How to Help Your Employees Feel Comfortable Being Back at Work

Back to office after covid-19

Even if your workplace is open and your employees back, everything is not back to normal. Covid-19 is very much still with us, and you owe your team a comfortable work environment.

Employees who must go to the workplace every day spend the majority of their waking hours there. They see the same headlines you do. Can you blame them for worrying about contracting the virus?

You can’t make the pandemic disappear. But if you look around, you’ll realize that more is in your control than you might realize. Here are five easy ways to make your team members feel more comfortable coming into the workplace:

1. Get Serious About Symptoms

A major source of stress throughout the pandemic has been not knowing whether or not you’ve been exposed. Every time someone coughs or sighs in fatigue at work, you can bet others are breaking out the hand sanitizer.

Curb the panic at your workplace by implementing a COVID symptom screening app. One option is to ask employees to self-evaluate by filling out a screening questionnaire every morning. Another is to implement a screening tool, which preserves their privacy.

However you track team members’ symptoms, make sure the system is enforced. Encourage team members to come talk to you if they suspect someone did not fill out the screener truthfully. 

2. Rethink Your Office Layout

Sharing an indoor space with others is risky right now. That’s why so many workers went home to work in the first place. 

For employees still in the workplace, think through the optimal layout. Unfortunately, no solution is one size fits all. 

If most of your staff have individual offices, you can ask that they remain in their office during work hours. Host video meetings instead of gathering in groups, and encourage employees to limit contact with others throughout the day.

Open workspaces or “cube farms” make reorganization a little trickier. Sneeze guards, cough screens, and other dividers are good options but can get expensive. Moving desks further apart is a simpler, less expensive solution. Splitting your in-office workers into shifts may be necessary, if you can’t achieve 6 feet between every desk. 

If not all employees are working in the office, it’s not a bad idea to leave empty workspaces between people. Of course, all of these solutions are dependent on having specific workstations, which isn’t the case for every job. 

3. Enforce Local Guidelines

Wherever your business is located, check with your local government about the safety protocols you’re required to follow. Most jurisdictions now require people to limit the size of their gatherings and wear masks in public spaces. 

Make clear to your employees that your company will follow the law. Print out guidelines and post them around your workspace. Use visual cues, like physically marking out safe distances on your floor and “Mask up” signs on your front door, as quick reminders. 

While you trust your team, you can’t just assume they’ll follow local guidelines. What are the consequences for failing to follow the rules? Will team members be given a warning or sent home? Will multiple infractions result in unpaid leave? Decide on these things as a team to improve buy-in. 

4. Revisit Your Handbook

Each workplace has its own policies, which are usually laid out in your employee handbook. If you haven’t updated these, you can hardly blame employees for following ones that are no longer appropriate. 

If there’s one area that deserves a second look, it’s your policy on sick leave. If it doesn’t allow for extended leaves of absence due to illness, change that immediately. Make sure sick leave is paid so people are not tempted to come to work simply to cover their bills. 

Also, make sure there aren’t any unwritten rules about taking sick leave in your office. It’s not uncommon for companies to offer plenty of leave but discourage employees from taking it. 

Think, too, about your culture. Maybe your team is used to sharing dishes or snacks, but that’s not a smart idea these days. Perhaps you and your staff look forward to an annual holiday potluck; unfortunately, you should skip that, too.

When in doubt, ask your team. They’ll know what policies and cultural standards seem too risky. And chances are, they’ll even have ideas for amending those they have a problem with. 

5. Provide Helpful Resources and Gifts

Even if you do everything in your power to make your employees comfortable, it may not be enough. That’s OK. While you are expected to lead your team as a supervisor, you cannot be all things for all people. 

Particularly during a pandemic, your team members may require things you simply can’t provide. These might include mental health resources, financial resources, and employee assistance programs through your city or state.

If your business has the means, consider setting up an employee crisis fund. Knowing their employer has their back if something were to happen can go a long way to increase employee morale. Consider building this into your 2021 budget, even if you can only spare a few thousand dollars. 

At the same time, find small ways to demonstrate your business cares about its team. Surprising everyone with an office-sized bottle of hand sanitizer could put their minds at ease and make them feel appreciated. Giving them an extra couple of sick days for mental health issues costs nothing other than their time. 

The most important thing you can do for employees, however, is to be open and honest with them. Let them know why they are still in the office and what you are doing to keep them safe. 

Hold confidential one-on-one chats with each employee to talk through their concerns. Some you may be able to solve by, say, placing a package of disposable masks by the office’s front door. 

It’s an unsettling time. Can you blame your employees for feeling stressed about coming into the office during a pandemic? Of course not. But you can reduce their stress by making changes to protect their health.

Featured image source: Freepik Premium

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