Clearing the Air: Creating a COVID-19 Office Communications Plan

You can spend days and weeks creating a plan, but you can never predict how it will be received.

We’ve talked a lot lately about the looming changes for workplaces across the country in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Managers should begin planning for the return of their workforce now if they hope to avoid headaches later. But when the day of employee re-entry arrives, how should these same managers convey all of the new changes?

As always, it’s best to start with the basic facts and work from there.

A Shifting Landscape

Most employees are eagerly awaiting the announcement telling them they can return to work. Many people across the country are struggling to make ends meet without a steady paycheck and view a return to the office as a return to stable living. Those fortunate enough to telecommute, on the other hand, are likely looking forward to seeing their co-workers in person once again.

In either case, the reopening of the office will be an exciting event for all. But this excitement can’t overshadow that the office to which these employees are returning will be vastly different than the one they left.

Employees will still need to maintain six feet of distance from one another. Cleaning procedures will be more important than ever. All employees will need to play a part in executing workplace safety plans.

Here are a few tips for planning and executing a CoronaVirus workforce communication plan. Note these are only suggestions and are not exhaustive. For ongoing guidance, refer to the Center for Disease Control and Occupational Health and Safety Administration websites.

1. State the Basic Facts

We’ve all been inundated with information about COVID-19 over the past month and a half. In fact, the amount of information we’re receiving seemingly all at once can feel overwhelming, with guidance we receive one day changing the next.

The basic facts, however, have not changed. Before employees at your company return to the office, collaborate with your human resources team to draft an email for the entire staff providing general guidance on how to mitigate the spread of infection.

As you begin to draft this email, consider the following guidance from the Center for Disease Control:

  • The virus is mainly spread between people who are within about six feet from one another through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. In some cases, carriers of the virus are asymptomatic.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. If soap and water aren’t available, instead use hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Cover your mouth with a cloth or face cover to protect others in case you are unknowingly infected.
  • Clean and disinfect all frequently touched areas surfaces, including desks, doorknobs, and light switches, with a regular disinfectant.

Be sure to include specific steps your company is taking to aid employees, such as the availability of hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray. You should also clearly state arrival procedures for the date of return, keeping in mind that it may be necessary to stagger employee arrival times to avoid crowding.

2. Outline Procedures on Posters.

Once you and your HR team have determined company policies for mitigating the spread of COVID-19, you should then work to ensure they are highly visible for all team members. One simple way of doing this is through the creation of posters detailing specific measures the company is taking to promote staff-wide health.

In addition to the CDC guidance listed above, the posters should contain office specific policies such as:

  • Office movement plans
  • Arrival procedures
  • New seating arrangements in light of the six feet of distance guidance
  • Where employees can find hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray
  • Any changes in HR-related policies

Each employee should be given a copy of the poster to avoid having the staff congregate around a poster placed in a public area. Finally, be sure to avoid discussing any matters related to employment law in the poster. Some of these matters can be found here.

3. Tour the Office on the Return Date

The day when employees return to the office will be critical. There’s perhaps no better chance to state expectations and outline the changes each employee will experience in their everyday lives.

One way of accomplishing this is through a tour of the office. Before discussing the tour, it’s important to preface it by saying the entire staff should not take part in the tour at once, since this would make it difficult to maintain six feet of distance. Consider basing the office tour schedule around the staggered employee arrival schedule mentioned earlier.

During the tour, be sure to point out where hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray are located. In addition, walk employees through steps the company is taking to ensure employees are maintaining six feet of distance in the office, such as workspace layout as well as movement plans through the office.

Most importantly, you will need to emphasize the situation is fluid and change is likely. You can then convey when follow up meetings are likely to occur.

4. Meet Regularly

The communication plan doesn’t end after the day when employees return. It has been said a number of times, but the situation is constantly changing, and employers need to react accordingly.

Plan to meet with the entire staff at least once a week virtually. During these meetings, you should cover what has gone well and what still needs to improve across the office.

Lastly, if there are any major changes to company policies as they relate to virus spread mitigation, be sure to cover them in detail while also promising to outline the changes in writing, as well.

Now, more than ever, it’s imperative for all managers to keep abreast of updates from experts in the field of public health and workplace safety, and then translate this guidance into policies for their specific workplace. While guidance will almost certainly change, you can begin preparing your workforce for the difficult days ahead through careful and deliberate communication plans that address the concerns of all.

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