The COVID-19 pandemic caused a lot of disruption in the lives of various Filipinos. Most people were forced to stop coming to the office and work from their homes for fear of transmitting the virus in the workplace.
Although this was not the most ideal setup for some businesses, employers had to adjust to the circumstances to keep their company running amidst the pandemic. This meant providing their employees with the necessary equipment to allow them to work from home and investing in new technologies to successfully continue work processes even with a remote setup.
However, the country is slowly recovering from the pandemic and its effects nowadays. People have started getting vaccines that can protect them from severe COVID-19 symptoms, making them more confident to get out of the house and resume their normal life.
Because more people are getting their immunizations against COVID-19, employers are becoming more convinced that they can effectively stop the spread of the virus in the workplace with proper measures. That is why workplaces are starting to open up and employees have begun working in their offices once again, just like before the pandemic hit the country.
If you are one of the employers who are considering having your employees report to the office, you should be aware of the safety measures that you should implement in the workplace. As their employer, it is your duty to keep your staff members safe from the virus.
The best way to achieve this is by following the government guidelines for offices released by authorities. Here are some of the return-to-office guidelines provided by the Philippine Department of Health and recommended by the CDC.
What to Expect From Your Employees
As your employees go back to working in the office, they should do their part in stopping the spread of the virus in the workplace. Here are some guidelines that you should make your employees follow whenever they are inside the office.
Wear a Face Mask
If your employees work in a shared workspace or room, they should wear a face mask at all times. This can greatly decrease the chances of spreading infected droplets and aerosol particles in the air.
You should also ensure that your employees are wearing their masks properly to ensure their effectiveness. Their masks should cover their nose and mouth at all times.
Use Face Shield and Other Necessary PPE
Depending on the industry you are in, you might need to require your employees to wear face shields and PPE to protect themselves and others from catching the virus. Your employees may also be required to wear PPE by law or regulation as part of their daily duties or to reduce their exposure to COVID-19.
If your staff members are required to wear face shields or PPE as they accomplish their tasks, they should use them properly. This means wearing the PPE and removing or disposing of it properly.
You should require your employees to keep their hands clean at all times whenever in the office. Teach them the proper way of washing or sanitizing their hands before, during, and after working.
Make sure that they are washing their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If not possible, they should opt to use a hand sanitizer that contains 60-70% alcohol instead. They should do this when in the following circumstances:
- Before entering the office
- Before eating
- Before putting on and after removing their face mask
- After getting into contact with frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, handrails, and elevator buttons
- Before and after touching their face
Disinfection of Workstation
Another thing you should expect from your employees is the disinfection of their respective workstations. They should make sure to keep their stations clean before, during, and after their shifts.
To ensure the cleanliness of their workstation and the things that they use, you can provide them with a bleach solution. They can use this solution to disinfect their desks, keyboards, and other office items daily.
You should implement social distancing in the workplace to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Make sure that your employees are maintaining at least one-meter distance between each other at all times.
Your employees should also avoid any physical contact with their colleagues. This rule should be followed even during breaks and meetings.
What You Can Do to Protect Your Employees From COVID-19
Now that you have learned about the things you can expect from your employees, it is time to discuss how you can help keep the workplace safe for everyone. Here are some return-to-office guidelines that you should follow as an employer.
Check If Your Office is Ready for Occupancy
Considering how long you have been out of the office, it is crucial that you ensure that it is ready for occupancy. You have to guarantee that the building is still structurally sound and has the right features to help you adhere to government guidelines for offices. You can do this by conducting a thorough hazard assessment of the building.
During the assessment, ensure that the building and its mechanical and life safety systems are working properly. You should also evaluate the place for any hazards related to the building’s prolonged vacancy, such as mold growth and the presence of pests.
Prepare a Hazard Control Plan
As mentioned above, it is your duty as an employer to protect your employees from getting COVID-19. That is why it is essential that you come up with a control plan to prevent the spread of the virus in the workplace.
Ensure Physical Distancing
The first thing you should do is ensure that there is social distancing in the workplace. You can accomplish this by modifying your office to provide enough distance between employees. Make sure that their desks are at least one meter apart from each other.
You should also use methods that will allow you to physically separate employees in all areas of the office space. One thing you can do is mark the floors with tape to remind employees where they should stay or stand.
You can also install acrylic barrier shields in your office as extra protection for your employees. These barriers will aid you in helping prevent the spread of the disease. It will allow you to operate your workplace or business at higher levels of safety for everyone present—your employees and colleagues; your partners in business; and most of all, your customers.
Once you’ve invested in acrylic shield installation, it will serve you for a long-time as a measure of protection against COVID-19 transmission. Acrylic shields are transparent, scratch-resistant, impact-resistant, and aesthetically pleasing. They can be molded and designed according to desired specifications. They’re easy to clean and sanitize and will last a long time without losing their aesthetic appeal.
Another measure you should take to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to improve ventilation in your workplace. You can do this by opening the office as much as possible. This means keeping windows and doors open and using fans.
You can also consider acquiring portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan/filtration systems to improve the air cleaning in your office. Boost its effects by using ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI). This equipment can be used to inactivate potential airborne virus particles in the workplace.
Change Work Arrangements
Aside from changing the layout of your office, you should also alter your work arrangements. One thing you can do is require your employees to complete daily in-person or virtual health checks. This can help you ensure that every employee in the office is not experiencing any symptoms.
If one of your employees reports that they have symptoms of COVID-19 or have a sick household member, encourage them to stay at home. It is better to be short of manpower for a few days than risk the health of your entire team.
The next adjustment you can do to your work arrangement is to stagger your employees’ shifts, start times, and break times. Some of the options you can choose from are:
- 4–10 cyclical routine: This work arrangement requires employees to report to the office for four days followed by 10 days of work-from-home. Make sure to split your team members into two groups to avoid crowding the workplace.
- Three-day schedule: For this work scheme, you can ask your employees to go to the office three days a week. Their schedule can be every other day or three consecutive days depending on their tasks.
- One week on, one week off: Aside from the choices above, you can require your team members to report to the office for one week. Then, have them work from home the following week.
Adjust Work Protocols
Ultimately, you should adjust the protocols you implement in the workplace to ensure the safety of everyone. The first thing you should do is limit the physical contact between employees by maximizing virtual communication.
This means that instead of going to the workstation of their colleague, your employees can communicate through online messaging platforms. You should also encourage your staff to maximize virtual meetings. Doing so will help them avoid gathering in a small, closed space in the office.
Next, you should have dedicated staff members who are tasked to clean high-touch surfaces frequently. They should be responsible for disinfecting door handles, light switches, faucets, handrails, and other surfaces at least daily.
You should also consider displaying signages or visual cues reminding your employees to practice proper handwashing. These reminders should also encourage them to do other hygiene behaviors to keep themselves and their colleagues safe from COVID-19.
Make sure to provide them with the necessary resources to keep their hands and workstations clean. You should give them access to sinks, soap, clean water, and a way to dry their hands properly. You must also provide hand sanitizing stations throughout the office to encourage your team members to keep their hands clean at all times.
Adhere to Return-to-Office Guidelines to Keep Everyone Safe
As we slowly return to normal, more people will start coming back to the office. Give them peace of mind by doing your part as their employer. Aside from reminding them of the protocols they should be following, provide them with a safe workplace where they will feel safe from the COVID-19 virus.
Although these government guidelines for offices may seem like an inconvenience on your part, remember that you are doing this for your employees, who serve as the backbone of your company. Without them, you will not be able to keep your business running. Therefore, you can say that keeping your staff members healthy and safe from the virus is equivalent to keeping your business on its way to recovery and success.