Tips to Return to Work Safely

How to Keep your Team, Customers and Business Safe During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Managing a business through COVID-19 was likely not how anyone expected to be spending 2020. Through the spring and summer months it seemed like every day brought bad news, new rules, and new regulations. Keeping up with the details of what individuals and businesses could and couldn’t do became a full-time job.

While the pace of updates seems to have slowed, changes continue to come our way. As fall unfolds around us, we have settled into a new normal that promises to stick around for some time to come. Many businesses in Pennsylvania are still operating at reduced capacity. To move forward, businesses need a solid plan for how to operate while keeping employees and customers safe.


Building Your Plan

As customers and employees return to the office, what should you do for your business do to ensure everyone’s ongoing safety? We have put together a set of tips designed to help you create an action plan for thriving through 2020 and beyond.

While all of these factors need to work together, we have divided the tips into three categories that need to be considered and addressed:

  • Space Modifications and Management
  • Employee Health and Well-Being
  • Policy Management


Space Modifications and Management

1. Enable physical distancing: The details of how this can be accomplished vary greatly depending upon the kind of work space you operate, but there are options for virtually every business.

Many businesses have found that enabling employees to work from home is working well. The statistics on productivity don’t paint a clear picture, with some studies claiming big gains and others, moderate losses. But allowing for remote work has let many businesses continue to operate and ensure employee safety.

For companies whose business requires on-site employees, a blended approach can help in making social distancing work. Some businesses have embraced a divided scheduling approach that has part of the workforce in the office only on specific days of the week, with other team members in on alternate days.

This allows businesses to spread out work stations so that there is at least 6 ft. between individuals, a critical component to slowing the spread of the virus. This also decreases the number of people in common areas such as hallways or entrances and exits at the start and close of the business day. These common areas should also have the amount of furniture reduced to limit the maximum number of people who can effectively use the space.

The flow of traffic through offices and retail spaces should also be defined to minimize the volume of people in any space at a given time.

2. Create physical barriers: In some instances and locations, physical distances of 6 ft. can’t be maintained. For these areas, erect physical barriers that separate employees from one another and customers. Simple plexiglass shields provide a barrier to transmission while not interfering with discussions. At cash registers and in offices, these simple measures can help keep business flowing when person-to-person interaction is essential.

3. Use clear signage: At entrances and exits, post signs that clearly explain what the rules are for navigating and operating within your business. Let employees and visitors alike know where to find additional information for things like pathways and directions through your facility.

For common areas like lunchrooms and conference rooms, post expectations on the maximum number of people the space should accommodate and any limitations on group sizes within them.

Clear signage is also essential for helping to reinforce behavioral expectations for your team for things like hand washing, covering a sneeze and the signs and symptoms of COVID-19. There are many resources available online that make it easy for you to simply download, print and post, such as these Coronavirus Graphics from the PA Department of Health.

4. Standardize cleaning and maintenance procedures: For many small offices, cleaning regiments may once have been a fairly casual affair. No more. Now frequent, regular cleaning needs to be the norm. Especially for high-touch areas like doorknobs, light switches and phones. Standard cleaning products are all that is needed to kill the coronavirus, but these supplies, along with disposable gloves, should be readily available to team members.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created a guide that details how to approach the cleaning of public spaces to ensure that they are keeping everyone safe.  One of the key elements is simply creating a specific plan, communicating it to team members, and then sticking with it.


Employee Health and Well-Being

1. Create a culture of accountability and caring: It should be made very clear to employees that if they are sick, they should stay home. While businesses do struggle when employees are absent, having potentially sick people stay home is your best option to prevent having more sick people in your organization.

Similarly, employees need to buy into the necessity for wearing masks while in public. Employers can mandate masks and impose penalties for non-compliance, but generating buy-in and a sense of community responsibility is a more productive approach to take. Making Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) available, and its usage expectations clear, will provide employees with the direction needed. For anyone in need of PPE, the state of Pennsylvania has compiled a list of in-state manufacturers and suppliers you can contact to discuss your needs.

This culture of support and caring should extend beyond simple physical ailments. The effects of the pandemic on the mental health of the country are only beginning to be understood. The stress and anxiety that individuals are feeling often appear at work and can take a toll on many. Be sure that employees are aware of resources that are available to help them manage through these challenging times.  The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services offers both tips for coping, and a list of free and confidential support resources.

2. Conduct daily health checks: Your approach to these health checks should depend on the particulars of your business. If you work with potentially vulnerable populations, a more aggressive approach where employees are screened for fever in addition to answering questions about their health may be best. These temperature checks are likely more common than you realize. Kaiser Permanente reported on a study that found that 61% of large employers had implemented daily temperature checks as part of their return to work plan.

For other businesses, an automated form that asks employees to report on their health and any possible exposures may be all that is needed to help identify employees that might need to seek testing or remain home.

Whatever approach you choose, be sure to make the screenings as private and discrete as possible. Maintaining confidentiality of any obtained data is also important.


Policy Management

For all of the above items, updating company policies and procedures is vital to keeping your team on the same page. If you don’t yet have an employee handbook, now may be the time to create one. We offer some great advice on what should be included and how to go about creating one in this blog post from last year: When Operations Call for an Employee Handbook.

If you already have your policies in place, most likely the pandemic has driven changes to the following areas which should be reviewed and updated:

  • Attendance policies
  • Paid leave
  • Telecommuting
  • IT policies for remote work and asset management
  • Dress code expectations


Across every sector of the economy, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the world in ways that will take a long time to overcome. As we continue to settle in to the new normal, everyone is in need of guidance for how to best ensure that their employees, clients and their business is safe and able to continue to operate. At Gift CPAs, we are committed to providing you with useful resources, insight and support for all aspects of your business to help each of you come through this difficult time.

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