from side effects is helpful.

For organizations requiring vaccination to return to the office, be sure to follow federal rules. “Consult your legal counsel,” she said. “Make sure that you are not only doing it correctly in what you’re asking for, but [also in] how you are storing the data.”

What is your office doing to get ready to return to work? Share in the comments.

Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a senior editor at Associations Now. She covers money and business. Email her with story ideas or news tips. More »

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