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How Will COVID-19 Impact Your Future Workplace Policies?

by Chad Smith on April 16, 2020
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When the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is over and employees return to the office, your future workplace will likely look very different.

Employees will have understandable concerns about their health and wellbeing. They also might be accustomed to a “new normal” of working remotely.

Having established procedures and protocols can provide structure during a chaotic time. Here are a few workplace policies you should consider updating before your employees return to the office.

Your Remote Work Policy

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way employers and employees view remote work. After working remotely for an extended period of time, many employees are likely rethinking their daily commute. Others may be eager to return to the office, but they expect more from their workplace experience than a desk. They want a comfortable environment where they can easily collaborate with others and enjoy the company of their colleagues.

If your company didn’t have a remote work policy prior to this, now is the time to implement one. If you did, it’s probably time to revisit it and share the updates with your workforce.

A remote work policy ensures both employees and managers are aligned when it comes to expectations and accountability. It should outline who is eligible to work remotely and when.

A few things to consider moving forward:

  • Who will be permitted to continue working remotely?
  • Can employees work remotely for any reason?
  • How should employees communicate that they are working remotely so others can find them?
  • Should you have a designated “work from home” day each week to reduce utility costs?
  • When are remote employees encouraged or expected to come to the office?
  • Will employees still have designated desks if they are primarily remote?

If you have employees who intend to continue working remotely on a regular basis, make sure you are accounting for them in your space planning.

Using employee badge data or sensors can help you determine how frequently employees are coming to the office and which ones need dedicated workstations.

You also need to ensure employees who don’t have dedicated offices or workstations have an easy way to find and reserve space when they come to the workplace. Technology that enables simple room scheduling and desk booking can help you account for these fluctuations in your workforce and gather the data you need to inform future real estate decisions.

Your Sick Leave Policy

In the U.S., the new federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act became effective April 1 and offers 80 hours of paid leave, as well as up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to eligible employees impacted by COVID-19, including:

  • Employees unable to work (or work remotely) due to having the virus
  • Employees unable to work (or work remotely) due to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19
  • Employees caring for an individual who has COVID-19 or has been ordered to self-isolate
  • Employees caring for a child whose school or child care provider is unavailable due to COVID-19

Although small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are eligible for exemptions, this policy applies to the majority of US-based businesses. Beyond updating your company’s sick leave policy to reflect the new laws and communicating it to your workforce, you will want to address other common questions and concerns, including:

  • Deciding how you will address sick leave if the federal policy does not apply to your organization (e.g., allowing employees to use any available paid time off)
  • Reminding employees that although you are legally permitted to take their temperature and ask them to leave work if they show signs of a respiratory illness, you cannot ask them whether they have a specific illness
  • Assuring employees that you will keep an individual diagnosis confidential, although you should inform your workforce if a possible exposure has occurred
  • Deciding whether you will follow current CDC recommendations for employees to wear cloth face masks at work when social distancing measures are difficult to maintain
  • Clarifying whether employees need a doctor’s note to be absent from work or return to work

Workplace Technology Policies

Since your employees have been working from home for an extended period of time, they may have overlooked information security policies that your IT department normally enforces.

That’s why now is a good time to create (or update) your acceptable use and bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies.

An acceptable use policy (AUP) explicitly states the rules and guidelines employees must follow when accessing the company’s network and/or using employer-provided technology. This policy helps employees understand what your company expects of them when it comes to their use of workplace technology. It also ensures they know their rights and responsibilities and allows your company to hold employees accountable if they misuse technology.

According to Ipswitch, a provider of IT management software, nearly three-fourths of security breaches are due to employee actions (either intentional or accidental). An AUP can considerably reduce your company’s risk of cyberattacks and data breaches by reducing opportunities for employees to compromise your company’s security.

Here are a few key points to cover in your AUP:

  • Which technologies the policy pertains to
  • Why it is in the best interest of employees to follow the policy
  • How your company will enforce the AUP and the consequences for failing to adhere to it

Similar to an AUP, a BYOD policy helps protect your company from unnecessary risk by ensuring employees who use their personal devices for work are doing so safely and securely.

Allowing employees to use their own devices for work can offer major benefits, including higher productivity and decreased expenses for the company. Plus, it supports the mobility of your workforce and an overall better workplace experience.

Here are a few key points to cover in your BYOD policy:

  • Which devices employees can use for work and which are subject to the BYOD policy (Don’t forget about wearables!)
  • The process for obtaining authorization and approval for a device
  • How these devices may be used for work, including which types of apps are allowed
  • How the IT team will provide technical support
  • Expectations for security, including strong passwords, two-step authentication and what to do if a device is lost or stolen

Having an AUP and BYOD policy in place can help ease security concerns while reminding employees of their responsibilities to safeguard company data.

Your Workplace Sanitation Protocols

How you manage your future workplace in general will also need to change post-COVID-19. Your employees will want to know they are returning to an office environment that is safe and comfortable. This means scheduling more frequent deep cleanings with disinfecting agents, especially in high-traffic areas such as conference rooms, break rooms, and other collaboration spaces.

If your in-house facilities management team does not have the resources to take on these additional responsibilities, you may need to consider outsourcing to a commercial cleaning company.

Another option is to use sensors and space management software to more efficiently clean and sanitize your workplace.

Sensors can detect which spaces have been used throughout the day. Space management software makes it easy to visualize this data so you can adjust your cleaning schedule accordingly.

In flexible work environments where employees share workspaces, consider a policy that requires employees to wipe down surfaces with disinfectant before they move to a new space. They’re probably already accustomed to doing this at the gym, and the COVID-19 pandemic makes this a reasonable expectation in the workplace as well.

Your Visitor Management Policy

A workplace visitor policy lists the guidelines, rules and procedures for allowing various types of guests to enter your office. It is an essential aspect of workplace security and helps increase the safety and security of your facilities.

One of the most critical parts of an effective visitor policy is requiring every guest to check in before they are permitted to enter your office. As soon as a visitor arrives, they will need to provide their name, company and reason for their visit. If you have decided to limit the number of employees and visitors in your building to follow social distancing guidelines, using visitor management software can help you monitor when you are nearing capacity.

You may want to consider requiring employees to pre-register themselves and any guests so you’ll know how many people to expect in the office.

How An IWMS Can Help

Adhering to these new workplace policies may be challenging, but an integrated workplace management system (IWMS) can help. With an IWMS, you have visibility into how your workforce interacts with your environment.

Because you can see the actual utilization of every area in your workplace, you can make smart, data-driven space planning decisions. For example, you can:

  • Rearrange your floor plan to increase the distance between workstations
  • Create move scenarios for bringing employees back to the workplace in phases
  • Allow employees to reserve rooms in advance
  • Adjust your cleaning schedule based on actual utilization
  • Keep track of all visitors, so you know how many people are in your office at one time

The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically changed the way we live and work. Although we don't know exactly when things will return to normal or what the "new normal" will look like, taking the time to review your workplace policies now can help you prepare.

Gartner has some great coronavirus support resources available to workplace leaders. The International Facility Management Association (IFMA) has also developed a coronavirus preparedness resource center that includes health and safety posters. 

The iOFFICE team is also here to help. You can join Mike Petrusky and other industry leaders every Wednesday for weekly conversations about the future workplace as you consider how to best support your workforce in the coming weeks and months. 

And if you're considering investing in new technology to help you plan and manage your post-pandemic workplace, schedule a live demo with one of our specialists. We can show you how to plan your space, create move scenarios to bring employees back to the office in phases and more. 

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