As we embark on a new year with a COVID-19 vaccine within our grasp, many People Ops professionals are preparing or updating back-to-work plans. There’s certainly still a lot in flux—including when we may truly get back to normal—but preparing early can help ensure a smoother transition for your team. 

It’s currently unclear if the COVID-19 vaccine will prevent those vaccinated from spreading the virus to others, or how long immunity will last. So whether you’re planning to welcome team members back to work soon, or once the vaccine is more widely available, you may need to make changes to your workplace.

Make workplace updates to mitigate risk of COVID-19 transmission

There are three main ways we can mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission: social distancing, washing hands, and wearing masks. Team members who can work remotely will be safest doing so, but there are many reasons team members might be ready to return to the physical workplace. Whether you’re planning to welcome some or all of your team members back, here are some things you may want to do to mitigate risk of COVID-19 transmission:

  • Reconfigure your workspace: Rearrange furniture and chairs in workspaces, conference rooms, and communal areas to allow team members to social distance. For instance, space desks six feet apart, and remove half the chairs from conference rooms to ensure proper spacing. 
  • Increase ventilation: Increase the circulation of fresh air by opening windows and doors, increasing the percentage of outdoor air in your HVAC system, or installing air filters.
  • Designate an isolation room: Set up an isolation room that may be used in the event an employee falls ill at the workplace, but isn’t able to leave the premises right away. Even if you don’t have an office or conference room to space, designate a space you can quickly access and easily close off should you need it. 
  • Set up hygiene stations: Enable team members to practice good hygiene by setting up hand sanitizing stations, as well as tissues and waste bins, throughout your workplace. You may also want to have thermometers and extra face masks onsite, to use as needed.
  • Post safety precautions: Hang posters to remind team members to stay home when sick, cover coughs and sneezes, practice good hand hygiene, and keep an appropriate distance from their peers. Place these near entrances, communal areas, restrooms, and desk areas.
  • Set up routine cleaning: Sync with your facilities team or cleaning service about more frequent cleaning and sanitizing high-touch areas. Keep cleaning supplies handy throughout the day, such as disinfectant wipes near printing stations and in break rooms, for employees to use.
  • Reconfigure customer areas: Move chairs, mark floors, and provide signage to encourage customers to social distance. Also encourage virtual communications or contactless pick-ups or deliveries, when applicable. 
  • Reconsider communal items: Replace bulk snacks and communal coffee pots with single-serving items, and install no-touch water fountains. 
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Stay up-to-date

Health experts are learning more about COVID-19 over time, so it’s important to stay up-to-date on guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) and location-specific health agencies for guidance around returning to work. These may include:

  • United States: Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as well as state and county directives.
  • Canada: Government of Canada and The Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).
  • European Union: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), European Commission, and country-specific government directives.

Final thoughts on preparing your workplace

Taking these steps to prepare your workplace may help reduce the risk of virus transmission, but should be used alongside other measures. For example, wearing face masks, social distancing, regularly washing hands, and self-screening for COVID-19 symptoms. 

Once you’ve developed a back to work plan, share it with your team members so they understand what measures you’re taking to keep them safe, and what’s expected of them. Hold team members accountable for following the guidelines you’ve set, and encourage all employees to speak up if improvements could be made.

Want to learn more about welcoming your team back to work?

Download our new eBook Return to Work Planning: How to Make a Smooth Transition Back to Work


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How to Prepare Your Workplace Before You Welcome Your Team Back to Work