Not everyone can work from home during the coronavirus pandemic.
Some employees must be onsite, and their employers are responsible for keeping them safe.
“Many (employers) can’t implement remote work for all of their employees due to the lack of available infrastructure, the physical nature of some … roles or union contracts,” said Deborah Alvord, senior director analyst in Gartner’s Customer Service and Support Practice. “Leaders must provide government recommended provisions, such as masks, sanitizers and personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as implement social distancing for the wellness and safety of on-site employees.”
If you’re an industry in the middle – between the essentials, where it’s all-hands-on-deck, and the non-essential, where no one is permitted onsite – you must keep employees safe.
Here’s how – tips to help them perform critical roles while staying physically and mentally healthy:
- Make space. On-site employees should follow the six-feet rule and all other CDC guidelines while in the workplace. Post reminders about the six-feet rule in areas where they work and congregate.
- Start a no-visitor policy. Only let authorized employees in the office. Employees who don’t need to be in the facility shouldn’t be permitted to drop in to pick up items, work for a short time or any other reason. Try to restrict deliveries – from essential supplies to lunch drop-offs – to a single entrance where necessary sanitizing can be done.
- Meet remotely even onsite. When a group of onsite employees must meet – for shift huddles, collaborative endeavors, brainstorming, etc. – have them use the same tools remote employees use to meet. Make sure they have the technology – laptops or their own personal devices – to log into online meetings. Give them access to apps such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, GoToMeeting and Skype For Business. They can sit individually at their workstations, separate meeting rooms or outside to stay socially distanced while collaborating.
- Schedule differently. Try flexible work hours and staggered or rotational shifts so fewer people are in the office at one time, yet the work gets accomplished. Use the time between shifts to sanitize workstations and communal areas.
- Redesign workspace. Where possible, create partitions between employees. Raise cubicle walls. Add plexiglass dividers in common areas, such as the break room, so people can sit together (six feet apart, of course) and interact safely. In more open-space areas, such as manufacturing and warehousing facilities, mark six-foot positions with brightly colored duct tape so employees always have a sense of a safe distance to maintain from each other.
- Rethink roles. If employees in certain roles perform similar, sequential tasks, consider making each employee a single-task expert. Then one person can perform one task on-site for a period of time and leave. Then the next employee can pick up the next task, work for a period of time and leave it for another task expert to complete. Similarly, if you have a group of employees with the same role and responsibilities, try pooling the tasks. Have one person on a rotating bases work in the office each day, handling the tasks that must be done onsite while others do the other work remotely.
- Help their mental health, too. Some onsite workers face more stress than their colleagues at home. They’re holding down company operations with limited resources and are concerned about their health and safety. Plus, most have stressful situations at home – children who need to be schooled from home, loved ones who need extra attention or care, lack of stability and questionable futures. Encourage onsite employees to practice positive mental health habits now more than ever. Some tips:
- Visit the virtual water cooler. Let employees set up their own group virtual meetings just for social purposes – perhaps during break or lunch times when they’d normally be chatting around the water cooler. It gives them opportunities to share stories, commiserate and pass along best practices.
- Exercise the mind and body. Encourage employees to walk during breaks or lunch (if they aren’t meeting virtually) alone or in pairs walking at a safe distance from each other. Set up a room with a screen and access to free virtual Yoga classes. Give them access to online professional and personal development classes (not just work-related training).
- Give them a break. Onsite employees need to get a hard break from work. Don’t reach out to them or expect them to respond after hours. Remind remote workers that their colleagues onsite aren’t available to do any of their work or even just a favor.