By Mary Kate McGrath - September 1, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed workplace culture for the foreseeable future, with some businesses encouraging employees to continue to work remotely as the virus surges in regions of the United States, and others moving forward with plans to let employees re-enter the office with strict social-distancing measures in place.
Office managers will need to rely on the CDC guidelines for maintaining health and safety for employers, evaluating businesses to make sure the facilities are safe, developing hazard controls to reduce the risk of transmission at work, and educating employees or supervisors on the steps they can take to reduce risk of transmission at work. Companies can take the social distancing measures caused by the coronavirus pandemic as both an opportunity to audit the current workplace safety measures, and take concrete actions to ensure a safe and sustainable culture in the workplace moving forward.
While safety and health must be a priority, workplace leaders should also maintain company culture to keep employees connected and prevent social isolation. Managers can make an active effort to engage employees working remotely, inspire an inclusive or social remote work culture from afar, and recognize the challenges that come with distance working. Companies can do this by facilitating communication strategies that account for the new barriers caused by social distancing measures.
Now that the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to disrupt in-person operations long term, it may be even more crucial to ensure that both employees and managers are engaged in fostering a positive company culture. Teams must continue to prioritize safety and health, both by adhering to public health recommendations and keeping all engaged in maintaining a sense of company culture.
Here are 12 ways companies are keeping safety culture and company culture alive amid the COVID-19 pandemic, lockdown orders, and social distancing measures:
As COVID-19 continues to disrupt daily life, it can be a best practice to issue “temperature” or “pulse” surveys to workers in order to gather feedback on remote work success, return-to-office policies, or ongoing crisis management strategies used by the company. These surveys could be used to gather important data on a variety of topics, including employee success working from home, any resources - healthcare or otherwise - individuals are struggling to access during the pandemic, and a general sense of safety or comfortability returning to the office amid the pandemic.
A coronavirus response solution can help facilitate the distribution of these workplace safety questionnaires or surveys, allowing workers to respond in real-time to various questions. Managers can then leverage this data to improve their response posture and make informed decisions about returning to the office, virtual productivity tools for employees, and best communication strategies to maintain a close-knit community.
For any office hoping to have a limited number of employees return on-site before a vaccine, de-densifying - or the effort to change the physical layout of an office space to facilitate social distancing - will become the norm. The CDC recommends shifting workstations, seats, or furniture in social distancing measures of 6 feet, installing transparent shields, and rearranging seats in reception to prevent close sitting. The agency also recommends improving office ventilation, installing signage to promote social distancing or mask-wearing, and ramping up sanitation efforts.
Information about the COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly changing and may require a continuous communications strategy, especially moving into the Spring, when new treatments or potential vaccines might change federal, state, or local response to the disease. A mass notification system can facilitate these communications, providing company-wide updates on the status of the organization, provide customizable content, health tips, emergency instructions, and other preparedness instructions via email, text, or voice message as necessary.
While company-wide culture events are important, individual conversations also play a role in building a strong and safety-oriented community amid the pandemic. One-on-one meetings are a unique opportunity for workers and supervisors to have a forum to discuss individual success amid the pandemic, allowing managers to identify any ongoing obstacles to remote work and for employees to feel safe and supported amid the ongoing difficulties of the pandemic, as per SM Gov. These meetings allow for connection, value-added feedback, coaching support, and other business concerns to be covered.
In a period where workers may be feeling disconnected from their team members or other aspects of company life, it’s more important than ever to publicly acknowledge workers doing a great job or having success. The communications will help the company feel more connected and community-oriented amid social distancing measures, and the news can help boost overall morale.
Managers should have empathy and understanding during uncertain times, but should also encourage workers to keep regular hours while remaining flexible to maintain work-life balance and establish recurring meetings to keep momentum and provide additional avenues for feedback.
Many workplaces have found creative ways to keep workers connected, including virtual happy-hour events, establishing channels to share photos of pets or WFH tips, running Zoom game nights, or scheduling other activities to help employees de-stress and remain connected.
Provide training for employees about managing health risks, making sure that all resources are in accessible formats with multiple language options, as per the CDC. Topics covered in educational materials include information about transmission or infection (such as large gatherings or fomites) and cloth face coverings, hand-washing, and minimizing routes of transmission at work and in the community by steering clear of others while ill and self-isolating.
Make sure that employees are safe and healthy by conducting routine wellness or quarantine check-ins. Provide employees who might be in quarantine with the proper guidelines to confirm their compliance and facilitate any resources they may need, such as access to healthcare or medicine delivery. Administrators can also provide real-time updates on the changing risk of the virus, or use the tool to facilitate shift scheduling or coverage to avoid lapses in the workflow.
If employees are returning to the office, be sure to stagger shifts, start-times, or break-times, This will also reduce traffic in high-touch, small enclosures such as the elevators or hallways. Office managers should pre-screen employees for symptoms before they arrive on-site, as well as provide clear communications on arrival and departure times and facemask expectations.
The pandemic has taken a toll on worker’s mental health in the United States, as fear of the virus, financial difficulties caused by the economic fallout, school closures, and social isolation caused by the social distancing measures continue to impact families across the country. Companies can proactively provide resources for workers, offering services to further bolster those accessed through a healthcare plan. HR teams can offer webinars or print resources about managing mental health and wellness during these turbulent times.
A workplace safety app can be a valuable tool for further boosting communications and connectivity across company departments. The app, which all employees can access, provides a chat feature, and the inbound text communication can be used to share HR, facility, or travel information with workers as well as answer any questions. The app also allows managers to share customizable content, providing workers with appropriate and timely information so there is no confusion about the current situation and its impact on workplace life.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.
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