Guest blog by Patrick McAteer. Patrick is an MBA student at the University of Southern California and an intern with Nodus Office Movers, a commercial moving company based in Orange County. He also works as a freelance writer specializing in office moving, office design and workplace culture. In his free time he enjoys reading, cooking and following Pittsburgh sports teams.
One could argue a manager’s most difficult assignment is building systems of communication within their company, and at no time is that challenge more evident than during a period of crisis.
Many employees across the country currently find themselves either working from home or not working at all as businesses remained closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the last week, however, states have begun to gradually lift stay at home orders, allowing some businesses to reopen. While many workers will likely welcome this return to a state of normalcy, they also need to understand the workplace to which they are returning will look quite different from the one they left.
It’s incumbent upon managers to communicate these changes in advance to ensure a smooth transition back into the office for their workforce. But given the unprecedented situation we all find ourselves living in, the question remains as to where managers should even start.
In this case, it’s best to first understand what new restrictions will be in place and build from there.
If anything, the last week has provided business owners with a glimpse into what offices will look like until researchers develop a CoronaVirus vaccine.
On April 27th, businesses in Georgia reopened under new restrictions. Businesses opting to open their doors must adhere to sanitary and social distancing requirements, such as ensuring all employees and customers are at least six feet apart at all times and consistently cleaning high touch areas with disinfectant.
Although Kemp’s announcement mainly targeted businesses disproportionately affected by stay at home orders, such as restaurants and hair salons, it’s also instructive for office managers who hope to reunite their workforce under one roof in the near future. Simply put, the office will look very different, and management needs to begin planning how these changes will be implemented and communicated to employees as soon as possible.
Before creating any plan, it’s first wise to consult guidance from the Center for Disease Control and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration websites. After doing so, you can then begin contemplating how these restrictions will affect your own office.
Here are a few tips for communicating all of the required changes to your staff.
1. Lay Out the Facts
It can be difficult to keep up with the changes in guidance offered by experts over the past month and a half in regard to preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Despite the confusion, there is a commonly agreed upon set of facts about the CoronaVirus. Before your employees return to the office, work with your human resources team on drafting an email to outline the basic facts on how to mitigate the spread of infection.
Consider the following guidance from the CDC:
The virus can be spread between people who are less than six feet apart through the transmission of respiratory droplets. Therefore, everyone must maintain at least six feet of distance, since some carriers of the virus are asymptomatic.
Everyone must wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after blowing their nose or sneezing. If a sink isn’t available you can use hand sanitizer instead, but it needs to contain at least 60 percent alcohol.
Individuals must cover their mouth and nose with either a cloth or paper mask to slow the spread of respiratory droplets.
Regularly clean and disinfect all high touch areas such as doorknobs, light switches and desks.
In addition to providing employees with this basic guidance, make sure to also include specific steps the company is taking, such as the availability of hand sanitizer and cleaning products. Be sure to also clarify procedures for the day of return to the office, and consider staggering start times to prevent crowding.
2. Publicize Procedures
Once you and the leaders of your HR team have ironed out the details of how the office should be configured when employees return, you need to ensure they are accessible for all employees. Consider creating fliers detailing each new policy.
When doing so, be sure to include some of the following guidelines:
Expectations for arrival
Seating arrangements that account for social distancing requirements
Locations of hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray in the office
New changes to HR policies
Rather than posting the fliers throughout the office, which can cause crowding, give each employee their own copy of the flier.
3. Perform an Office Walk Through
No day will be more critical to the success of your plan than the day on which employees return to the office. It’s best to be as thorough as possible when highlighting any changes implemented in their absence.
A best practice is taking employees on a tour of the facility upon arrival. Obviously, you can’t take the entire office on a tour of the office at once given social distancing requirements, so consider building the tour into the staggered arrival schedule discussed earlier.
As you proceed with the tour, make sure employees know where hand sanitizer and disinfectant are located as well as what expectations are for moving throughout the office. You should also emphasize the importance of disinfecting door knobs, light switches and other high touch areas after use.
Most importantly, mention how rapidly the situation is shifting and how changes are likely to occur in the near future. Employees will appreciate your honesty and be more willing to cooperate as shifts in office practices occur.
4. Reconvene on a Regular Basis
We all know it will be an exciting day when employees begin to return to the office. If anything, the last few months have shown many of us the importance of interaction between employees within a business. But communication can’t end there.
Plan to meet with your staff at least once a week and discuss what is going well with the plans you put in place as well as necessary areas of improvement. Again, it’s important to promote safe practices, so plan to hold these meetings virtually.
Create an agenda for the meeting in advance and send out to all employees, while being to emphasize the importance of their input. Ultimately, the employees are the eyes and ears of the organization and can tell you any gaps in the plan you did not anticipate.
As always, be mindful of the human impact such changes can have. Maintaining company culture during difficult periods is crucial and can only be accomplished through strict attention to detail on the part of management day in and day out.
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