Before you start shaking your head and saying, “My employees are virtual, there’s nothing to “return” to, so I don’t need a plan,” take a second look. Does Jim like to work from coffee shops? Now that they’re back open, is he doing it again? Does Judy travel to client sites to showcase your wares? Is she heading back on the road soon?
Even if your company is running what you consider a 100% virtual office, unless your employees never leave their homes in the course of business, you’re going to need a plan.
Today’s focus: Creating a Preparedness Policy for Remote Workers
We are a fully virtual office. We work completely from home. Except when we don’t. Because our team dispatches to client sites and frequently “runs out” to pick up an extra cable or adapter, we have a COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan in place. We provide personal protective equipment (“PPE”) to our team, train them on proper sanitization techniques and have procedures in place to ensure the health and safety of our employees and those we serve. If you don’t have your own plan in place, it’s time to pull out your pens.
Disclaimer: First things first. We are IT nerds, not lawyers. We hope you use this to help trigger some thoughts as you draft your policies, but definitely consult with your attorney to ensure compliance with all required laws and regulations.
Start by Asking the Questions
Asking questions in advance will help you try to factor in everything so you don’t have to continually revise your policy. Although some revisions may be unavoidable as things change, too many can cause confusion. Before you start typing, know your approach.
What’s your risk level?
How many/which employees will be onsite (either at your office or another location) during the course of business? How much exposure will they have?
Can sick virtual workers work?
What is your policy on whether or not your virtual workers can continue to work if they’re (not too) sick? You’ll want your preparedness policy to reflect your paid time off policies (which, by the way, also might need to be adjusted based on time-off requirements relating to COVID-19 under the various state and federal mandates).
Will virtual employees be required to clean their work areas?
While we hope that employees are keeping their work areas clean on their own, it’s a good idea to remind your team that it’s more important now than ever to have a safe working environment and provide them with some tips.
How will employees ensure sanitary equipment if onsite?
If you do have members of the team who are out and about in the world, provide guidelines in your policy covering safe sanitation of equipment. Have Sally wipe down her laptop and cell phone after being at a client’s site. Fluffy doesn’t want COVID-19 either.
Do those who travel have to quarantine?
It’s summer, so people are going to go on vacation. Will your company require those coming back from travel to be fully virtual for a time period?
How will employees get PPE?
If your team is on the road like ours, you’ll need to provide PPE. Include in your plan which items you’ll be distributing, how the team will be trained on their use and how they should go about getting replacements if needed.
Where will training materials/posters be located?
Just like those labor law posters, your COVID-19 policies and related resources should be easily accessible to all employees.
What will employees do if they are sick/exposed?
How will your company handle illness right now? Will testing be required? Who will be responsible for handling illness reports? How will the company confidentially log information? What procedures should your team follow in the event of illness or exposure? What are your policies for returning to work?
Who will administer the policy?
In addition to logging health screenings and training, someone will need to be in charge of the policy itself. This person should be staying on top of current guidelines and requirements and updating the policy as needed, as well as handling any employee questions. Be sure to also designated someone to report to the health department or other required entities in the case of exposure.
How will you handle deviations?
As any HR manager can tell you, if there’s a policy, someone will break it, even if it’s unintentional. How will you handle this? Do you have safe reporting procedures in place so others on the team can report violations without fear of retaliation?
Next Step: Write the Policy
Once you know how your company is going to proceed, it’s time to spell it out.
Keep it Simple
Depending on your company’s work situation, your policy may be long and complex, but try to break down its component parts as simple as possible. If your policy turns into a tomb that rivals War and Peace, no one is going to understand (or follow) it.
Educate Your Team
There is a lot of information (and misinformation) out there – so much so it can be confusing. As you layout your policies, consider adding an educational section that provides (verified) information. Include links to useful sources, such as the CDC, the state of Michigan’s coronavirus response page and MiOSHA, and let your team know where they can find reference guides like the CDC’s proper use of a face mask instructions.
Have your employees sign an acknowledgment of receipt and understanding of your policy. Advise them to have all questions answered before signing to avoid the inevitable, “Oh, I didn’t know I needed to do THAT” discussions down the road.
Do a Cross-Check
After you’ve got the beast written, take some time to review your other existing policies to make sure that there’s no contradictory information. The quickest way to turn policies into birdcage liners is to have them in disagreement. Some policies, such as your policy manual or technology policies, might need to be adjusted to this new work world. If you’re involved with a union, you may need to check in with them, too.
Have a few members of the team review the policy prior to publishing. Others may catch things you’ve missed or ask questions you didn’t consider because you’ve been too close to it for too long.
Talk to your Team
Once the policy is written, you’ll need to review it with your team and train on its various aspects. As with all things, take some time to map out the training in advance so it is clear, concise and informative.
Most likely, training is going to be done virtually. Utilize a platform that allows for interaction so your team can ask questions and verify understanding. From a management side, know who is going to speak/train on which aspects, who will handle questions and who will log attendance and monitor engagement.
There are certain elements that may require some demonstrative training, such as how to properly remove disposable gloves. Know in advance how this will be done and have the resource guides available prior to the training session.
Acknowledge the Unknown
Concern about the unknown isn’t just reserved for business owners. Your team is likely struggling with this as well, so take some time during your training to acknowledge it. Even if you don’t have all the answers yet, let your team know you’re working on them.
Yes, team, we know school is going to look different and this may impact work schedules. We aren’t sure how yet, but we’re keeping a close eye on things and as guidelines emerge, we’ll work on incorporating them into our business. Work has to get done, but we know it’s a concern for many, so it’s a concern for us.
Keep in mind, just because you acknowledge things doesn’t mean you have to change your business model. You still have a business to run and you’ll have to do what’s best for it, which may not include flexible schedules. But even acknowledging those concerns goes a long way towards reassuring your employees that they matter.
Go Forth and Work
After you’ve gone through all the policy drafting, the training and the questions, give yourself that gold star. Policy drafting is hard work. And then go forth and begin to work (safely) with the 3-dimensional people again