The Baker-Polito Administration has issued a comprehensive plan to safely reopen the Massachusetts economy, get people back to work, and ease social restrictions while minimizing the health impacts of COVID-19. As part of this plan, all businesses must develop a written control plan outlining how its workplace will comply with the mandatory safety standards (read the full announcement at www.mass.gov).
It is time to think about bringing staff back, but how do you get people prepared to come back safely and calmly? As you develop your Return to Work plan, training will be key.
Every company in our ecosystem is dedicated to the health and safety of all employees (thank goodness). What is right for you and your employees? There is no “one size fits all” answer. However, there are issues everyone should keep in mind as they develop their written control plans:
- Incorporate your corporate culture, science, timeline to return to work, access to the supply chain, and other relevant stakeholders into your plan.
- Plans will need constant adjustment as we figure out what the new normal is – and we may be adjusting for months/years to come.
- There are lots of great sources of information available. All of them have relevant ideas, but not all suggestions are practical or realistic for every company.
- Plans and people need to be nimble. Recommendations from regulatory agencies will continue to evolve.
- Training is key to successfully execute your plan.
Your Corporate Culture
What type of plan fits your culture? Is your company in an incubator? If so, is the incubator’s plan all you need? If your company is very small, or already does lots of remote work, small changes may be all you need. Other companies may require very detailed plans that contain work practices that are quite changed for their old norm.
No matter how small or large of a change you are implementing, communicate these changes as much as possible before staff returns and to reinforce new norms with plenty of reminders, signage, etc.
Have a plan in place for regular updates based on new guidance.
When tailoring your return to work plan, how do you envision your research/production priorities? Do all experiments/production lines need to be activated at once? Can you consider a tiered approach to your R&D activities? Does cleanroom work present different challenges? Do you have an animal facility?
Thinking about coming back up to full speed in a measured way may help refine your plan and allow you to “test” the plan in stages, as teams return over time, not all at once.
Access to The Supply Chain
Develop a plan that considers the realities of the lag in the supply chain for PPE.
Masks, gloves, disposable lab coats and thermometers are all in very high demand and short supply – how will this potential shortage impact your plan over the short-term?
For example, face coverings are required at most companies – will you supply disposable masks? What if you cannot get masks in a timely manner? Will you supply your employees with cloth masks? Will they be laundered by employees at regular, dictated intervals? Will you allow your staff to purchase or make their own masks? If so, what will your guidelines be? 2-ply? Filter? Will someone be responsible for ensuring masks are within the guidelines?
Your plan may need to be flexible based on what supplies can be procured and knowing this well in advance will make your employees more confident; knowing what to expect when they return and understanding things may change over time.
Other Relevant Stakeholders
Who else do you need to talk to? What other plans must dovetail with your own? What is your landlord implementing? For example, will your building be accessible most of the time? Will staff be able to access your lab during off-hours? If not, staggered staffing can be burdensome. If you can always access the building, will you revise your “working alone” policies? Does your landlord have certain expectations for each tenant’s plan? Will your landlord want to review your plan?
Do you have a sublease? What are the expectations of the lease holder?
Getting the right people involved from the start will eliminate duplicative efforts and will streamline communication and training.
Sometimes it is OK to Say No
There are many suggestions circulating about what to do to make your plan comprehensive. It is nearly impossible to implement every suggestion and still have a viable business. Don’t be afraid to decide that a suggestion does not work for your company and think about what controls can be put in place to compensate.
Training: Communicate Clearly, Early and Often
The best plans can fail if people don’t understand how to execute. Once your plan is developed, create training material to support it and start training. Be as open, honest, and proactive as possible about what you are doing and why. Train staff in advance of returning and use methods that you know work well for your team.
Consider “practice runs” prior to staff returning and conducting these “drills” via video conference. Perhaps create a Top 5 Must Do’s for your staff with an internal marketing campaign that will focus on one a day.
It’s difficult to think about how to make this pandemic anything but anxiety-inducing, but consider how to lighten the mood while encouraging compliance — staff gifts like bags for safety glasses, so each staff member has a safe place to store their own PPE, or monogramed masks (some masks can have a logo put on them).
By continually communicating your plan, allowing for changes to it, sharing the latest guidance, and training your staff, you are positioning your company for the smoothest return to work possible.
About the Author:
Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Safety Partners
As Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Lauren leads the organization’s strategic marketing efforts as Safety Partners continues to grow. Lauren ensures that all marketing and communications initiatives consider the unique needs of the Greater Boston life sciences community.