With strong “shelter-in-place” rules, the curve is flattening and positive data trends are beginning to emerge in certain cities and counties across the country. New guidance is being issued by federal, state and local governments. Interim guidelines from the CDC that have been in place for weeks will continue to apply to some locations, even as new recommendations are adopted in other places. For most organizations, especially those beginning to plan for a return to work, introducing new rules while maintaining others is confusing. To help dispel some of the uncertainty before welcoming employees back to the workplace, we’ve compiled a few best practices to keep employees safe that apply in any situation.

1. Enable Remote Work When and Where You Can
Even as things loosen up in certain locations, it is recommended that those employees who can work remotely continue to do so. Bringing office workers onsite creates more potential for viral transmission and may put your staff and everyone they come in contact with at risk. For these reasons, the members of your team who can work from home should do so.

Be sure to provide your team with the tools they need to remain productive. That can include computers with the right applications and security safeguards, collaboration tools, headphones, etc.

Under the current circumstances, communication is more critical than ever before to ensure employees stay connected with you and with each other. Be very clear in terms of expectations and provide frequent feedback on performance. Take advantage of audio and video technology to connect with team members on a regular basis. Establish a set schedule for connecting, whether that is daily or weekly, one-on-one or in a group.

If remote work is new to your organization, consider this an opportunity to test it out. According to Spherion’s Emerging Workforce® Study, most employees view remote work positively in terms of candidate recruiting, employee morale and engagement, productivity and retention.

2. Revisit Sick Leave Policies
If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to review your sick leave policies. Experience has taught us a painful lesson: people who don’t get paid when they are ill tend to continue working, no matter how they feel. The CDC stresses the importance of "everyday preventative actions" in helping to mitigate COVID-19. One of the most important is to stay home if you are sick, yet 24% of the U.S. workforce — 33.6 million people — cannot count on getting paid during illness. That has likely contributed to the spread of the virus. According to the CDC, those early cases linked to Seattle-area nursing homes and assisted living facilities, for example, were traced to healthcare workers who showed up for work despite reportedly feeling sick. Other studies relating to influenza have proven the benefits of healthier workplaces. In municipalities that mandate paid sick leave for workers, public health experts have reported infection rates as much as 40 percent lower compared to those that do not.

If you have not previously offered paid sick leave, be sure to review the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. You may need to start, as one of the provisions of the bill extends paid leave to workers who did not have it. Post-pandemic, it may be difficult to compete for talent if your benefits fall short of what employees expect.

3. Clean & Disinfect the Workplace Frequently

Cleaning and disinfecting may have once been routine, but now it has become an artform for some and an obsession for others. We’ve all seen notices posted about how materials are being handled and how frequently businesses are sanitizing their premises. All employers should establish strict protocols for attacking the virus on surfaces in the workplace. Keep the workforce healthy with three simple guidelines for a strong focus on hygiene:

Schedule more frequent cleanings.
Only use disinfectants that are effective against the virus, per EPA guidance. (Note that some cleaning products may remove but not necessarily deactivate the virus.)
Pay particular attention to "high-touch" spots like counters and handrails.

More stringent cleaning efforts may require you to do more than simply make some changes to routine maintenance practices. For example, you may need to bring on more staff to handle the higher workload or alter hours of operation to ensure sufficient time for cleanings to be completed.

4. Introduce Personal Protective Measures for Everyone
Personal protective equipment (PPE) has long been a basic safety prerequisite for workers in industrial and healthcare settings, but now it can protect everyone. Continue to follow traditional standards for employees who always use PPE, based on their role or job task. Due to the pandemic, however, you should also expand the umbrella of protection with new safety practices and special resources to keep all employees safe. For example:

  • Start the day with wellness checks.
  • Make hand sanitizer available at multiple locations across the workplace.
  • Check that air-treatment systems are operating correctly.
  • Provide masks or bandanas for every worker.

Whether you operate a production facility, a retail store or a healthcare office, more proactive hygiene policies make sense for everyone. In the case of customer-facing employees, consider instituting an hourly handwashing mandate. Finally, you may need to reconfigure site layout and workflows to accommodate greater physical distances between workers without disrupting operations.

If you think your work site may have been exposed to coronavirus, contact the health department immediately. Otherwise, continue to follow the guidance of local public health authorities and the CDC to keep people safe. Click here to learn what Spherion is doing to protect employees and clients during this crisis. If we can support you in any way during this difficult time, please connect with your local Spherion office. Stay safe!