As the economy slowly reopens, remote workers are beginning to return to the office. However, before your staff return to the workplace, it’s imperative that companies develop and document a detailed plan and list of procedures to ensure everyone remains safe and healthy.
This guideline has been prepared using information gathered from federal, state and local governments and medical authorities. While this may not cover every situation that could arise, it does require companies to think about and prepare for instances that may not have been considered in the past. Here are four areas that you should have already been and/or should start doing immediately:
1. COVID-19 TEAM ASSESSMENT
If your business has not already created a COVID-19 team, you should do so immediately. This group should be comprised of key members needed to make decisions to ensure concerns from every angle are considered. These key members should serve as the spokesperson/messenger for the company/office. This team likely has already notified vendors, developed a plan for postal services, and documenting COVID-19 related messages from employees. Some items the COVID-19 taskforce should review before allowing employees to return include:
- Risk: Engage with risk management personnel to gauge the company’s readiness to return to the office.
- Insurance: Work with insurers to identify potential risks for returning to work.
- Legal: Work with legal counsel to ensure that the actions that are being taken by the COVID-19 return-to-work team are sound and do not violate any employee rights.
- Employee Guide: Develop an overview of what to expect when returning employees arrive back in the office. This guide should include:
- New entrance protocols for employees and visitors,
- A list of supplies that will and will not be available/provided (i.e., food, drinks, utensils, glassware, cups, etc.),
- Instructions on bringing equipment (laptops, chairs, etc.) back into the workplace and sanitization requirements,
- Changes to the work environment including room availability, relocation of desks, etc.,
- Modifications to internal and external meeting protocols, hosting of client events, and visitor access.
Having a team in place to assess and communicate on topics specific to COVID-19 will help your company filter and sort information and requests more efficiently.
2. PREPARE YOUR OFFICE
Naturally, you will need to prepare your office for the return of staff members. To ensure everything is ready and in working order, the following tips can be useful:
OBTAIN A DETAILED FLOOR PLAN/LAYOUT OF YOUR OFFICE
- Highlight high traffic areas & exits.
- Designate traffic directions to ensure low interaction between staff.
- Map out desk/cubes, offices, conference rooms, etc. that adhere to the social distancing guidelines (6 feet apart).
DESIGN A PHASED EMPLOYEE RETURN PLAN
Based on the different regulations for each state, and due to the universal social distancing regulations, not all employees will be able to return to the office at the same time. It is recommended that you use a phased approach – taking into account the employee’s desire to return to the office as well as the ability (physically) to bring employees back into the office. It is recommended that at least a three–phase plan is used. The time between phases will depend on the success of the previous phase and adjusting/correcting for any unforeseen problems. Phases could be spaced out with 2-4 weeks in between.
- Work with your HR team to determine who will return in which phase. Each company will need to determine the best way to coordinate who/how many people can come back in each phase.
- Coordinate with your IT department to get returners set back up in the office so the process goes as smooth as possible.
- Know that there may be some people who will be comfortable and productive working remotely going forward.
- Plan to have shared/routing office space for those who will not need to return full-time.
ENFORCE DISTANCING RULES, LIMIT CONTACT, AND INCREASE SANITARY MEASURES
The current regulations to reduce the risk of spread for COVID-19 is geared heavily toward distancing, cleanliness, and reduced personal contact. To continue these practices in a professional office environment, the following measures should be applied:
- Continue to use virtual forms of communication when possible such as Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, etc. If employees do need to meet, and their desktop does not have video or sound capabilities, have them try downloading one of the mentioned apps to their phone and use that to communicate. (NOTE: any of these suggestions should be cleared with the Risk and IT department to ensure they are secure and safe tools to use.)
- During the 1st and 2nd phase consider disallowing non-employees or clients in the office.
- Limit access to restrooms, kitchens, and copy rooms to a new socially distant norm.
- Temporarily close areas where employees congregate (lounges, break rooms) if possible.
- Limit the elevator usage.
- Increase nightly/weekend cleaning routines.
- Make sure cleaners are properly trained on the disinfecting guidelines.
- Determine areas that require thorough cleaning due to heavy usage, such as training rooms, conference rooms, break areas and restrooms.
- Although your company may not require them, offer face-masks for anyone who would like one or encourage them to use their own.
- Have hand sanitizers all throughout the building(s).
- Provide sterile wipes for people to wipe down their own surfaces.
- Place signage around the office to encourage and promote clean habits.
3. PREPARE YOUR EMPLOYEES
It is now time to prepare your employees for their return to work. Some will be eager and others potentially nervous, so remember to give clear and nonnegotiable direction to help ease any tensions or stress that the transition may cause.
COMMUNICATE TIMELINESS AND EXPECTATIONS
It’s important to keep your employees updated. Here are a few items that should be conveyed to your staff:
- Provide an estimated timeline on the phased approach back into the office, and detail as best as possible what that process will look like.
- We suggest that the COVID team, in conjunction with the HR team, prepare a confidential questionnaire for each employee to complete for the sole purpose of ensuring that the employee is ready to return to work, identifying the appropriate phase the employee should return, and to address any individual concerns an employee might have about returning to work. Questions you could ask include:
- To the best of your knowledge, have you been exposed and/or been around another person who has tested positive for COVID-19 in the last month?
- Are you experiencing any symptoms associated with COVID – 19? If yes, please describe.
- Have you recently traveled outside the State of ___? If yes, describe.
- Are there any unique circumstances the COVID Team needs to be aware of related to you returning to work in the office? If yes, please describe.
- Is it your desire to return to working at the office building as soon as possible versus continuing to temporarily work remotely? If so, why?
- Please list any company equipment you took home with you to work remotely.
While the workplace design, policies, and safety protocols are critical pieces of the puzzle, they do not touch on perhaps the most important aspect of the return to work—the readiness of the workforce physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Developing a plan to mitigate employee fears and concerns should be a top priority.
To help employees, organizations must work to ensure their employees understand what to expect upon their return. Some employees may expect nothing to change, while others will assume everything will be different. Preparing employees and reminding them that these changes are designed to help keep them safe will ease their anxiety.
4. CREATE A PLAN TO TRANSITION TECHNOLOGY
As we migrate back to the office, we face many new challenges from an IT standpoint. From reconnecting office equipment to more changes in server functionality, having a technology plan in place to alleviate the stress of getting set back up upon their return to the office is imminent.
- STOP USING VPN: Were you using a VPN connection while working from home? It is no longer needed when you are back in the office. You are now plugged in. There is no longer a need to connect this way, as a VPN connects from the outside-in.
- REASSEMBLE YOUR WORKSTATION: Reassembling your workstation and plugging in the equipment that you took home can be a daunting process. However, the toughest part will be plugging in your data/ethernet cable to the right port on your desktop. This is required so that you can receive remote support, connect to the network, Internet, etc. So, be patient and do your best. Here are a few tips on how to properly connect your cables:
- Generally speaking, for data cables, most cubicles/offices have 2 data ports, marked with a # and either a “V” for voice or “D” for data. The # is not important to you, for now. The letters are. Plug your phone ethernet cable in the V, and plug your desktop ethernet cable into the D.
- If none of the above is marked, your MSP/IT staff will need to advise.
- If you only have one port, check your phone’s underside to see if there are ports to connect both phone and desktop together. Somewhat like this: Data Port > ethernet cable > phone > ethernet cable out of phone > desktop.
- TAKE INVENTORY: Buy more laptops, period. Also, budget for extra hardware that was originally needed when this happened, i.e., webcams, monitors, power strips, etc. that were all depleted during this time. It might seem expensive, but having equipment on the shelf, ready for IT or your Managed Service Provider to remotely manage, is a good thing. It will also save your staff hours in lost productivity.
- ANALYZE SOFTWARE: Inspect your firewall’s overall performance with your Managed Service Provider or IT staff. Did it suit your needs? Do you need more VPN licenses? Is the firewall licensing, as well as the firmware, up to date?
- REINFORCE SAFE ONLINE PRACTICES: Now is a great time to give your staff a reminder on the cybersecurity landscape, i.e., phishing attacks, malicious threats, malware, and online best practices. Do you have a plan in place should your business ever be comprised? It is more important than ever, as hackers recognize the vulnerability with the current state of business.
- FULLY TRANSITION TO THE CLOUD: If your business has not already fully transitioned over to the cloud, it may be time to do so. Cloud-based communication and file-sharing applications are making it easier than ever to stay connected. While the recent pandemic forced many small businesses to shift to some cloud-based applications, we have seen a lot of companies fully integrating cloud services going forward.
IMPLEMENT YOUR PLAN
Before re-entering the office, there are multiple items that should be reviewed to ensure the safety and readiness of your staff and the company. These items include designating a COVID team to handle all pandemic related matters, preparing your office and employees for the changes ahead, and working with your IT team to properly reconnect all technology systems and equipment.
Navigating through these uncertain times will be challenging for everyone, as there are many moving parts. So, it’s important to be patient and proactive to ease the transition back into the office. If you have any questions, or you are interested in having our team helping you transition back to the office, contact your Lutz representative or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Important Disclosure Information
Please remember that due to various factors, including changing guidance and regulations that are continually being amended and/or applicable laws, the content may no longer be the most to up to date. Moreover, you should not assume that any discussion or information contained in this newsletter serves as the receipt of, or as a substitute for, personalized risk or compliance advice from Lutz. To the extent that a reader has any questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed above to their firm’s individual situation, he/she is encouraged to consult with a professional at Lutz. Lutz is not a law firm, and no portion of the newsletter content should be construed as legal or accounting advice.