Let's Take a Breath - Adjusting to Our "New Normal"

Miller & Martin PLLC Blog | April 20, 2020

We are in a new paradigm. Those lucky enough to still be working are facing new challenges in their jobs. Some are pushed to the limit as they take care of the sick, working long shifts and facing isolation from families and friends even when not at work (blessed be the healthcare worker). Others are consumed with making our supplies for everyday living readily available to the rest of us (blessed be the grocery worker, delivery driver and truck driver). The human aspects of our workplace are now divided by masks, gloves or screens. We are plowing through in most cases and, somehow, we will all find a way.

Let’s take a breath and give some thought to adjusting for our “new normal” as we contemplate a return to greater capacity. Here are a few potential challenge areas to put on your (lengthy, I know) list of things to consider:

Remote Work Policies: Review (or implement) your remote work and security policies. Make sure they are sufficiently robust to guide employees on the need to secure electronic files and any written materials they may use. Make sure your inventory lists are up to date. Many companies did a commendable job on equipping employees with teleworking hardware. Make sure you know where it all is, and employees are aware of any limitations on its use (web browsers don’t have “off hours”) and have a process for assuring an orderly return when the time comes. Assure that your policies address issues like storage on local hard drives and how that information may be transferred to network servers. Avoid having a room where hardware is dumped by employees scrambling to return to a familiar workstation. Plan as to how future work will be accomplished. Is remote work now a better option for some positions?

People in the office – again: Examine your physical workspaces and consider any needed changes. Is there a way to provide better physical separation? Is there a better way to handle shared areas or devices (copiers, phones, staplers, break rooms, the (gulp) coffee pot, microwave, vending machines)? How about door handles and elevator buttons? Is the pen used to sign people in being properly sanitized between uses? Will your employees have any “unique” cleaning habits that require behavior modification (how many dousings of hand sanitizer can a keyboard take before going up in smoke)? How do we handle office lunches? Is the breakroom still a good idea (Siri, I need coffee, now)? What options will employees have to leave and re-enter during the day? Are typical office cleaning procedures sufficient (frequency, cleaning procedures)? In a production environment, are there better ways to safely route products or processes? Can you safely limit the number of touches?

Be prepared to play doctor: Many of the early plans for rebooting the economy feature precautions such as temperature monitoring and testing protocols (assuming tests become available on a more widespread basis). Who will be handling this in the office? What will be the frequency? How will you treat visitors to the facility? Are your employees trained to take temperatures and properly log them? Do you have the right equipment, redundant devices and a plan for the administration of tests by qualified personnel?

Supplies – the backbone of any successful operation: Wearing masks and/or gloves may be a part of life for some period of time. With traditional supply chains slowly recovering, evaluate what you will reasonably need to assure your work environment is safe. Effective masks and gloves remain in short (but recovering) supply. Communicate what your organization will be able to provide to employees AND what may not be available. Evaluate schedules accordingly. There will be a renewed need for intelligent and responsible behavior. Your employees will likely evidence a curious combination of bad habits from being removed from a group environment to being hyper-vigilant and over-whelmed by all of the media reports (real and imagined) as to what makes sense. Set a baseline of behavior as it relates to safety protocols and be attentive to the need for enforcement. Make sure your leaders are bought in and will help set an example.

We have an exciting time ahead. Let’s plan for what is next and make it as smooth as possible. If we can help, call us.

Contact an attorney with Miller & Martin's Labor & Employment practice group to discuss your specific questions.

For more information about the ongoing developments related to the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit Miller & Martin's Coronavirus Resources. 

Tags: Workplace Health, Workplace Safety, Coronavirus, Return To Work, Remote Work Policies