Navigating the return-to-work process: 3 ways to make things safe for employees

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The kitchen. The living room. A spare bedroom. For months, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned homes across the world into makeshift offices. Yet, while many organizations have discovered that most work can be accomplished successfully remotely, employees aren’t ready to give up on the office entirely just yet.

According to a recent worldwide survey, nearly 75% of workers want to be able to return to the office in some capacity in the future. Roughly 25% want to come back to the office full-time, while half of those surveyed want a hybrid model that combines remote work and being back in the office.

We’re a long way from a complete and total return to the office, but with the approval of multiple COVID-19 vaccines, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, even with this development, much will have to change before organizations can start bringing back their employees.

With that in mind, here are three areas companies must address to provide a safe and secure workplace as employees return.

1. Before you do anything, consider privacy

Tracking and tracing is an essential component of a safe workplace during the pandemic. But before choosing a solution, review the “non-physical” requirements. More specifically, what you are required by law to do.

Privacy regulations vary depending on your location. You’ll need to review federal, state, and local laws, as well as GPDR and CPRA, to determine how to legally and effectively implement contact tracing with personally identifiable information (PII) and other guidelines.

Be sure you fully understand the rules and regulations of your area, as they will directly affect how you employ contract tracing and maintain social distancing. There may be state and local government occupancy restrictions that mandate these controls.

Furthermore, the requirements are constantly changing. You have a responsibility to stay up to date on these changes and address them as they arise. You may also be required to prove your compliance with those restrictions while respecting your employee’s privacy rights.

2. Choose a solution for physical tracing and tracking

If you’re going to have employees in the office, you need a way to track, trace, and review the data.

Organizations are using several connectivity technologies, each of which has different ways to determine the distance between employees and “dwell time” – the amount of time personnel spend near each other. There are many products available that take advantage of Bluetooth low emissions (BLE), LTE, Wi-Fi, and ultra-wide band (UWB).

Wearable tech, like a smartwatch or proximity badge, is one option. These are accurate, not infrastructure dependent, provide hybrid connectivity options, and are easy to distribute for non-tech savvy users. Of course, they may be expensive or require proprietary infrastructure hardware.

Deploying apps or QR codes on your employees’ phones, smartwatches, or tablets is another option. These apps may use a Wi-Fi or BLE connection to existing wireless infrastructure or utilize cellular LTE to connect to a cloud-based service. While this could be a lower-cost option, it may require manual user interaction and may not be as accurate as UWB depending on how the BLE/Wi-Fi waves interact with the environment. Accessibility could also be limited, if not everyone on your staff has a modern smartphone.

Consideration for entry into the building is also essential. Entryways should include physical security and conditional access, both of which can be automated. A few options include building management systems, a proximity badge, or tracking via a centralized or cloud-based system.

3. Retrofit work areas to boost safety

Sanitization plans will vary based on the company and work being performed. Regardless, you must have a plan to clean and sanitize regularly. You must also consistently review these plans.

If your office has work areas where employees can’t stay six feet or more apart, you should install barriers between stations. Also, it doesn’t make sense to have everyone return to the office at once. Consider staggering work schedules to avoid unnecessary congestion.

In addition, be sure to check the air filtration system for support of filters with a higher MERV rating. Not all systems support high MERV-rated filters and inserting them could force the systems to push air out in unintended spots, thus bypassing the filters altogether.

Prepare for a fluid situation

The situation we find ourselves in is constantly changing. Therefore, the solutions you implement should be dynamic, flexible, and adaptable.

Many employees are eager to return to the office. But, if you don’t take the necessary precautions, you’re doing them a disservice.

Continuously review federal, state, and local guidelines, identify the best way to track and trace your employees – both within the building and as they enter the premises – and implement regular sanitation measures. That way you can be sure you’re offering employees a safe and secure return to the workplace.

Dan Vargas contributed to this post.