Tips for returning to the office this summer

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Q: I am a small business owner and we are overwhelmed with how to invite employees back into our workplace.  We don’t have to worry about elevators, the MBTA or escalators.  We are a consulting firm, in a south shore office park.  We are grateful our landlord has several picnic tables and chairs outside for tenants to enjoy.  I am worried about inside our office though.  What should I be doing?

A: It is a stressful time for many employee, business leaders and business owners.  Here is some guidance which may help.

Posters!  You are required to post notices within your workplace.  Visit https://www.mass.gov/doc/employer-reopening-poster/download and https://www.mass.gov/doc/employee-reopening-poster/download.

It sounds like your firm operates out of an office.  If so, here is a checklist that will be helpful https://www.mass.gov/doc/office-spaces-checklist/download.  Start with 25% of your staff.

Additionally, all businesses must develop a written plan which details how businesses will maintain a safe operation.  Here is a link to a control plan template for you to complete.  https://www.mass.gov/doc/covid-19-reopening-control-plan-template/download

Many of our clients are including employees in the decision-making process around how and when to return to the office.  Some best practices to consider include:

  • Stagger shifts or allow a lot of flexibility. This is also helpful in managing childcare or other family obligations at this time.  Some employees are signaling that they are most comfortable returning to the office gradually or during “off hours” (evenings or weekends).
  • Allow for six feet of space between employees. This may mean using a vacant office or conference room.
  • Require face coverings. Keep an extra supply of disposable masks on hand in case someone forgets theirs at home.
  • Have hand sanitizer available. Encourage frequent use.
  • Limit visitors. Some of our clients are locking their office suite doors and asking delivery people to leave mail and packages outside of their office suite.  Many are posting a “no visitor” sign at their front entrance.
  • Check in with your landlord and ensure that they are performing a thorough cleaning, and giving an extra thorough cleaning of all hard surfaces like door knobs, key pads, handles and frequently touched surfaces. It may be a good idea to also have your own cleaning solutions to wipe down surfaces during the day.
  • Encourage employees not to use each other’s telephones or headphone. Ask all to wipe their phones and work surfaces down during the day.
  • Slowly invite employees back into the office. This is not a race.  Many employees can be just as productive at home.
  • Explain that you do not want anyone feeling unwell or who could have been exposed COVID-19 to the office. The employee who spends the most time in the office is not always the most productive employee.
  • Post reminders about social distancing and hand washing around your office. Many of us are creatures of habit and will be walking into the lunch room for a coffee if there is a closed door or some other barrier.
  • Close down your lunch room or break room if it is small and would encourage congregating. Encourage employees to enjoy the picnic tables and chairs outside with proper social distancing.
  • Some of our clients are limiting the number of people who can use the restrooms, depending upon the size. Doors, handles and faucets should be cleaned thoroughly several times per day.

Finally, engage your employees in the discussion.  Some may be eager to get back into an office, while others may be reluctant.  Some of our clients are asking for volunteers and some employees are raising their hands.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.

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