COVID-19 infection rates and deaths are rapidly declining. Masks, social distancing, enhanced hygiene and sanitation practices, and COVID-19 vaccinations have all played important roles. With this good news, small business offices that the pandemic has adversely affected can see light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s now time for small businesses to reopen strategies and plans. Companies can also apply lessons learned from remote working to build back stronger, keeping employee safety at the forefront of their preparation. Information gathering is the first step.
Do Your Research
Before resuming in-person operations, research current guidelines, recommendations, laws, and other applicable information. Learn what restrictions, if any, are still present in your city, county, and state. In addition, educate yourself and your team about employee safety protocols. Review federal guidelines, public health official suggestions, and industry-specific practices. With this information, you can move to the planning stage.
By June 15, 2021, Governor Hogan had ended the State of Emergency enacted for COVID-19. As of July 1, masks are no longer required on a state level. However, individual private organizations may set their own safety protocols. That includes requiring masks and social distancing if they choose.
Some local jurisdictions are keeping various restrictions and mandates in place longer. For example, Baltimore City is not planning to remove its mask order until at least 65% of its residents have gotten a COVID-19 vaccine.
Design a Plan
Several factors affect small business reopening plans for office safety. Here are few important ones:
- Workspace area
- Amount of necessary physical contact between employees
- Expected physical contact with customers
- Budget to train and educate workers on new processes and put them in place
- Level of flexibility and responsiveness to any emerging COVID-19 infections
With that information, you can determine which safety measures are best suited to your office. Evaluate the following suggestions for effectiveness and fitness:
- Redesign office spaces to increase the distance between desks or workspaces.
- Stagger work schedules to manage office occupancy rates.
- Limit break room use with schedules or occupancy limits.
- Take the temperatures of employees and members of the public before entering the office.
- Assign disinfecting duties to employees to ensure surfaces are cleaned and disinfected daily. Sanitize areas with high use more often.
- Prohibit unnecessary physical contact, such as handshakes and hugs.
- Create a back-to-the-office demonstration explaining new practices and other changes. Include worker requirements to use sanitizer and wash their hands frequently.
- Install hand sanitizer stations throughout the office.
- Post reminders of safety policies and guidelines.
- Continue offering telework options to employees who contract a fever, cough, or other signs of infection.
- Require employees to sign a consent form promising to comply with office safety measures.
- Allow some workers to continue telecommuting long term.
- Offer hybrid work schedules, partial telecommuting, and partial in-office work.
- Decide on the methods of communicating safety measures to employees and the public.
One especially big decision is whether making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory is a good policy for your organization. If so, identify the situations or health issues that allow an employee to opt-out. Set up a vaccination notification system and reassure employees of their privacy regarding health concerns.
Before moving forward, ensure that you’re permitted to do so in your location. Some areas around the country are still working on COVID-19 mitigation. But if the jurisdiction you’re in allows you to re-open in person, you can begin reviewing readiness for your company.
Community safety is a key factor. Check that the rates of infection have dropped to an acceptable level, vaccination rates are high, and you’re not in an area at high risk of re-infection. Be aware of the presence of COVID-19 variants that can increase threat levels. Notably, the Delta variant is a concern. Because it can spread more easily, its presence in your community requires heightened awareness and enhanced preventative measures.
Health officials continue urging people to get fully vaccinated to reduce a COVID-19 resurgence and prevent the spread of variants. High rates of fully vaccinated workers support the return to pre-pandemic business operations.
Slightly more than half, 52.6%, of the U.S. population had received at least one vaccine dose by mid-June. Meanwhile, nearly three-quarters, 72.3%, of Maryland’s residents were at the one-shot level.
Finally, evaluate your company’s readiness to implement health and safety guidelines and its ability to protect high-risk employees. Consider budget, staff, physical space, and how frequent sanitation processes may affect productivity. You don’t want to be in the position where workers are skipping safety protocols for fear of lower efficiency.
Implement Your Plan
After you’ve done all the research, planning, budgeting, and strategizing, it’s time to bring your office workers back. Prepare them completely for the changes you’ve put in place. Apply tools you’ve been using for remote work. For example, hold a Zoom meeting or send workers a PowerPoint presentation detailing the new office set-up, safety protocols, and employee expectations.
If you will require workers to be vaccinated before returning to the office, let them know as soon as possible. Provide resources to help them get the vaccination. Encourage workers who’ve had the first dose to follow up with the second one, if applicable.
Lead by example and encourage your management staff to do the same. Keep an open mind and expect some of your employees to be wary of returning to work in person. Be understanding and responsive by assuring them that you’ve taken steps to ensure their health, safety, and well-being. Reach out to BradyRenner CPAs with questions.
Image Credits: JaniKing @Creative Commons.