Now that all 50 states have implemented phased re-openings, the question among executive leaders and their HR teams is: “What is our policy to get employees safely back into the office and what policies change?”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, before the COVID-19 pandemic eight percent of all wage and salaried employees worked from home at least one day a week; about two percent worked from home full-time. Now that nearly 100% of workers in positions that were considered non-public facing have gotten a taste of telecommuting, how will employers provide safe work environments?
And do employees really want to go back to the office? Global Workplace Analytics conducted a recent survey on the Global Work-From-Home Experience. President Kate Lister stated, “77% of the workforce wants to continue to work from home two to three days a week.” (the full survey results can be downloaded here)
As Corporate America and smaller business firms explore opening their offices again, what steps are being taken to put the proverbial genie “back into the bottle?” What should employers consider when balancing safety measures against pragmatic policies that benefit both employer and employee, decrease person-to-person contact and allow the practice of social distancing?
It Won’t Be The Same Office
What we do know is that people will not be coming back to the same office. Today, there are conversations about reconfiguring the office plan to lower the risk of contagion. Management is looking at providing hand sanitizer, masks and increasing cleaning procedures from nightly to several times a day. Sneeze guards are being installed and staggered workdays will result in fewer people in the office at a time.
Some offices will provide directional arrows throughout hallways and common spaces to reduce the possibility of employees passing one another face-to-face. Others are providing disposable placemats for shared desks and common areas. Chairs are being removed from worktables and conference rooms so employees maintain safe social distances. Touchpads to enter office spaces may also need to be reconfigured to a more sanitary solution.
Employers are also considering more generous sick leave policies to encourage workers to stay home when they are not feeling well.
The Pros and Cons of Telecommuting
You might ask yourself, “Isn’t telecommuting working out?” Yes and no. Some of the Pros for considering longer-term strategies of working from home include
- Reduced costs on real estate, furniture, and supplying computers and printers.
- Access to a broader pool of talent since geography is no longer an issue.
- Higher employee retention rates for employees who enjoy the reduced stress that telecommuting and more time with family creates.
But what about the Cons?
- Employee retention could also be a con. The level of loyalty that office comradery brings may become fragile and mentorship opportunities for new employees may suffer.
- Companies may still need to address telecommuting security issues.
- Managing could also become harder.
A virus-free work environment is unrealistic but considering some of the above ideas allows companies to reconfigure their office space into something safer.
Lastly, whatever approach your company is taking, it is imperative to keep your employees informed and communication updated regularly about the virus and how your company is responding to new information.