If your employer’s response to the pandemic and quarantine was to empty out the office and send you home to work remotely, you’ve likely adjusted to your new work setup (at least for the most part). Soon, though, you may have to adjust again, if your company plans to reopen your workplace.
As businesses across the country start reopening — or strategizing how to do so — they’ve realized there’s a lot of logistical planning involved in opening for business to a completely new world. With pockets of the country still seeing spikes in virus rates, it’s a shaky proposition.
However, there’s an upside to this: Any delays give companies more time to learn and formulate comprehensive plans to protect workers’ safety once they can safely reopen. This can also give you time to prepare your knowledge and stock up on supplies.
Here are several factors you should consider while striving to keep yourself and your co-workers safe as you return to your workplace.
Know the elements involved
Besides your personal and household risk factors, there are four external elements to consider when gauging an indoor situation’s safety:
Essentially, the less time you can spend around fewer people, and the greater the space you keep between you, the safer you’ll be. It also helps if the place you’re sharing has adequate ventilation and opportunities for social distancing. Stay aware of your surroundings, be courteous about giving others space, and don’t be shy about prompting others to respect yours.
Stay the course with precautions
The safety protocols we’ve already learned are still in force, so be sure to stay the course. Experts believe these protocols do much to limit community spread. The better all employees maintain safety and hygiene protocols, the less likely it is that any virus particles will spread. Be sure to use and practice the following:
- Handwashing and/or sanitizing
- Wearing face masks
- Social distancing
- Disinfecting surfaces
Workplaces are required to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees’ use. Hygiene should be our first concern: You may be surprised to learn that more than 25,000 organisms have been found living on a typical phone, keyboard, and mouse.
If your employer does not provide (or runs out of) masks, disposable gloves, disinfectant, hand sanitizer, or other PPE, be sure to bring your own.
Expect changes in infrastructure
Your workplace may be unrecognizable when you return. Before reopening, many businesses have been transforming their spaces to adhere to social-distancing requirements.
This includes moving furniture, dividing up office or cubicle space, adding plexiglass, making room for sanitizer stations, and other initiatives. You might find yourself no longer sitting next to your old office-mate, but across the room instead. Take the time to adjust to these new changes as they have been designed for your safety in the workplace.
Prepare for schedule adjustments
Many businesses across the U.S. are struggling. MarketWatch recently reported that 55% of businesses listed on Yelp have closed for good due to the pandemic and its economic impact. Many of those that remain open are strategizing about how they can afford to stay afloat and keep their employees in jobs.
Companies that can maintain full staffs will have to find ways of balancing their workforce against a reduced capacity to maintain social distancing. Don’t be surprised if your schedule changes. You might encounter continued remote work, rotating schedules, staggered shifts, or even reduced hours.
Be open to more remote work
Transitioning to remote work back in March was a challenge for both employers and employees who weren’t used to this as a norm. Surprisingly, many businesses and work teams that had never previously considered remote work found they liked it!
Implementing remote work options allows many employers to scale back on space and either a) increase social-distancing capabilities, or b) downsize their monthly overhead costs. It also gives them more options if the virus were to spike again.
The more flexible you and your colleagues are in the face of staffing and policy changes, the more successfully everyone can get through this period of change.
Be ready for potential duty changes
As employers adjust, job descriptions and duties are another workplace area that may be fine-tuned. Some on-site workers may shift to fill gaps left by remote workers. Others may be asked to take on additional duties to fill in for furloughed/laid-off employees or high-risk workers who can’t return.
While this may seem stressful, look for the silver lining. Cross-training is a great way to build your skill set. If you want to move from distributing mail to driving a forklift, you can brush up your stick-shift driving skills. Looking to move from a warehouse to the office? Get proficient with the necessary software.
Get the right furniture
While your employer is busy transforming the workplace, now might be a good time to ask for new furniture if the old setup was on its last legs. If your chair or desk was wobbly or not ergonomically friendly, your boss might be open to ordering some new furniture, especially if they can downsize with more practical furniture to create more room for social distancing.
Know your rights
Employees have the right to know their company’s policies for protecting worker safety and what precautions they’ve set in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Most supervisors, HR representatives, and business owners will actively communicate new policies, protocols, and processes to their employees to ensure compliance. However, if something reads confusing or information seems vague, don’t be afraid to speak up or ask for clarification about any safety issues that raise concerns.
This pandemic has upended society, and we’ve still got plenty of issues to face until it runs its course. The more we all do to prepare for the future, along with supporting ourselves, colleagues, and employers, the more strength we’ll all have as we look toward a “new normal.”
This article was contributed by Ann Lloyd, Student Savings Guide