Management · May 27, 2021

Small Business Guidelines: Creating a Safer Workplace for Employees

After a long 2020, there's finally a light at the end of the tunnel. Across the country, the COVID-19 vaccine programs are in motion. Millions of Americans have received at least one shot, with more every day.

Many small and medium-sized businesses have been working remotely for the duration of the pandemic. But now, as more people get vaccinated, it's time to consider what's next.

If you think returning to a common physical workspace will be viable for your organization, take some time to understand the small business guidelines and regulations involved. Here are a few things to consider.

Review local small business guidelines

Depending on where you live, your choice might already be made for you. Some states still have restrictions on the number of people allowed in a building, whereas others are loosening those rules now or plan to in the coming months.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, recommends creating sample health and safety plans for small-business owners and employees. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (PDF) also put together a document to help you plan your return to work. Review your local guidelines as well. These can vary from state to state.

In addition to these basic guidelines, consider how the following factors will influence guidelines you establish for your workplace:

  • Mask requirements: Will your employees need to wear a mask indoors, and for how long? Do your employees work in direct contact with customers or clients? If not, will vaccinated employees need to wear masks?
  • Social distancing guidelines: Is it possible to have six feet of space between workstations? Or, can you stagger your workforce to come into the office at different times and days?
  • Cleaning: Will you need to provide additional cleaning supplies, such as hand sanitizer and wipes, for employees? How will cleaning crews' schedules influence your employees' presence in your office?
  • Illness: What policies will you have in place for sick employees or those who have come in contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19?

Once considered, develop a timeline for execution and communicate your plan to your employees.

As more people get vaccinated through the warmer months, it's possible the guidelines could change and relax further—or tighten again. Keep your local informational pages bookmarked so you'll be up to date and able to plan for any new developments.

Work on developing a sample health and safety plan

Once you understand the direction the regulations and your own guidelines are moving toward, you can start planning ahead.

Here are a few steps you can take as you work your way through the process:

  • Review your current plan: How have things been working for the past year? What opportunities are there for improvement? Transitioning back into the office could be bumpy; ironing out potential concerns beforehand can help smooth the process. It's also a good time to review any operations or procedures that may be out of date.
  • Determine the risks: Even though people are getting vaccines, the majority of Americans still haven't. So, COVID-19 is still a serious risk. If your office isn't set up to easily follow CDC safety guidelines with social distancing and ventilation, it might be better to wait.
  • Address safety concerns: Employees have different risk levels when it comes to COVID-19. You'll want to be empathetic with those concerns and predetermine some guidelines on how you plan to ensure you've made the workspace as safe as possible for returning and new employees.
  • Communicate and get feedback: Your employees are a vital part of any plan, so you'll want to hear from them. Send out a survey to get their thoughts and feedback and incorporate common concerns into your new plan.
  • Consider the timing: Many companies have the luxury of a gradual transition back into the office. Rather than bringing everyone back at once, determine if you can bring in a few shifts a couple of days a week to start. Then, expand the pool.

Carefully thinking through the financial implications, health and safety of your employees is an important first step. Along the way, communicate continuously with your employees. That way, you'll all be on the same page, and they can plan for this transition period as well.

Ultimately, every business is different. There's no one-size-fits-all plan for transitioning back to the office as everyone moves into a post-COVID-19 world. There's no better time to start planning than right now.


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