What Will a Post-Pandemic, Safety-First Workplace Look (and Feel) Like?

I was such a hypochondriac that the summer before my freshman year of college I was convinced I was ill, despite having no symptoms—I refused to believe I was really OK. The state of mind the pandemic has put our society in collectively reminds me of my 18-year-old self, struggling with hypochondria. There is a real risk of sickness now, and even death for a small percentage of those afflicted, but the greatest long-term impact of the pandemic is neurosis. Suddenly, our lives revolve around concerns about hygiene and sickness.

As employees return to offices and other places of employment, how do you not only keep employees safe, but make them feel safe? AArete, a global management and technology consulting firm, recently announced it has developed a mobile Web-app powered solution, "Digital Pass," for organizations to manage a return to work, workplace infection risks, and capacity restrictions. “The solution enables transparency by monitoring the well-being of employees, contractors, and visitors when returning to work. Authenticated employees and contractors answer a set of questions, based on CDC and state guidelines, that generate two scannable responses: clearance to proceed to work, or an alert to consult with a supervisor before arriving. The solution also features a reservation system for office space occupancy and entry/exit scheduling, helping organizations abide by capacity guidelines and regulations,” according to a press release shared by the company.

A doctor who serves as the editorial adviser of the health trade publication I edit says he envisions a world in which five-minute COVID-19 tests will be available so that nearly every day people will get tested. Let’s say, for your first stop of the day, you visit a doctor’s office, or even a less (to some) essential business such as a hair salon. That business will give you a rapid COVID-19 test. If you have a negative result, you will be given a signifier like a city-provided armband or card that shows you have tested negative—but that signifier will only be good for 24 hours! So a test every day. Even if the test only takes five minutes, do you think this is feasible? I wasn’t opposed to doing this until I thought about what an encumbrance it would be to getting back to a normal flow through our communities’ businesses. For popular businesses, it would mean long (socially distanced!) lines to enter.

If you work for a large company with hundreds, or thousands, of employees based in your office building, is testing each person before they enter the building a workable plan? Or even taking each person’s temperature every day until there is a vaccination and every employee has been vaccinated?

The flaw in safety check plans is many are not realistic for routines that are livable to most people. Maybe instead of elaborate in-office safety checks, companies should concentrate on altering the perspective of employees and their sense of personal responsibility: “As our office reopens, we are giving each employee the ability to make their own mind up as to whether returning to work in an in-person environment with others is a reasonable risk. Those who are older than 65, or who have underlying health conditions, are advised to continue working from home. We also ask every employee before they come to the office to stay home if they are not feeling well in any way or if they are running a fever—if you can’t tell, take your temperature before leaving the house. We will be cleaning the office fully at the end of every day, have done the best we can to space workstations farther apart, and are asking all of you to keep your distance from co-workers, but returning to work comes with risk, which each person will have to assess as it pertains to themselves and others. We expect each employee to assess that risk before making their return to the office, and to do everything they can to limit the risk of sickness they impart to others.”

Rather than creating cumbersome, tedious protocols that will doubtless fall by the wayside after a few weeks, the better bet may be to instill personal responsibility in each employee.

Providing employees with a COVID-19 risk reality check also is worthwhile. You can do that by inviting a family medicine doctor or a doctor recommended by the local hospital to do a presentation for employees online ahead of the return to the office or just after the office’s reopening. The doctor can tell employees what the true level of risk is to the average person who contracts the virus, providing reassurance that, contrary to popular reporting, it usually is not a death sentence, and typically doesn’t require hospitalization. The doctor can recalibrate employees’ minds about the virus, so intelligent precautions and hygiene practices can be implemented, while limiting counterproductive anxiety.

There will be many technology options to help companies create a safe workplace for employees to return to. It doesn’t hurt to explore those options and invest in a solution that will create a practical, streamlined safety check process. However, beware of “solutions” that create many extra steps in the day. The end of “lockdown” should mean the freedom to return, as unencumbered as possible, to all of our lives, including our jobs.

What technology solutions are you exploring to aid your company’s return to office life? How do you ensure that the quality of your employees’ work lives is as preserved as possible?


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