Being an employer right now is hard. COVID-19 has forever reshaped the way we (employers) think about things. Prior to Q1 2020, it was seen as a recruiting tool to be an employer who placed an emphasis on employee health and well-being. Employee safety was always a must – making sure the workplace was actually a safe place – but employers in many industries never really had to think much about that. Hang a few OSHA posters, follow some very simple compliance guidelines and you’re good to go. But these things have forever changed. Creating a “safe” workplace now is at the top of my mind as we have welcomed our own employees back into our offices and are helping other employers do the same. So now that we’ve been doing it for a few months, what are some of the things we’ve learned and how have we made the transition successful?
Our return to work strategy has focused on 4 key elements to keep employees safe:
- Daily screening/health checks
- Expert Concierge Support (we’re lucky with this one)
- Bulk population testing
- Virtual Medical Care
"Creating a safe workplace now is at the top of my mind as we have welcomed our own employees back into our offices"
Below is the quick rundown of how we’ve been able to do it and some key learnings about our experience opening our doors.
- Daily screening. TouchCare has implemented our own daily attestation screening tool. Each morning, our employees receive a text message instructing them to complete a questionnaire regarding their health status. The questionnaire also pulls in the CDC recommended guidelines for safely returning to work. This has been pretty straightforward. One key learning here is that the ability for us (our management and HR team) to know the status (red, yellow, or green) for everybody before work even starts allows us to get ahead of managing workloads and preventing anyone who is sick or worried about infection from ever entering the door.
- Expert Medical Support. This one is a bit of a lay-up for us because most of the folks coming into the office work for our healthcare concierge team. On a daily basis, our team works with our members to resolve complex healthcare issues. That said, we all need help and it’s great to have a team of folks there for you. COVID is new to us all. We have received positive test results in our office and our team was able to quickly identify local labs to send our members to for rapid tests to quickly ensure nobody else was infected. Likewise, for our folks who have tested positive, it’s been wonderful to have our own team to help them navigate through everything as they deal with the stress and/or physical ailments of their results.
- Bulk testing. Though it’s expensive, it is a totally necessary component for ensuring the safety of our employees. Before coming into the office for the first time, all employees must register a negative result. Then we test everyone regularly. By layering testing on top of the daily attestation tool, we have been able to effectively identify and act upon each positive result to ensure that zero spread has occurred within our employee ranks. The biggest learning here was the “ok, what now?” moment when we received our first positive test result. The contingency plan is a must! Write it out with your management team and communicate it to your employees before you ask them to come back. We dropped the ball on this one, but were able to react quickly and develop a plan that keeps everyone safe even after one person tests positive.
- Virtual medical support. In addition to having access to expert healthcare navigators, our team also utilizes virtual medical care as an option through our VirtualCare and MindCare product offerings. The pandemic has only worsened the mental health crisis facing our country. And access to care of any kind has been challenging – especially early on in the pandemic. Virtual resources have been huge for me personally and for my team. Being able to speak with a doctor via phone or video chat for anything from basic medical care to psychological treatment is the best way to break down both the access barrier and the risk of infection that one faces by entering a medical office.
So what was missing from our original plan? The biggest piece that we quickly learned we fell short on was having a contingency plan. We didn’t think through the “what do we do when…” questions enough prior to welcoming everyone back. And what do you think happened? Our first round of tests resulted in a positive for one employee who was completely asymptomatic. As we didn’t have a good plan in place for what to do next, we decided to shut down the whole office for two weeks and retest everybody. By using both CDC and state guidelines, we could have more effectively avoided the two week shut down and kept our employees productive.
Perhaps the most important takeaway from all of this is the need to listen to your employees. Putting their health & safety first is the priority, but if an employee is uncomfortable with something or someone, they should be able to express that and the suggestions should be taken seriously. In the end, bringing employees back into the office is both a learning process and a risk. But one thing that really surprised me was how well received the news was. Most of our employees were genuinely excited to return and were more than willing to do so if we provided them with guidelines and diagnostic services that made their health and safety the main focus. While many employers have taken the approach of work from home for perpetuity, many others believe that employee productivity is better in an office. Even among those reporting increased productivity, many are concerned about isolation, stress, and burnout. Still, plenty of employers don’t have a choice – their business depends on people coming to their “office”. By focusing on the health and safety of your employees at the core of our re-opening strategy, we have found that our team has been happy, productive, and – most important – healthy.