You’re ready to reopen: you’ve talked to your employees about their concerns, and you’ve addressed all of them. The people who need accommodations will get them, there will be safety measures in place, PPE is available, everyone’s done their training. What’s left? Quite a lot, maybe. Even though your organization is about to reopen, other employers might not be so prepared, or might have restrictions still that make reopening a trickier issue. You might think other businesses are none of your business, but no organization exists independently, and this doesn’t just apply to obvious supplier and vendor relationships or other business-to-business transactions.
External Factors Affecting Your Reopening Plans
Let’s start with an easy example: suppose your organization operates somewhere with restaurants, coffeeshops, or grocery stores nearby—anywhere that sells food, snacks, and beverages. This is a pretty common arrangement, and employees in this situation generally get used to visiting these other businesses on their breaks or eating periods. Under the current restrictions, even if these establishments are open, service might be more restricted, and employees might need more time to get their coffee or meal.
Another common scenario: your organization is in a multi-storey building with many other employers. Employees use elevators to get the office. The days of cramming a dozen people onto an elevator, group after group, are over; many buildings have strict limits on the occupants of elevators, as well as requiring more frequent pauses for disinfecting. Even if employees aren’t in and out of the office all day (and washing or sanitizing their hands every time), elevators, shared entrances, and common areas are all likely to face occupancy restrictions causing delays for employees.
These examples should give you an idea of the kind of external factors that could affect your plans. Everything is going to take more time and require more thought and planning, even the simplest and most ordinary activities. As an employer, you should recognize and account for this additional cognitive burden your employees face. The pressure to resume productivity at the pre-pandemic level needs to relent so that employees and the public can navigate our changed circumstances safely and with a minimum of stress.
If you’ve already established lines of communication with employees about their workplace needs, expand those conversations to include these other factors. Ask about commutes. Ask about their habits on breaks. If you have employees who smoke, for example, how will you accommodate that habit while still maintaining social distancing in designated smoking areas? Employees have complex lives and behaviours even in the narrow sphere of their work, and the more of this complexity your reopening strategy covers, the better you can avoid surprises and setbacks. Remember, too, that communication can start any time, so if you’ve already reopened without consulting employees, you can still talk to them now and learn things to help refine your plans.
Keep an eye on government news and updates, and pay attention to public health information. The reopening of the economy and loosening of restrictions is proceeding piecemeal, with different rules in place not just provincially, but by region, city, or even industry. Knowing not only what your plans are but the plans of organizations around you gives you more information to set reasonable expectations and construct a reopening plan that leaves nothing to chance. No organization exists entirely alone; all are connected along many lines, and what affects one affects another. If we think about one another, and recognize those connections, then we can help ensure we all get through this crisis the only way we can—together.
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