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How to create a comprehensive workplace reopening plan

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, keeping employees safe at work now takes far more planning and coordination than it used to. Your employees’ health and safety are at risk each time they enter your workplace. To orchestrate a safe return to work, you must think two steps ahead and check every box to ensure your team is safe. 

That, of course, is easier said than done. What steps do you need to take? What boxes do you need to check? If only you’d operated a workplace during a pandemic before… 

No one should have to build their workplace reopening plans from scratch. Now is a better time than any for workplaces to share their expertise and support each other to keep people safe. 

In the past few months, hundreds of companies shared their reopening plans with Envoy’s team. Using their expertise, we’ve outlined the key questions that every workplace needs to answer in their reopening plan below. You can also find these prompts and a worksheet you can use to create your phased reopening plan in our reopening toolkit for workplaces.

1. What needs to happen for you to bring more people back to your workplace?

Before you get into the details of how you’ll reopen your workplace, it’s important to decide what conditions must exist to return in the first place. Your plan should include external as well as internal criteria that must be met. An external condition might be that your local government or the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lifts certain restrictions. An internal condition could be that you have the proper tooling or supplies to screen employees for COVID-19.

2. When do you expect to bring more people back?

Now that you know what conditions need to exist to bring more people back, when do you expect this will happen? It can help to think about your workplace reopening in phases. By opening in phases, you can pressure test your new workplace processes with larger and larger groups of people. Bringing people back gradually will help you work out any kinks as you go. By the time most employees are back on-site, you will be a well-oiled machine.

Choosing a date for when you will transition from one phase to the next is, of course, a challenge. It’s important to provide employees a target return date so they can plan ahead. Even if you’re unsure, a decision is better than no decision. Do your best to put a stake in the ground.

3. How many people can be on-site at once?

Now that you’ve defined your workplace reopening phases and when they will be, determine how many people you will allow in the office at each phase. Look to your state or local government guidelines around capacity to start. Many local governments have put capacity restrictions in place due to the pandemic. Take into account your ability to staff and resource each office as well. Once you set your max capacity, enforce it by keeping count of how many people are on-site at once.

4. Who’s eligible to be in the workplace?

You know how many people can be in the workplace, now who should you allow in? You may find that more people want to return than you have space for. Clarify which employees, including full-time, part-time, and contractors, can be in the office during each phase and why. You may want to leave room for guests, like a job candidate coming in to interview, as well. Last, describe which people and roles should take priority if too many people want to work in the office. 

5. What criteria must people meet to enter the workplace?

Help employees feel comfortable returning to work by detailing the criteria people must meet to enter the workplace. Will you ask them to certify they’re healthy before they head to work? Or take their temperature with a touchless device when they arrive? Explain how you will ensure that only healthy employees enter the premises.

6. What guidelines must people follow once they’re in the workplace?

If an employee decides to work from the office, what guidelines do you expect them to follow? Even if many behaviors, like “wash your hands,” seem obvious, list them all here. For instance, what actions must employees take to keep a safe distance while on-site? Do they need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) in the workplace? If yes, under what circumstances?

7. What measures will you take to keep the workplace clean?

Describe what measures your employees and cleaning staff will take to keep workplaces clean during each phase. If you aren’t sure where to start, the CDC provides ample guidance on cleaning and disinfecting facilities. Include details on how many cleaners you will staff in each office, how often they will clean certain areas, and how you will train them.

And don’t forget the cleaning supplies. What cleaning supplies will you need to keep in stock to make these cleaning measures possible?

8. What changes will you need to make to the physical workplace?

To help employees keep a safe distance and avoid shared surfaces, you may need to alter the physical workplace or how it’s used. Start with common areas, such as kitchens, dining areas, or shared soft seating. To what extent will these spaces and the items in them be available during each phase? Will certain shared devices or surfaces need to be removed or replaced with touchless alternatives?

Also, clarify in your workplace reopening plan what conference rooms will or won’t be available and to what extent during each phase. For instance, how many people can be in each conference room? Will they be able to use your video conferencing system?

9. What food and beverage service will you support?

Workplace managers tell us that the top question they hear from employees is, “Will there be coffee/snacks/lunch in the workplace?” Be sure to state in your plan what food or drinks, if any, will you provide for employees. If employees get lunch outside the workplace, will they need to take certain precautions?

10. What signage needs to be present in the workplace?

Many local governments require that businesses post signs about their safety policies. For instance, in San Francisco, all companies must post a sign explaining the risk of working indoors. Putting signs on the doors of off-limits meeting rooms or amenities can also help you reinforce this message. List the signage your company needs to post in the workplace and in what areas of the office during each phase. If you need signs for the office, download these editable workplace safety posters for free.

11. Are there any building-specific protocols your team needs to follow?

If you share a building with other tenants, include any guidelines that your landlord or property management company expects you to follow. Make special note of any rules that affect how employees access the building. For instance, will employees also need to get screened by the building? Are there rules about how many people can be in the elevators?

Thinking through each question above will help you and your team get ahead of any barriers to reopening your workplace. The more prepared you are, the more confidence you and your employees can be that they’re safe in your workplace. 

Now it’s time to codify your workplace reopening plan and share it with your organization. Once you answer the questions above, add your responses to the return-to-office worksheet. Make this public to your company so everyone knows what to expect and feels more comfortable returning to work.

Download the workplace reopening toolkit now to get the return-to-office worksheet and more templates to help you execute a seamless return.