As business owners, we recognize that our people are our greatest assets. For many of us, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to re-think our workplaces and workforces. We’ve experienced the office as a ghost town, with perhaps one or two of us haunting the hallways while others work remotely. We’ve experienced human resources as an Olympic event with changes in hours, sick leave and family leave, employee benefits, remote work policies, State and local regulations, the CARES Act, and perhaps reluctantly guiding our organizations through furloughs or layoffs.
Lately, we have all been building our plans for a return to work. Even organizations like ours that have supported essential workers throughout the past few months understand that the “new normal” won’t look or feel like January 2020 as our customers reshape themselves. My thoughts have turned to our associates and our customers’ employees.
Among them, I know some groups are anxious to get back to the collegiality of the office and face-to-face connection. For them, videoconferencing is wearing thin. On the flip side, others are very eager to keep working from home because they’ve found that their focus and productivity have improved in their home offices. Others occasionally miss their old routines and hope there’s a good balance of work from home and work from the office ahead.
Unfortunately, everyone feels a level of uncertainty about whether their offices will be safe from the coronavirus. As business owners, we must grapple with both new policies and simple practicalities. From the policy angle, under OSHA, we employers have a duty to furnish employees with a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that cause or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to our employees. From the practicality standpoint, employers can’t realistically police the washing of hands, wiping of surfaces, or wearing of masks 100% of the time, in every environment. (Although according to this patent for a system that monitors hand hygiene compliance, some may certainly try!)
It is also challenging to lead a business while worrying about the legal repercussions of bringing our employees and teams back together. Is there a new wave of litigation ahead, spurred my employees for whom good-faith efforts are not enough? Remaining optimistic and assuming our best efforts will prevail, or regulators will eventually publish standards of good practice, we know that our approach as leaders will start with solid communication.
Creating a Plan
The CDC recently issued Reopening Guidance on what employers should do. It provides a lot of information on how to clean, but the key takeaway is that each business must have a plan. As we each develop plans geared to our unique workplaces, communicating these to our associates in a specific, easy-to-understand way that creates tangible behaviors at work is critical.
SumnerOne is working on ways that we can help our customers ramp up and keep their teams safe. Beginning with communication, we are developing a handful of Sample Policies to share with you. We are also providing help with posters and signs, because the large format print technologies that we support are ideal for short-run, easy-to-make signage.
We are also hard at work kicking the tires on workplace solutions – from video surveillance to larger-scale disinfection devices – that may help employers during this unprecedented era. We will put these novel technologies through their paces at our workplace, offering them to you if they make safety work.