5 things to consider in a return to work plan

by Andy Nguyen
Return to work plan

If you’re planning to re-open your office fully or partially after the pandemic, you need a return to work plan.

It might still be unclear when your full workforce can return to the workplace. You have to be prepared for the return of your employees once everything is back to normal.

This article will look at what a return to work plan looks like and show you how to prepare one in five easy steps. We’ll also explore why a return to work plan is essential in the first place.

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Let’s get started.

What is a return to work plan?

The development and implementation of a workplace safety plan for employees returning to work after a long break are known as a Return to Work (RTW) plan. 

Pre-pandemic, an RTW plan helped an injured worker return to their pre-injury duties. Today, we can also use it to minimize the risk of exposure to the virus.

To implement it, your company should assemble a team to develop, execute, and monitor a return to work plan for returning employees.

This team should be multi-disciplinary and comprise legal, management team, information technology, human resources, operations, and a project coordinator. You can also include health officials from the health and safety department if you have one.

The long-term impact of the COVID pandemic is still uncertain. That’s why the team making the ‘return to work plan’ must continue their efforts even after the employees have returned. They should monitor and handle issues that could arise when workspaces are fully functional.

Your company should also take guidance from external public health experts to provide additional assurance.

5 essential steps needed for the return to work plan

Let’s take a look at the various steps that you can take to prepare a safe and successful return to work plan.

1. Map out workplace safety measures

You have to ensure that your workplace is as secure as possible before your employees return to work. After all, employees may have a fear of returning to work. 

To ease their concerns, you need to communicate with them how the management will ensure employee safety.

To plan the workplace safety measures, you can take the following steps:

Let’s take a detailed look at each one of them:

A. Screening employees daily

By screening your employees regularly, you can lower the chance of COVID transmission and simplify contact tracing.

It would help if you screened employees before their shifts. 

In the screening process, you can ask your employees a series of questions. The questions can be regarding their recent travel to any high-risk location or any COVID affected employee contact.

The testing team should keep the medical status and history of the employees secure. It helps to avoid stigma and discrimination in the workplace. The team should also maintain the screening data for at least 30 days.

B. Checking temperature regularly

Regular temperature checks on your employees are crucial. 

Suppose the employee’s body temperature is higher than usual and they have other symptoms of COVID 19. In that case, you can send them home and take the necessary actions.

The person administering the tests must have access to an infrared digital thermometer and a personal protective equipment (PPE) kit. After conducting the test, you need to keep the temperature reading of the worker confidential. 

A temperature check is not a foolproof measure of a person’s health or COVID detection, especially if a person is asymptomatic. But it can allow you to monitor each employee closely and help in the early detection of COVID 19.

C. Implementing rotational work shifts

In a rotational shift system, a certain number of employees arrive at a different time from their colleagues to limit physical contact.

As an employer, you should distribute the work hours evenly. Rotational shifts will help to limit physical contact as much as possible.

It’s one of the most effective ways to avoid overcrowding of employees in your workplace. 

It also helps your employees maintain social distancing protocols in the workplace and prevent the risk of infection.

Here’s a detailed guideline on flexible scheduling to manage shifts at your workplace.

D. Maintaining social distance during workhours

It would be best if you reminded employees of the importance of social distancing. 

Employees must maintain social distance even in non-work places like restrooms, kitchens, and meeting rooms.

You can follow the below-mentioned social distancing measures at your workplace.

  • Moving workstations to increase physical distance.
  • Arranging different lunch breaks and work schedules for other teams.
  • Allowing remote work for non-urgent tasks.

Your organization can also adopt the 6-feet rule. 

According to COVID 19 guidelines by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), maintaining a distance of 6 feet from other people helps reduce the risk of COVID 19 exposure.

Companies like Salesforce have also extended the 6-feet rule to desks and spaces around them by removing more than half of the office chairs and desks.

E. Setting up hand wash and sanitizing stations

CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) states that hand-washing and sanitizing are your best bet to prevent the COVID 19 virus from spreading. You can encourage people to easily find hand wash and sanitizing stations with the help of signage.

Ensure that you’re using sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol to contain the spread of germs.

F. Reviewing employee benefits program

An employee benefits program is an employee welfare scheme that typically includes health insurance, hospitalization benefits, retirement plan benefits, etc.

In your plan, you should review and change the employee benefits plan to accommodate requirements like child care benefits, work flexibility, etc. 

According to a Harvard Business Review survey in 2021, 98% of leaders want to add at least one of these new employee benefits to the program. 

The pandemic may also have taken a toll on your employees’ mental health and wellness. To mitigate this, you can add mental health benefits to the program. 

You can also provide free COVID 19 vaccinations to your employees and their family members.

2. Inform and prepare your employees

You have to regularly communicate with your employees about the return to work timeline and work schedules as an employer. Each employee will play a key role in keeping the entire worksite safe. 

Below is a timeline of announcements you can make to prepare your employees for the re-opening.

  • A month before re-opening:
    • Announce the date when the office workplace will be fully functional.
    • Share the re-opening plan in a public folder where every employee can access it.
    • Offer a video training tutorial so that employees can understand how to deal with the new workplace rules.
  • A week before re-opening:
    • Hold a meeting with the local authorities and the human resources team to review the plan and ensure a safe return of all employees.
    • Share the meeting notes with any employee who has missed the forum for some reason.
    • Provide further guidance to your employees about their new work schedule and work process.
  • Opening day:
    • Share a welcome message to every returning employee and ask them to answer the daily health questionnaire.

3. Reopen in planned phases

A phased approach to reopening the workplace is useful in limiting the number of workers present at any given moment. 

You can recall some essential employees in the first phase. In the second and third phases, you can bring back the rest of the employees, depending on the lockdown restrictions of your region.

Recalling your employees gradually has the benefit of easing employees’ anxieties about contracting the virus. It also allows your management team to test the new COVID 19 safety protocols with a smaller set of employees before scaling them company-wide.

Before planning the phased return, you should check how many employees are ready to return in the first phase. If someone doesn’t agree with the new plan, you have to respect the employee’s decision and ask someone else.

Here’s a comprehensive guide on how to manage a phased return to work

4. Allow remote work whenever possible

Remote work is not only an option but also a necessity in the current pandemic situation. In fact, for professions in digital marketing or software development, it can be a boon!

Telecommuting (working remotely using tools like email, telephone, internet, etc.) can enable business continuity without risking employee health. The greater the number of people that work from home, the less you need to worry about sanitation, hygiene, social distancing, etc. 

Even if you start recalling your employees, you may want to consider implementing a part-time remote work program for basic operations like telework.

For that, you can equip your remote employees with tools like Slack, Zoom, etc., to help them stay connected with each other.

You can also use a productivity management tool like Time Doctor to manage your remote team with ease.

What is Time Doctor?

Time Doctor Homepage

Time Doctor is a robust employee time tracking and performance management tool used by major companies and small businesses to boost employee productivity.

With the Time Doctor app, you can:

5. Update company policies

As an employer, you need to understand that the new guidelines will reflect the new normal and update the company policies while making a return to work plan.

Let’s discuss some of the regulatory frameworks you can create:

  • Relax attendance policies so that any sick employee can stay at home.
  • Allow flexible work hours for easier management of workweeks.
  • Adjust meal breaks and implement processes to encourage physical distancing.
  • Update travel policies to reflect the current situation. Prioritize essential travel and avoid non-essential travel.
  • Update the information technology policies to reflect remote work software and hardware.

The importance of a return to work plan

Since the spread of COVID 19 is on a steady decline worldwide, many employers are asking their employees to return to the office.

For those who have taken to remote work, the thought of returning to their offices can be stress-inducing stress for various reasons. People are worried about the risks associated with returning to their offices during an ongoing pandemic.

In such cases, knowing that the company is implementing an RTW plan and prioritizing their safety can relieve employee anxiety. 

Rotational shifts, phased return to work, occasional remote work, etc., can all help your employees transition smoothly to full-time positions from the office without causing stress.

However, employers must ensure that their RTW plan does not compromise productivity. 

Barring a few days of adjustment to the new safety protocols, a good return to work plan must encourage employees to perform at their best. 

Fortunately, you can do this with the right combination of productivity tools like Time Doctor and by reassuring your employees of a safe return to work. 

Final thoughts

As government and local authorities ease restrictions on travel and work, employers need to plan the re-opening of their offices.

A well-designed return to work plan will allow your company to safely and successfully bring employees back to the workplace. It’ll also help your employees adjust to the new rules and stay productive at work.

It all boils down to how you manage different policies regarding healthcare, business continuity, sick leave, remote work, and employee benefits.

You can use the above guidelines to encourage your employees to return to work safely.

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