While the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over, most states are easing restrictions on businesses and social gatherings. Business owners are left with the difficult decisions of if, when, and how to reopen to the public and/or allow employees to return to the office. On the one hand, many small and medium-sized businesses are struggling to stay afloat, and returning to work would certainly alleviate the financial strain. On the other hand, keeping employees and customers safe from exposure to COVID-19 is a daunting task. As the pandemic still poses safety concerns, there’s no clear cut answer on if it’s safe to return to work. However, there are some guidelines and tips employers can follow to prioritize safety should they choose to reopen.

Federal Guidelines and Recommendations

The federal government has provided guidelines for individuals, states, and employers to ensure the safest possible reopening of business and return to social activities. Per the guidelines, reopening should be done in 3 phases, which are determined on a state and regional basis. Each phase has its own guidelines for returning to work, but in all phases, it’s recommended that employers:

  1. Develop and implement policies in accordance with federal, state, and local regulations and guidelines and industry best practices in regards to social distancing, temperature checks, protective equipment, business travel, and sanitation/disinfecting of high traffic areas and surfaces.
  2. Do not allow symptomatic employees to return to the office without medical clearance.
  3. Monitor employees at physical locations for virus symptoms, such as coughing and fever.
  4. Develop and implement workplace procedures for contact tracing in the event an employee tests positive for COVID-19.

To determine in which reopening phase your state is currently, CNN has an up-to-date guide that allows you to select your state and read the latest reopening updates. Next, let’s look at the federal guidelines and recommendations for each return to work phase.

Reopening Phase Guidelines for Employers Returning to Work

Phase 1

In the first phase of reopening, employers should continue encouraging remote work and return to work in stages if possible. They should also limit the number of people in a given area by enforcing strict social distancing protocols and/or closing off areas where employees typically congregate. Business travel should be minimized, and CDC guidelines regarding post-travel isolation should be followed. Finally, accommodations should be made for vulnerable employees, such as those over 65 or with underlying health conditions.

Phase 2

In Phase 2, telecommuting should still be encouraged where possible and social distancing protocols should remain in place. Unlike Phase 1 however, business travel may recommence. As a reminder, employers should continue monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms in the workplace and react accordingly.

Phase 3

In the final phase of reopening, business can return to normal. For most states, this phase is likely still a long way off, but the gradual return to normal operations in phases one and two should provide relief for struggling businesses and their employees.

Expert Recommendations

In addition to following the government’s guidelines for returning to work, employers should also heed the advice of experts. A recent Forbes article compiled advice from both public health experts and industry experts. Here’s what they had to say.

Staggered Returns and Continued Remote Work

In line with federal guidelines for Phase 1, Dr. Mark Kortepeter, epidemiology professor at University of Nebraska Medical Center recommends a staggered return to work for most employees. This includes encouraging remote work and adjusting employee schedules to adhere to social distancing and capacity protocols. These sentiments are echoed by industry expert and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. Taylor recommends a hybrid approach of remote work and office work, saying:

Some jobs are better performed remotely, and some are better performed in the office. Employers are going through that process literally by job category.

Taylor also referenced a recent survey the Society for Human Resource Management conducted that showed 39 percent of employers planned on bringing employees back in stages. In this approach, the most critical teams would return to work first while other employees continued working remotely. 19 percent of respondents also plan on using an alternating schedule in which employees returned on alternating days or weeks. For tips on getting the most out of remote work and its benefits for employers, employees, and the environment, check out our recent blog.

Implementing Protective Measures

For employees returning to work, safety should be a priority. Both public health and industry experts recommend employers develop and implement policies regarding personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, to ensure everyone is clear on what safety measures are in place. For employees who will be face-to-face with customers, consider physical barriers such as plexiglass. Businesses should also post signs at entrances informing customers of the safety measures in place and encouraging them to follow them as well.

Conclusion

If you’ve decided it’s time to reopen your business or start calling your employees back to the office, be sure to follow the guidelines and recommendations we’ve discussed. First, determine which reopening phase your area is currently in and follow the corresponding guidelines for that phase. As both experts and federal guidelines recommend, consider a staggered return to work for office employees, including alternating shifts. Be sure proper social distancing and other safety measures are in place at your facility to protect both employees and customers.

Most importantly, continue encouraging remote work as long as possible. Who knows, you may even decide remote work should be the new normal for your company! Whatever your decision, a cloud ERP like Acumatica can boost your bottom line in a number of ways. Don’t believe it? Check out this recent economic impact report by Forrester’s and see how Acumatica customers:

  • Grew margins by 15%,
  • Increased sales volume by 15%, and
  • Improved operational efficiency by 45%

At iPro, we specialize in helping small and medium businesses find the right software for their needs. If you’d like to learn more about how we partner with you to realize your goals, contact us today.

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