While the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold, many cities and states have taken steps to start re-opening their economies. For businesses, that raises the question: How can I bring employees who have been working from home back to the office without endangering their health – or increasing risks for my essential workers who have been at the workplace all along?
Every organization is unique, which means there is no one-size-fits-all approach to getting back to work. Companies with large numbers of essential employees face a different challenge than those with employees who can primarily work from home. Similarly, geography, industry, and campus layout all play into employers’ thinking.
However, there are several different strategies employers can consider. When leveraged together, these strategies can reduce risk and help more people come back to the workplace sooner.
1. Consider approach to screening and testing
One of the first strategies many employers consider is screening employees through either a questionnaire, temperature check, or both before they enter the workplace. While screening may not detect every case of coronavirus, it can detect a significant percentage of them which leads to lower risk overall.
One important consideration for employers is: What happens if an employee is denied entry following screening? Having a process in place to ensure that employee receives care and has access to testing if needed is crucial to ensure the success of a screening program.
In addition to screening, companies must consider what type of testing program makes the most sense for their workforces. There are two different types: diagnostic (PCR) testing and antibody (serology) testing. Diagnostic testing is used to diagnose coronavirus, while antibody tests measure immune response and can be used to help determine how many people in a population have had exposure to coronavirus.
Which type of testing is right for your workforce? As with any strategy, it depends on the company and the goals. What will you do with the information? A food manufacturer who offers onsite screening may decide to also offer diagnostic testing, so potential cases of coronavirus can be quickly diagnosed. Doing so allows an employer to minimize infection spread by quickly alerting employees who were exposed and encouraging them to self-isolate. In contrast, an employer with a significant number of employees in a hard-hit area may consider serial antibody testing.
No matter how companies approach testing, it’s vital to research and choose reputable partners to offer it. While high-quality, reputable tests and labs are available, there are others who offer tests that are less accurate and could even cause harm. Getting testing right means starting with the science, then layering in the strategy and execution.
2. Design the workplace for distance
As more studies have come out about coronavirus, it has become clear that physical distance is perhaps the best way to protect employees. While many manufacturers and other companies with essential employees quickly re-designed their workplaces in late March and early April to accommodate greater distance, other organizations are just now facing this hurdle.
The majority of organizations Premise works with are introducing multiple protective measures to promote distance, including installing plexiglass shields; adding markers on the floor to encourage distancing; restricting gatherings like meetings; and closing or limiting access to common areas where employees may congregate. Importantly, they are also planning to phase in the return of employees working from home, to ensure campuses have the space needed to create distance. For some businesses, this means bringing employees back in waves. For others, it may mean alternating days, staggering shifts, or changing traditional workday hours.
Another effective strategy many employers are requiring or encouraging is wearing masks, which is especially important in situations where it may be difficult to maintain physical distance. For example, if an employee must travel for their job, wearing a mask in the airport and on the plane is no longer just a best practice – It’s required by many airlines.
Finally, all employers need to take a hard look at their policies as they prepare to re-open. If an employee tests positive for coronavirus, what is the process to return them to work after they recover? How will your organization approach travel and in-person meetings? Will you allow external visitors onsite? Anticipating these questions and putting policies in place ahead of time can reduce confusion as you re-open.
3. Enhance overall healthcare access
One often overlooked consequence of the coronavirus pandemic has been how it has prevented many people from receiving important, if non-emergent, healthcare services.
As employers bring people back to work, access to quality healthcare is more important than ever. Offering virtual care can provide a way to better screen and manage employees who have been exposed to coronavirus or have coronavirus symptoms. It can also help protect employees who are at a high-risk of severe disease by allowing them to access healthcare services without leaving home.
For care that cannot be delivered in a virtual setting, providing employees with access to healthcare either at or near the workplace can offer a convenient option that helps them stay engaged in their health. As dangerous as the coronavirus is, it is not the only health threat workers face. Preventive care and ongoing treatment and support for chronic conditions remains critical to ensure a healthy workforce today, and tomorrow.
Much is still unknown about coronavirus, and there are no silver bullets for getting employees back to work. Yet by leveraging several strategies in combination, employers can feel confident that they have taken every step to help protect their workforces – and their businesses.
Premise Health is partnering with clients across the country to help their employees get back to work. Interested in learning more? Sign up to receive a copy of our campus re-opening playbook.