As I write this, politicians and public health officials are beginning to talk about planning for “reopening the economy”. No one, at this point, has any definitive idea of when it will be safe to go back to work in an office environment. I’m reminded of what Winston Churchill said in 1942, following the first good news the British people had since 1939 in the war against Nazi aggression “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”.
With that in mind, I’d like to suggest that it is time for leaders to begin thinking about the mechanics of safely returning to the workplace full time. As we do this, there are four keys to bear in mind:
- Whatever is done must be done with safety as the preeminent consideration.
- Not all employees may ever need to return to working in the office as they did before. But even if they do, the timing of returning does not necessarily need to be the same for everyone.
- The rules for returning, or the return itself, should be phased so that restrictions on work, office visits, travel, and other considerations are implemented gradually as conditions improve.
- Businesses must remain vigilant to changing conditions and be prepared to pull back – all the way to virtual – if necessary, due to evolving threats.
You will want to think through each of these considerations and develop a plan that takes them into consideration. I suggest that as you develop your plan you seek input from other leaders in your business, your employees, and other key stakeholders like your insurance companies.
As you think through safety, you will want to get prepared as early as possible with equipment and supplies, which are still in short supply. For example, you will need sanitizing materials and perhaps disposable face masks. You will want to develop office sanitization protocols and requirements.
You may realize that you have some employees that shouldn’t return immediately due to health considerations. Do you have employees over 60 or 65? Do you have employees with comorbidities or serious health conditions? Do you have employees with children out of school? You may need to allow these people to continue to work from home.
Is it necessary for salespeople to return to the office? Or would it be safer for them, and your office workers, for salespeople not to return to the office for an extended period. Should you allow your salespeople to return to face-to-face meetings with clients and prospects, or would it be better to put that off longer?
You may want to consider phasing in your return. You may decide, for example, that not allowing visitors to the office is still a good idea in the beginning. Or you may want to limit their access. Should you allow meetings inside an office or conference room, or would that violate physical distancing protocols?
As you think through the issues in your workplace, it is a good idea to think about how long it may be before COVID-19 is gone from the environment in a practical sense. It is likely that it will be with us for many months, and perhaps years. No one yet knows when we will have adequate testing availability or whether tracing will become a reality. The question of when, or if, a vaccine will be available, if the so-called “herd immunity” will ever be a reality, and other public health unknowns are unanswered.
All of this suggests that it would be wise to have a phased process for return.
Finally, what are the triggers that you should be alert to that mean you have to retreat a level, or even all the way back to virtual?
In order to assist you in thinking these questions through and developing a written plan, we have developed a plan for the OAA offices and want to share it with you. It is located on our website here www.oneagentsalliance.net/covid-19
All of us are anxious to get back to “normal” even though that normal will be different than it was. Let’s do it well and safely!