Aug. 07, 2020 | InBrief

Healthy, confident, agile: A guide to reopening offices through the eyes of a healthcare expert

Reopening offices will require significant planning to get employees in safely, maintaining a safe environment, and managing incidents if they arise

Given the events of the past few months, the process of effectively and safely returning to the workplace is shaping up as one of the greatest challenges most business leaders will ever face. Further complicating matters, they must plan for the current COVID-19 reality and for whatever the “new” normal might look like.

Employers and employees face myriad issues, which generally fit into three big-picture categories – getting workers safely and confidently into the office, maintaining a safe and healthy physical environment, and calmly and effectively managing incidents as they arise.

Here’s what companies should know as they look to navigate the coming months – and possibly years. 

Safely and confidently getting people to the office

Uncertainty about reopening offices stems from the difficulty in understanding how COVID-19 data relates to a particular business, its employees, and its customers. Still, it’s critical to follow national, state, and county-level information in real time so workplace guidelines can be added or loosened as necessary. 

The question of getting people to the office also exists. Leaders must assess how employees are getting to work – i.e., public transit versus driving – and must institute hygiene and safety requirements for employees who travel greater distances to occasionally visit offices. It’s also important to create risk profiles to help make decisions about how often they actually come to the workplace. 

Once employees are in the office, more questions arise. Leaders will have to decide how often and when they want to conduct wellness checks. It’s a good idea to send a questionnaire each morning asking employees about their health (both physical and mental) and whether they plan to come to the office. Solutions like Work.com have survey functionality built in, making this activity even easier for organizations. Additionally, leadership should consider issuing barcodes or entrance tags so that only employees who have completed this attestation can enter the building. 

Companies will also need to design criteria for office screening locations based on their own capabilities and feasibility, as well as an understanding of the required technology investment. This could mean anything from contactless scans to thermal scanning to simple temperature checks at the entrances.  

Maintaining a healthy workplace

Establishing hygiene procedures is a must, including masks in public places or where social distancing isn’t possible. Employees can remove masks at their desks, but social distancing when speaking with co-workers will be necessary while there. This requires developing new muscles for certain visual and auditory queues, which could be difficult for those with physical impairments. 

There should be six feet between seats and leaders should also consider plastic walls or barriers. In smaller rooms, seats must be spread out, masks required, and firm limits set on occupancy in any room. 

Leadership at larger companies should also consider having face masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, and face shields throughout the office. The stock should be managed to make sure supplies don’t run out and employees should be encouraged to keep extras at their desks so they’re not walking around the office trying to find them. Finally, all high-touch points should be cleaned each day with disinfectant – and cleaning procedures should be regularly reviewed. 

Reducing response time

Even if companies do everything above, infections may still occur. The key is managing them and constantly learning from the experiences.

Every organization should have a dedicated response team to ensure clarity around process, roles, technology, and supplies. This way, employees and customers will have a secure environment, disruption to business will be minimized, and emotional stress and trauma will be diminished.

Communication is also important. Management must be willing and able to quickly escalate if anyone is experiencing COVID symptoms and communicate to employees who might have been affected. Just as important is effectively disseminating new procedures and training as situations evolve. 

If someone in the office is diagnosed, companies must efficiently and quickly trace that employee’s interactions in the office. The organization also must have a checklist of follow-up tasks designed around reducing further risk.

Put people first

A company’s success and safety amid COVID-19 are truly matters of agility. Smart organizations should treat an incident in the workplace similarly to the way a tech company deals with its code breaking. In those situations, the company moves fast to examine the problem (i.e., a standup scrum), to respond, and then to monitor and debrief. 

Business leaders will have to constantly learn from what’s happening, which could take the shape of near-daily feedback sessions from employees and customers.

The bottom line in all of this, and the most crucial task of all in these difficult times: putting people first.

Considered one of the top healthcare experts in the country, Jukka Valkonen has a longstanding reputation for continuously challenging the status quo and testing what’s possible. He led the care delivery transformation work at a large payer network that contributed to 4 consecutive record revenue years, and some of his Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set reporting received recognition from the NCQA as a Best Practice. Prior to joining West Monroe, Jukka was the Chief Health and Innovation Officer and Co-founder of Jiseki Health, Inc., a venture backed healthcare company focused on using advanced technology to provide better access and care.

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