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Business as Unusual: Return to Workplace Framework
May 19, 2020
Business as Unusual: Return to Workplace Framework

Is this your first time preparing a workforce to return to the office in the wake of a global pandemic? Take a page out of our notebook and use our Return to Work Framework to build your strategy. We have lots of resources to help you as you get back to business as unusual.

Return to Workplace Framework

Office re-opening in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic should be gradual and follow best practices for physical distancing and other risk mitigation measures.

  • Employees will be encouraged, for now, to continue working from home unless they prefer to work in the office after they have performed a thorough personal risk assessment, checked their health and considered if they have a safe way to work in the office while protecting themselves and others.
  • We want to make it as safe and easy as practical for all employees to be able to continue their work.

There will be a variety of different needs and beliefs/comfort-levels among employees, varying on factors such as the following:

  • Strongly-held personal beliefs re: COVID-19 (vaccines, herd-immunity, risk of transmission) and how it affects their personal safety and mental well-being.
  • Experience of ease of working from home (ex. children - either needing to stay home to care for them or wanting to come to the office in some cases to work free from distraction, ergonomic set-up, roommates).
  • Differences in commutes to the office (ex. walking or biking distance vs. need for public transportation).

We seek to accommodate peoples' needs and comfort-levels while finding ways to hold them accountable to business goals.

Employees who exhibit symptoms or test positive are not allowed in the offices for 14 days, for the safety of others.

Download our Risk Assessment Template here. 

Download our Return to Work Phase Template here.

Phase 1: Before the office re-opens

In this phase, the office is not yet open but is preparing for a partial opening. All of the following measures and procedures should be in place and communicated as needed before moving to Phase 2 of the Transition Plan.

Disinfection Measures

  • The office should go through deep cleaning and be disinfected as thoroughly as possible before opening.
    • This includes sanitizing and disinfecting all areas of the office such as
      • Kitchen & pantry
      • Bathrooms
      • Walls and glass
      • Employee desks
      • Floors
      • Common surface areas
  • To be considered additionally:
    • Any cleaning services on top of the regular cleaning schedule
    • Checking on the air quality/filtering systems and the cadence of maintaining/replacement of filters
  • The office must have enough hand sanitizers, soap, and other sanitary products in stock.

Physical distancing measures

The following physical distancing measures should be practiced by all employees.

  • Employees should be staying 2 meters (or 6 feet) away from others at all times, taking care if using meeting rooms, etc. 
  • Employees should eliminate contact with others, such as handshakes or embracing coworkers, etc.
  • Employees should avoid touching surfaces touched by others, to the extent feasible.
  • Employees should avoid being in proximity to anyone who appears to be sick, or who is coughing or sneezing - if an employee is showing any such symptoms, they should refrain from coming to the office.

Determine the maximum amount of people allowed at the office at once for each phase listed below

  • When deciding on the number, the quantity of available sanitary and other supplies should be taken into consideration.
  • Based on that number, the seating arrangements should be planned to allow enough space between people. In addition:
    • No employees should be seated at workstations that are face-to-face 
    • There should be at least 2 meters or 6 feet distance between occupied workstations
  • A weekly sign-up plan will be in place to understand how many people will want to come to the office.
    • If more people sign-up then what we allow, there should be several factors to take into consideration to determine who has priority (ex. Necessity to complete job on site, social isolation etc.

Kitchens and any common spaces should be organized in a way to adhere to physical distance measures, inclusive of but not limited to:

  • Only allowing one person in per time unless the space is large enough to maintain social distancing the entire time with 2-minute breaks.
  • Limiting the number of chairs/seating areas.
  • Providing at least 2 meters of 6 feet distance between chairs and seating areas (whenever possible).
  • Providing signage to help with physical distancing\

All non-essential gatherings should be avoided:

  • Employees should minimize in-person meetings and use video conferencing instead.
  • For any essential in-person meetings, employees should adhere to social distancing measures.
  • No events with external speakers or large gatherings should be planned until further notice.
  • No group lunches/catering/happy hours or other in-office group events should be planned until further notice.

Food and beverage safety measures

  • Shared kitchen supplies such as plates, cups, cutlery etc. will be replaced with disposable options. No kitchenware should be reused by another person.
  • Vending machines and communal appliances such as coffee machines will be put out of order until further notice.

Office Deliveries Procedures

  • Office deliveries should be kept at a minimum and focus on essential deliveries only.
  • Employees shouldn't have anything delivered to the office unless approved otherwise by their manager.
  • All mail/packages should be handled with gloves.

Signage Around the Office

  • Signage will be posted to help remind of social distancing and sanitary measures.

Health Self-Screening Procedures

  • Employees will be advised to perform a health self-screening each time prior to coming to the office, inclusive of;
    • Taking temperature to ensure it's not >38ºC (100.4 ºF).
    • Observing any symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing.
  • If an employee has a high temperature or observes any COVID-19 related symptoms, they must work from home and contact their manager.
  • Employees should consult with medical professionals regarding personal medical conditions they have.
  • Self-screening will cease when we move into Phase 5.
  • Employees should not come to the office for 14 days if they have COVID-19 symptoms, have been directly exposed to COVID-19 or if a test shows positive results. Employees should avoid leaving their home if possible, but if necessary should practice exceedingly good hygiene and social distancing. Work from home is expected to continue where possible.

Visitors, Contractors, and Vendors

  • There should be no visitors to our offices until further notice.
    • All interviews will be held over video conference.
  • Any service vendors or other non-employees or contractors entering the office must be approved by management.
    • Where business-critical, in-person visits do occur, such as to allow equipment or facilities to remain operational, they should adhere to company physical distancing protocols.
    • Before entering the premises, the visitor must complete a “Visitor Questionnaire”.
    • There should be absolutely no visitors allowed to our premises who have had known exposure to someone with COVID-19 within the past 14 days, or who are exhibiting symptoms of illness consistent with COVID-19.

Download Visitor Questionnaire

Training plan for employees

  • A short online training session will be organized to explain the measures and procedures to be taken prior to coming to the office.
  • In addition, written resources with such measures, procedures, and expectations should be provided to all employees.

Phase 2: Offices reopen for essential employees

During this phase, the office is being examined to ensure its readiness to be officially opened and the last preparations before the opening are being completed. The key focus will be for the company to take all reasonable measures to provide a clean and safe working environment. All measures and procedures from Phase 1 above are in effect and reviewed for any adjustments on a weekly basis.

  • Only essential employees and essential vendors or construction workers are allowed to come to the office at this time.
    • Essential employees will be determined by necessity to perform their job in the office versus at home.
  • The cleanliness of the office is reviewed and any follow-up action determined.
  • Any packages/mail delivered during the lockdown should be organized and disposed of as needed.
  • Indoor plants should be reviewed and disposed of where needed.
  • Sanitary products should be ordered, stocked and placed in visible areas for employees to use when needed.
    • Hand sanitizers and wipes should be placed in common areas. 
  • Office equipment/furniture is reorganized based on the seating plan in accordance with the Social distancing measures above.

Download a copy of our Return to Work Survey here.

Phase 3: Offices open with limited capacity 

During this phase, the office is open for a specific number of people as approved by management.

  • Working from the office is discouraged but people can apply for access and the sign-up sheet is distributed on a weekly basis. 
    • The sign-up sheet should not go over the maximum number of people allowed per office at once. 
  • Access will be reviewed and approved by management.
  • Offices areas will be frequently cleaned as determined in Phase 1.
  • All social distancing and cleaning measures and procedures from Phases above are still in effect and reviewed for any adjustments on a weekly basis.

Phase 4: Offices are opened with increased capacity 

During this phase, the office is open for an additional amount of people in addition to the number of people allowed from Phase 3. 

  • Working from the office is optional and the sign-up sheet is distributed on a weekly basis.
  • The number of people allowed in the space is increased to a certain degree.
  • All social distancing and cleaning measures and procedures from Phases above are still in effect unless exceptions or changes are approved by management.
  • Work related travel resumes, but only if both the source and destination are safe.

Phase 5: Offices are opened with full capacity

In this phase, there are no limitations to work from the office and only specifically communicated measures/procedures (as previously determined) are in effect.

  • There are no government limitations or restrictions in place.
  • The number of people allowed in the office is no longer limited, exclusive of the regular legal limitations.
  • We aim to make the office an enticing environment to attract those comfortable to work there, but will accommodate personal needs and comfort-levels in consultation with the human resources department.
  • Only measures and procedures from above that are determined to be needed and are communicated are still in effect.

Check out more return to workplace resoucres as part of our "Business As Unusual" series!

Part 1: How do Employees Come Back?
Part 2: Keeping Employee’s Safe Upon Return
Part 3: There will be Childcare Problems
Part 4: Navigating Employee Exposure Concerns
Part 5: Training Through a Pandemic


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