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5 Steps to Safely Reopen From COVID-19 Lockdown

5 Steps to Safely Reopen From COVID-19 Lockdown

After two months of quarantines and stay-at-home orders, governments are slowly lifting restrictions. People are emerging from their COVID-19 hibernation. Businesses are cautiously reopening.

Over the next several months, stores will invite customers back inside, though not all at once. Temporarily shuttered service providers will be allowed to reopen provided they adhere to new safety requirements.

Employees who spent the last two months working exclusively from home will return to their cubicles in the offices they share with dozens, hundreds, or thousands of co-workers. 

But it won’t be business as usual. COVID-19 created a new world. People think about how everyday actions can spread germs and viruses. This preoccupation is not limited to germaphobes.

Whether this world is temporary or the new normal remains to be seen.

For the foreseeable future, companies will have to take several steps to help employees and customers feel safe and to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases.

Here are five steps companies can take to help safely reopen. 

Install hands-free devices

Businesses should minimize how many shared surfaces people have to touch throughout the day. 

Common areas include elevator buttons, handrails, and light switches, just to name a few. These high-traffic, high-touch areas accelerate the spread of COVID-19.

One area of emphasis is restroom doors. People will not want to touch the door handle to exit a public restroom after they have already washed their hands.  Some state governors, such as Wisconsin’s Tony Evers, have issued touch-free guidelines to businesses as they prepare to reopen.

Consider investing in hands-free devices that help people avoid touching common surfaces. This includes foot-operated door openers on restroom doors and other common entrances throughout your facility. This is an inexpensive enhancement that you can buy for about $30 per door.

Provide hand sanitizer

It’s impossible to avoid touching all surfaces in the workplace. For these instances, your employees will feel better about being in the office if they have immediate access to hand sanitizer. 

Businesses should consider keeping dispensers at all times in high-traffic areas such as in waiting rooms, near elevators, and in conference rooms and cafeterias,

Assess sick-leave policies

It’s late December. One or more of your team members wakes up with chills and a fever. They used all their paid time off for the year, so they drag themselves to work. Within a week, a quarter of your workforce has tested positive for COVID-19.

Coming into work sick has long been a problem when employees don’t have or don’t feel they have the ability to miss work without losing income. With COVID-19, the consequences of these decisions is more serious.

Prior to reopening, all companies should assess their sick-leave and paid-time-off policies. They should address any section of their company rules that discourages employees from staying home when there’s a chance they can infect others. 

If you don’t already, you may want to allow employees to carry over a set number of paid-time-off days into the next year. This can help prevent people from using all of their days and having none left to use for a late-year illness. 

Another option is to let workers borrow against next year’s allotment of paid-off days in the event they get sick after using up their current bank.

Some companies are even establishing an emergency bank of days that anybody within the company can use to stay home. Others are expanding work-from-home policies to encourage sick employees to avoid the crowded office.

Determine how to handle visitors to the office

Most businesses have a number of non-employees visit during a typical day. Vendors. Clients. Package delivery.

As businesses reopen, they should address how to handle third parties to minimize the risk of infections to their employees.

Many companies may go as far as to limit non-employees from entering their facilities. Meetings with clients and vendors may need to be limited to video calls.

Any rules you devise for visitors -- such as the requirement to wear masks — should be posted outside the premises and communicated to regular visitors. 

Communicate all policy changes and new safety features

Most businesses will have to incorporate new guidelines to maintain safety. You will need to communicate these to all employees and frequent visitors to your place of business.

Create a comprehensive communication plan using all available venues to announce these changes. Send a series of emails. Post articles and videos on your intranet and social media outlets. Instruct managers to discuss the changes with their direct reports.

And don’t forget to update your employee handbook with any permanent operational and policy changes resulting from COVID-19.

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