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Workplace Reentry Plans: Advice for HR Leaders in the Face of COVID-19

Michelle Gardner, Appian
June 10, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has put many organization's workforces into upheaval. This is especially true for human resource professionals whose roles have never been more urgent.

In the face of coronavirus, human resourceleaders have to monitor employees for health and risk factors, comply with local and national regulations, and handle constant questions across their organization. And now, many companies are starting to plan to return to the workplace - deciding what a safe reentry looks like, establishing employee safety policies, and putting workplace measures in place.

Dawn Mitchell, the Vice President of Human Resources at Appian, recently shared her thoughts on creating COVID workplace plans and return-to-work guidelines to keep employees as safe as possible. Check out her answers to our questions below.

What challenges do human resource leaders face when implementing return-to-workplace plans in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Balancing the unknown while needing to have a plan and answers for our employees. All workplace environments are different, but for the most part we know from our own experience and feedback from employees that there is tremendous value in collaborating together. That may be a hallway conversation, paired coding, or a planning session. While virtual meetings have come a long way, it is hard to create the energy that exists when we are all together. As we make the transition back to an office, some of the new patterns of communication that were developed while virtual will be disrupted again, which could potentially cause some challenges and inhibit productivity.

And of course, what if there's an outbreak in the office? Employee health and safety is first and foremost in our minds. While we know more about COVID and how to put cleaning and social distancing protocols in place, there is still so much we don't know about this virus.

What should companies keep in mind when supporting employee safety?

It depends on whether your workforce has to be in a physical office to perform their roles or if you have the ability to give your employees an option. For the latter, be mindful about communication. Avoid setting any misperception that employees need to be back in the workplace to be productive. Ensure your leaders are open about any situations that may prohibit them from going into the workplace, to let everyone know their situation isn't unique.

For employers that need their employees to be in an office, be explicit around safety measures, office cleanings, and social distancing protocols you are adopting to ensure their safety where possible

In either scenario, it doesn't hurt to be repetitive and detailed on all the additional or new measures you're taking as it relates to confirming their health status before they come to the office, expectations in common areas, amenities that may or may not be available to them in your facilities for the time being. And of course, the expectations you have of them in regards to personal protective equipment (PPE). I do think if you are requiring PPE, you should provide it.

What specific COVID workplace policies are companies putting in place to keep employees and their families as safe as possible?

Because so much of social distancing comes down to how you move through a facility, HR leaders need to work closely with their facilities teams if they aren't already. At Appian, we're considering all options to ensure a safe and productive work environment. That may mean rotating time in office with co-workers if current seating arrangements are too close to ensure proper social distancing

Some other things we're looking at: We put directionals on the floors to direct traffic, especially in places like stairwells and elevator queues. We're being very clear about expectations around communal areas like bathrooms, kitchens, and copy rooms. We're reinforcing that for now, we're not engaging in typical greetings like handshakes. Looking at handle-less door entries wherever possible. And adding extra office cleanings, three times a day.

We're also implementing new policies to make sure everyone is on the same page, both in and out of the workplace. For instance, for employees who regularly travel to see customers or prospective clients, we're considering policies to ensure their safety when not in an Appian facility. We're also putting policies in place around office visitors, such as clients, contractors and interviewers.

How can organizations support employee well-being through the COVID-19 pandemic?

Employee morale and well-being are critical elements to any company's success, and both are being tested right now with this new normal. It is important to understand and assess how your employees are feeling and adapting. That knowledge should inform your policies and communications regarding any re-entry plan.

It is also a great time to ensure your benefits offerings are meeting the needs of your employees. Now is a great time to highlight your employee assistance program (EAP) and consider new offerings, especially if there is a perk or benefit not being used and you can transition those funds.

How do you think coronavirus will change the workplace?

As exhausted as people are dealing with quarantine or juggling working and parenting, they are resilient and finding silver linings. There will be more demand for flexibility as employers can allow it. Especially considering companies are seeing that productivity has remained consistent if not increased during this transition. Time previously spent in a commute has turned into nurturing a new hobby or spending quality time with family members.

HR leaders don't need to tackle COVID return-to-work plans on their own. The Appian Workforce Safety solution helps deliver a safe and smooth transition back to on-site work.Learn more here.