Ready for masks in the workplace? Prepare now to communicate a return to work

As governments begin to encourage a return to work, employee communications teams should shift their attention to the programs and tools required to foster a safe transition. And, while work may ramp up, it will take time before things return to “normal.” Understand, too, that reopening the workplace does not mean the virus has gone away and that current practices of washing hands, social distancing and wearing face masks will remain in place. I know I’ll wear a face mask for the foreseeable future when meeting with others in the office. 

Here are a few pain points and solutions employee communications teams should consider:

Employees who have been working at home

Many companies have a large percentage of employees who simply and easily shifted from working at the office or on the road to hunkering down at home. Not everyone will be able to head back to the office right away when the all-clear is signaled as several factors have changed. Parents with young children will need to find new daycare as school districts have closed early for the year. Those who travel for meetings with clients may be uncomfortable boarding the confined spaces of airplanes. Employees working in “cube farms” will wonder how well sanitized their workspaces are. 

Solution → Partner with HR and Health and Wellness or internal OSHA teams to develop flexible policies to enable a staggered return to office work. This could include a delayed return for those who need to find safe daycare options and asking a percentage of employees to work at home and another percent to work at the office to provide some social distancing. Another option is to have Team A work at the office Mondays and Wednesdays and Team B work Tuesdays and Thursdays, while everyone works from home Fridays. Additionally, facilities management teams may need to reconfigure work environments to enable the six-feet rule. This story shows just how that can happen.  

Sick, Healthy and Recovered Employees

Employees who return to work may start to feel sick during the day, which may or may not be COVID-19 related. Others tested positive for the virus but are now healthy. 

Solution →  This is the time to put words about caring for the health and safety of employees into action. Work with HR and legal teams to draft a message letting employees know that you may be setting up stations to screen them prior to entering the workplace. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) allows employers to ask employees about flu-like symptoms and to take their temperature. Employees will appreciate small efforts to keep them safe, such as installing hand sanitizing stations and putting up reminders in common areas to respect proper hygiene. Likewise, reinforce the new policies of decontamination and around wearing face masks in the office that align with health and safety guidelines. The CDC also has guidelines about protecting employees in the workforce. 

Additionally, whether or not your organization revisits sick-leave policy, now’s the time to make policy crystal clear. Use visuals like calendars and infographics to make sure the policy can be easily communicated across all levels of the organization.

Furloughed Employees

Companies should not try to communicate with furloughed employees directly about work unless it is an announcement to return. Governments have very explicit guidelines preventing employers from communicating with furloughed employees as it may appear as work (not only from corporate sources but from any non-furloughed team member). 

Solution →  Furloughed employees may follow company social media channels, providing employee communications teams with a way to keep them informed of what the company is doing and even how it is helping prepare for their return. If an employee opted in and provided his or her personal contact information, managers may consider reaching out to check in on employees without talking about work matters. Partner with legal and HR teams to ensure anything targeted at furloughed employees meets government regulations.

If your workplace wishes to keep experimenting with work from home policy, suggest to those who feel unwell to stay home and to take full use of sick time if symptoms persist. 

Most of us crave interaction and to collaborate and innovate with others in person. It may take time before we are able to fully experience that again as employers consider how and when to fully welcome everyone back to the workplace. What ideas do you have to communicate a safe return to work? Comment below! 

Want help thinking through your return-to-work and recovery strategy? We’re here to help. Drop us a line at hello@integralcomms.com and we’ll be in touch. 

John Buchholz
Consultant, Strategic and Crisis Communication
John loves the power of communications and believes that nothing engages an audience better than a great story.
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