6 Guidelines for Developing a Return-to-Work Plan

Just as VUMC is making plans to reintroduce some services, we know that employers are working hard on plans to reopen shuttered aspects of their businesses. Here are a few resources to ensure your reestablished business remains a healthy work environment.

1. Create Policies to Protect Employees

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s safety guidelines for essential workers are clear, but there is more leeway for other types of workers. Here are some guidelines for setting up policies that prioritize employees’ safety.

  • Temperature screening. VUMC and several other area employers screen employees' temperatures and ask a series of health questions to identify signs of possible COVID-19 infection before entering the workplace. The Vanderbilt Health Employer Solutions team can help support businesses as they think through a temperature screening policy of their own, as well as offer “train the trainer” services to get those screening services up and running.
  • Guidance for exposed employees. The CDC offers several timelines for when employees who show symptoms of COVID-19 or have a confirmed case of the disease may be allowed to return to work. 
  • Masking guidance. Develop a policy for whether you’ll require employees to wear a mask in the office and if they should bring their own. In a brief article for JAMA, VUMC’s Dr. David Aronoff explains the benefits to wearing masks in public, the difference in types of masks and how to properly wear one.  

2. Prioritize Daily Disinfecting and Sanitizing

To ensure your employees feel comfortable and safe performing their jobs during the pandemic:

  • Clean work stations and common areas following advice from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.
  • Follow the comprehensive guide from the Environmental Protection Agency on which disinfectants and cleaning supplies are best. 
  • Get clarification on your building’s enhanced cleaning and maintenance procedures and communicate those to your employees.
  • Make sure to provide employees with plenty of antibacterial wipes, soap and hand sanitizer.

3. Ensure Safe Distancing

VUMC has instituted social distancing guidelines for their facilities that could be adapted for other businesses. Here are some best practices:

  • Consider alternative scheduling policies that allow for more flexible work arrangements so that fewer employees occupy the office at the same time.
  • Reconfigure work stations and common spaces to respect social distancing rules.
  • If physical distancing is difficult, institute rotating or split shifts and staggered reporting times.
  • If in-person meetings are essential, limit them to 10 people or less and keep participants at least 6 feet apart. 

4. Get Creative With Your Virtual Teams

Over the past weeks of mandated social distancing, many employers have already explored ways to collaborate and stay productive with virtual teams. Consider creative ways to conduct large meetings that were traditionally held in-person—could new technology options take the place of whiteboards for strategy and brainstorming needs? Consider online communication/collaboration tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack, which has compiled a helpful Guide to Remote Meetings.

5. Support Your Remote Workforce

If many of your employees can continue to work productively from home, ensure they have what they need—everything from proper supplies and equipment to health and wellness support—so that they can conduct business successfully with as little stress as possible. The CDC offers strategies for engaging remote employees in workplace health and wellness programs, MySouthern Health is a go-to source for healthy living strategies, and Harvard Business Review answers 15 of the most common questions about remote work. 

6. Communicate Regularly and Encourage Feedback

So many accidental, tangential conversations happen when all staff is working in an office, and some of that important communication can be lost with remote teams. Make up the gaps by regularly communicating with your employees to see how projects are going and ask if anyone needs help or additional direction. Err on the side of overcommunication, particularly given such persistent uncertainty.

Stay open and transparent on new policies. These policies are always better received when employees feel like they’re allowed to give respectful yet honest feedback. Send surveys and conduct regular one-on-one calls when possible to gauge your employees’ reactions to new safety protocols. The Society for Human Resource Management offers several resources to make such policy-making easier.