To help flatten the curve, one in four Americans in the workforce has shifted to working from home over the past year due to COVID-19. But with vaccines becoming more widely available, many companies may be considering how to transition their teams back to the workplace.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that businesses and employers will play a key role in preventing and slowing the spread of COVID-19 within the workplace. Your preparedness, response, and control plan should take workplace factors into account. If you have not already, begin to think about the practicality of factors like:
- social distancing within the workplace
- the ability to stagger employee shifts
- how much your employees interact with the public in person
- your employees’ feelings about returning to an in-person workplace
- the practicality of implementing more permanent hybrid or remote options.
Develop (or update) your workplace health and safety plan before returning your employees to in-person settings. Educate managers on the plan so they can effectively communicate this with employees. The pandemic continues to be an ever-evolving situation. Be sure you have the ability to pivot or update your plan based on the latest information from trusted sources, such as the CDC.
Getting employees vaccinated
One major factor in re-opening workplaces is the number of employees who are fully vaccinated. About 75% of employers are tracking or plan to track vaccine compliance across their organizations. And nearly 60% say that sufficient distribution of the vaccine in their employee population will determine when they open doors. Some employers are even planning to mandate the vaccine for in-person workers.
Getting as many people as possible vaccinated as quickly as possible is important for our businesses as well as reaching critical herd immunity for all communities. Anthem recently worked with several partners on a new tool, called C19 Vaccine. This online dashboard aggregates information from many sources. It can also help you locate available vaccines.
The C19 Vaccine dashboard includes:
- A vaccine heat map showing status of vaccine administration by state.
- Vaccine allocation and distribution data, including total vaccine doses distributed and administered.
- Percent vaccinated at the national and state level.
- Vaccine mandates and phases by state.
- A vaccination calculator to help people identify their projected phase and vaccination date.
Beyond vaccination, here are a few other factors based on CDC guidelines to consider in your plan to re-open safely.
Prioritize clear company communications
Continuously communicate with your employees. They should always be the first to know about company updates and changes. Share best practices from top public health officials, peers at other companies, and leaders in the industry. Be open to input and feedback from your employees as well—their thoughts can help you design the best way to phase your approach to re-open.
Allow for a flexible work environment
If your business can allow flexibility, let your employees continue to work remotely if they choose to do so. This past year has proven that many employees can be just as productive at home as they are working in the office.
Continue to outline good hygiene practices
The pandemic changed many of our practices around stopping the spread of germs. Some of those practices may remain commonplace even after widespread vaccination. As you plan your return-to-workplace strategy, consider which of these practices make sense to continue:
- Stay home when they are sick or if someone at home is sick.
- Wear a mask when not at their workstation or when out in public.
- Wash their hands often with soap and water.
- Avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible.
- Discourage hand shaking.
- Cover their nose and mouth with a tissue or the inside of your elbow when you cough or sneeze.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces: workstations, keyboards, telephones, handrails, and doorknobs.
- Avoid using other employees’ phones, desk, offices, or other work tools and equipment.
In addition, you could consider additional mitigation strategies such as:
- Install plexiglass dividers to reduce shared air.
- Upgrade or install air filtration systems to clean circulating air.
As an employer, it is also important to provide employees with the necessary cleaning supplies and other items they need.
- Provide tissues and no-touch trash cans.
- Provide soap and water in your workplace.
- If possible, place touchless hand sanitizer stations in multiple locations.
- Place good hygiene posters at your workplace entrance and other areas in the office.
Adjust workstations and use staggered work hours to maintain social distancing
Try to think strategically about how to increase physical space between employees.
- Increase physical space between workstations?
- Rotate or stagger shifts to limit the number of employees in the workplace at the same time?
- Use signs, tape marks, or other visual cues to indicate recommended spacing in high-traffic areas?
- Use an app to reserve desk space to ensure there aren’t too many employees in the office at one time?
Limit in-person gatherings
Educate employees on avoiding large gatherings at work and practicing social distancing. If possible, close or limit access to common areas where employees are likely to congregate and interact.
As the pandemic continues to affect businesses, keeping your employees safe is top priority. Employers should stay updated on the most current CDC guidelines for workplace restrictions and limitations.
Create a dialogue with your employees so they are part of the conversation and feel comfortable with the plan. You could also send out a survey before implementing anything, to allow for anonymous, honest feedback and better align your phased approach with your employees’ concerns. However you choose to phase re-open your workplace, the most important thing is that your employees feel and remain safe.
- Two surveys were fielded between February 12, 2021 and February 26, 2021 in the Anthem community.
- COVID-19 Vaccine Modular Content, 2021 Employer Competitive Marketplace Study, January 2021.
- Vaccine Modular Content, 2021 Employer Competitive Marketplace Study, January 2021.