Reopening after COVID-19: What companies need to know

As the nation begins reopening after COVID-19, companies need to have a smart game plan to protect their employees, customers, and their businesses.

It’s not just about following new regulations and safety practices (although that’s important). Reopening safely requires that you bring all of your stakeholders to the table to plan for your immediate and long-term future.

“One thing that we’ve been communicating with our clients is you have to have a thought-out, and written-out plan to execute on,” says Jackie Baxley, environmental health and safety practice leader (EHS), at HRP Associates, an environmental and engineering consulting firm.

Consider this your reopening checklist.

Assess your space and local laws

Before you reopen, you need to take a look at your workplace, your work practices, and your people. This can include evaluating traffic patterns for your facility, the work-station structure, breaking and lunching habits, etc. Ultimately, you want to limit close proximity interactions as much as possible, says Baxley.

You also need to make sure you understand local ordinances and note that they are going to be very different by municipality. “Look at what your local health department guidance is,” says Baxley.

Develop a prevention plan

There is no one-size-fits-all approach here, which is why doing assessment first is critical, says Baxley. Some prevention examples may be hand sanitizing stations and educating your employees on using them; protocols on wearing face coverings (which may or may not be required based on location); rerouting of traffic flow, etc.

For one distribution center,  the solution to change to one-way aisles was a big help. Other ideas may be limiting the number of entrances into the building, and staggering shifts and appointments.

Other organizations are considering rotating office schedules into three shifts, assigning specific office days so there is a lower capacity, or keeping some of the workforce remote indefinitely.

Another part of prevention is disinfection. But it’s not simply spraying some Lysol and calling it a day.

“In that plan, you’re identifying what disinfectant you’re using, the proper use of those disinfectants, who you have doing the disinfection, and who will contact if you have someone infected in the workspace,” says Baxley. The CDC has guidance on this, but certain municipalities have outlined more specific expectations following suspected or confirmed cases.

Set up safety controls

One complex aspect of control is whether or not to perform medical screenings on employees. “You definitely want to engage your HR department because there are EEOC considerations,” says Baxley. Whether it’s touch-free thermometers, cameras that capture thermal imaging, or giving building visitors a questionnaire when they enter, it’s important to note that EEOC has indicated that the results of screenings are considered medical records, so HR would have to be involved in maintaining those records. Plus, how might contract tracing play out in a work environment should a staffer get sick?

With all this to consider, large organizations – especially healthcare facilities, senior living, or colleges and universities – should invite public health officials to discussions on how to handle some of these big questions.

Less invasive prevention measures include removing workstations or adding plexiglass barriers, as well as eliminating shared spaces and equipment. For organizations with open-concept layouts, it might mean turning shared spaces into designated spaces. Other proactive steps may be giving employees the items needed to disinfect their workspaces and touchpoints, and increasing janitorial cleanings in common areas or on surfaces like light switches and doorknobs.

Prioritize communication and encourage feedback

Just as vital as all of the measures and protocols companies need to consider for their physical reopenings, organizations need to put real effort behind the emotional needs and wellness of their workforce.

Insight Global, one of the nation’s largest staffing agencies, is making sure employee feedback is part of their reopening plans. In addition to creating a special task force dedicated to returning to what measures will be needed to reopen offices, the company sent out a survey to gauge the feelings of its internal employees, says Eli Doster, VP of talent strategy. “Our CEO is constantly communicating directly to leadership and to our entire company, and he has made it clear that the health and well-being of our people is priority number one,” he says.

“It’s a great feeling when all this is going knowing that the company takes the time to listen and cares so much about their people,” says Stephanie Bathke, lead culture and brand manager at Insight Global. She notes that the company has been finding new creative ways to keep the personal connections going among colleagues, from staff happy hours to transitioning the annual company conference into a virtual format. “It’s given us all something fun to look forward to, and to remind us of what a special place this is,” she says.

In the meantime, everyone is doing their part to adapt and step up for the clients, especially in high-demand industries. “On the first Saturday of our work-from-home transition, we had 50 recruiters working to staff a makeshift hospital in Atlanta with 65 people. They pulled it together in 24 hours,” says Doster. “Right now during such extraordinary times, there is no greater purpose for us than being the light for others by helping find people jobs, and by taking care of our clients.”

Put a focus on mental well-being

Cate Miller, manager of talent delivery center of excellence at Concentrix, a global customer experience company specializing in customer engagement and improving business performance, says her company has also taken great strides toward focusing on the mental well-being of its workforce. “We took an approach that if we’re going to live our culture statement that we are ‘different by design,’ then we’re going to live up to that standard and going to take care of our employees,” she says.

That has meant not only constant communication, but reminders to take breaks, step away from the computer, take yoga classes, and more. “Most of us have small children and now have become full-time teachers in the midst of this pandemic as well,” she says. “We have a constant support system where it’s OK to ask for help or ask questions.”

“Being sure that people know if you need help, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, or that we can connect you with professionals to help you, is us helping each other – that’s us being one team,” says Jason Brown, vice president, delivery shared services at Concentrix.

“Getting each other through it is as much a part of the return to going forward as the tactical steps,” he says.

Phase-in reopening

Concentrix has some offices still open, though it has shifted a large portion of people to work-from-home setups. “Even though we continued to operate in our sites, we had some people who weren’t comfortable or had underlying conditions who chose not to be working right now and we respect that choice,” says Brown.

It’s also important to evaluate each location individually, he says. “Our response is going to be appropriate for each community. What we do in upstate NY is going to be different than what we do in Midwest,” says Brown. And just because a state says it’s “safe” to reopen, doesn’t mean that the company will resume all in-person activities at once.

One of the advantages for Concentrix’s North America division is that it can look to the global teams in China and South Korea to understand what their journey has been. “They share best practices about what’s worked, and then you can localize that,” says Brown.

For spaces that do reopen, social distancing is going to be a key part of it. “We will operate those facilities below their peak capacity in a way that allows people to feel safe and comfortable,” he says.

Hiring after COVID-19

Companies like Concentrix and Insight Global aren’t slowing down their recruiting and hiring initiatives, but they are having to adapt them.

“Prior to COVID-19, we had virtual tools, video interviews, text recruiting applications, etc. What we didn’t anticipate was 100% of our candidate contact going virtual,” says Brown. One of the questions the company will figure out over the coming months is what does the ‘new normal’ look like in terms of streamlining that process for candidates. “This crisis helped accelerate what was already a direction we were heading in; we’ll get there faster as a result of what we’ve been through.”

At Insight Global, the team had hired a large number of entry-level recruiters before the pandemic hit. “We have incredible new recruiters slated to start across North America over the next few months,” says Doster. That plan hasn’t changed, although the onboarding may look different. New training models are being developed behind the scenes to make sure the latest hires get the best training possible.

“Insight Global University, our internal training and development division, is working tirelessly to ensure all of our upcoming hires receive even more training during this time. Every single recruiter that we hire matters, and training is paramount to the success of each and every one of them,” he says.

Looking ahead

As the saying goes, “we can’t control what we can’t control.” But we can define what we are able to control, says Baxley.

It all comes back to that assessment, prevention, and control planning, and realizing that it is a continuous process. Says Baxley: “You have to adapt to what is going to be a very dynamic next few months.”

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