Going Back to the Workplace
As vaccine efforts continue to progress steadily, the return to the office is seemingly imminent.
Thirty-five percent of workplaces do not have a firm plan for fully reopening their office. Sixteen percent, however, planned to reopen in Q1, according to a survey by The Conference Board. Hanging in the balance is the ability to have protective policies in place so that the workplace population feels safe.
Read more: What’s in store for the future of work
“We are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel for the pandemic. Companies are better able to plan and make decisions about what is going to happen in the next six to twelve months,” says Brie Reynolds, career development manager at FlexJobs, a remote job searching platform.
Here are five things employers should consider when putting together a re-opening strategy to ensure a safer workplace:
Employers have no immediate plans to mandate vaccinations in order to return to the office, but they are sweetening the deal for employees who choose to.
While safety is a top concern for employers, 67% percent of employers believe mandating a vaccine would have a negative impact on employee morale, and 79% are concerned with resistance from employees as reasons they don’t plan to mandate them, according to a survey by law firm Littler Mendelson.
In spite of their hesitation, there’s a way employers could achieve greater immunity rates without sacrificing employee relations. One third of employees say they would complete the vaccination process for a $100 incentive or less, according to a study by Blackhawk Network.
“Incentives are powerful tools for driving desired behaviors,” Jeff Haughton, BlackHawk’s senior vice president of incentives, said in a release. “The key for businesses looking to increase vaccination rates and support public health will be ensuring they are offering incentives their target audiences find most valuable and attractive.”
In response, a number of employers including Target and Trader Joe’s have begun rolling out different perks to compensate employees, including PTO,cash and gifts.
Mandatory social distancing and masks
The use of social distancing and masks will remain a customary practice both outside and inside the workplace.
The Conference Board found that 82% of employers plan to purchase safety equipment like masks, cleaning supplies and contactless entry devices, and 80% will enforce policies like limiting the number of employees allowed in the workplace at a time.
In addition, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention released a number of safety precautions to be adopted by businesses for when employees begin to return to the office regularly. The mandate includes avoiding the use of other employees’ phones, desks, offices or other work tools and equipment when possible, as well as cleaning and disinfecting them before and after use. The CDC also advises to practice social distancing by avoiding large gatherings and maintaining distance — at least 6 feet — from others when possible.
Companies may want to consider abandoning the old workplace approach in favor of a safer and more flexible way of working.
After a year of working remotely, only 22% of organizations said returning to the office was a priority, SHRM found. Employees are on-board: — 70% say they would like to continue to work remotely part of the time post-COVID, according to Glassdoor.
Not only will the shift to a hybrid workplace have no significant impact on productivity and satiate employees’ needs for more flexibility, it’ll play well into workplace safety and risk management, as it will cut down on the number of workers in any given space.
“Protection is a must, not a nice to have,” says Gary Pearce, chief risk architect at Aclaimant. “If you can’t demonstrate that you’re protecting your own people, you’re not going to be able to keep employees.”
At-home COVID testing
Sixty-eight percent of employers want workers in the office at least three days per week. In order to achieve that, consistent COVID testing is another resource companies could be turning to in order to keep infection rates low and promote a safe environment.
In a recent study conducted by Applied Marketing Science, 90% of consumers would use an at-home COVID-19 test and half would use a test at least once per month. More than 80% of employers said they would be interested in providing testing services for employees.
In previous months, consumers have been able to purchase test kits that allow them to collect a sample at home and mail it to a lab, according to the American Association of Retired Persons. But those kits typically cost more than $100, and patients have to wait a few days for the results. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration has given emergency use authorization to five at-home tests in an effort to bring them to market quickly due to the severity of the pandemic retailing from $30 to $50.
Digital self-assessment applications and platforms
An increased reliance on technology could also keep COVID at bay as more companies implement ways for employees to submit self-assessments of their symptoms and activities.
“This is something that companies that already have employees back would be interested in and something that could perhaps make people more comfortable coming in,” says Carmel Dibner, a principal at Applied Marketing Science.
Some companies have already begun implementing similar practices. Recently, top 100 Firm EisnerAmper has released a free new app called the EisnerAmper RTO Platform, designed to help employees returning to work stay safe via social distancing. The platform offers office capacity management and scheduling capabilities as well as health questionnaires, contact tracing and pre-requisite training so employees can work in offices in a safe manner.