By Jeff Revoy
Chief Operations Officer

Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused widespread disruption to every workplace, regardless of business size or industry. COVID-19 workplace planning and readiness needs to be at the top of every employer’s list of immediate concerns.

To ensure a smooth pivot and continued operation, executives and facilities managers need to work together to determine what effect the pandemic has had on business, what precautions to take, and how to plan going forward.

No one knows how long the pandemic will last or what unforeseen problems it will cause. All we can do is be prepared. Here are some of the most important questions employers need to ask themselves about COVID-19 workplace planning and readiness:

Is your business essential?

Nearly every state has enacted some form of shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order. Because these are state-level policies, they expire at different times and are subject to different rules and standards. Make yourself aware of your state’s policy and its status—when it’ll expire or to what date it’s been extended.

If you operate in a state under a shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order, you need to determine if your business is “essential.” Essential businesses can keep their workplaces open with social distancing in place. Non-essential businesses must offer a work-from-home alternative or shut down until the state lifts the at-home order. If you’re considered essential, take appropriate steps to evaluate your operations. Do you need to shift to remote work or enact new workplace policies to protect employees?

Formulate a remote work plan

When it comes to remote work, there are three types of businesses that have:

  • No experience or infrastructure to accommodate remote staff
  • Some remote work experience and limited means
  • Robust remote work practices and an active telecommuting staff

Figure out where your company falls on the scale, then plan from there. If you have zero experience with remote work, channel your energy into building out an infrastructure and processes. Invest in your business cloud platform and explore resources that enable easy, safe, accessible data sharing. Pinpoint your most essential business functions and find ways to port them over to remote work. Remote work is possible for most companies without tangible work assets. Prepare for a transition; don’t expect to flip the switch on a fully productive remote workforce. It’ll take time for employees to acclimate.

For businesses with experience accommodating remote employees, lean into the processes and standards you’ve already developed. Get every employee up and running with the permissions and accesses they need, starting with the most important contributors.

While some businesses can undoubtedly transition to remote work quicker than others, the more important metric is the productivity of newly remote employees. Make sure your workers have the full capabilities to do their job—even if it takes a week or two to get acclimated to the new environment.

Update workplace safety standards

Essential businesses that remain open need to strategize new standards for employee health and wellness at work. Specifically, they need to focus on ways to mitigate the presence and spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. It’s a threefold approach for most businesses:

  • Social Distancing: Enact policies that keep employees at least six feet apart at all times. Rearrange and modify workspaces to accommodate employees while maintaining safe working distances. Minimize the number of in-person meetings and interactions. The goal is to reduce and eliminate transmission opportunities in the event the virus reaches your workplace.
  • Hygiene: Maintain high-level cleanliness and hygiene standards throughout the workplace, including employees’ personal hygiene. This is as simple as providing hand washing reminders and setting up hand sanitizing stations throughout the office. Another smart solution is to contract a local company for more frequent cleanings or sterilization.
  • Communicate: Advise employees on what they can do to keep their workplace safe. This may include wearing a mask, minimizing workstation sprawl, or observing new forms of distancing etiquette. Be clear on whether they’re recommendations or enforceable policies, and make all employees acutely aware of them—either via workplace signage or company-wide communications.

Beyond heightened safety, make sure to support your employees any way you can. They’re likely unnerved about coming to work in a pandemic. Take the time to listen and show them you care about their health.

Adopt an agile response plan

The future of the coronavirus pandemic is rife with uncertainties. No one knows when we’ll develop a vaccination, and there’s continued tension between states and the federal government about when to lift isolation orders. Businesses can only speculate when their workplaces will open—and those with essential workplaces need time to reacclimate themselves to normal operations.

The best thing any business can do is to plan ahead and stay flexible. Create an agile response plan for your workplace—one that accounts for remote and in-house work possibilities. Stay cognizant of CDC and WHO recommendations for sanitization, and develop processes for protecting employees who remain at work. There’s a lot we don’t know, but much we can do.

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