The past two years in the pandemic have been a learning curve for everyone. Employees all over the world have had to pivot their job duties to figure out how to successfully work from home. Now, millions of workers are again having to adjust their work life as businesses are slowly opening back up. This comes with obvious challenges for everyone as people have different medical needs, expectations and health and safety protocols.
Every job and business are different and so their protocols for returning to work will be as well. Here are some tips you can use to stay safe when returning to your workplace.
1. Ask your employer what protections they have in place.
Your employers have a responsibility to ensure their business is up to date with the proper health and safety protections. It is essential to ask your employers before returning to the office what they have in place. For example, figure out what their new cleaning protocols are. Ask if there is hand sanitizer distributed around the office. Are there social distancing rules in place? And are there PPEs (personal protective equipment), such as masks, available for the employees?
Asking these questions is the first step in ensuring you are returning to a safe environment. With new variants of COVID emerging, it is essential that your work is taking precautions to ensure their employees feel and are safe in their workplace.
2. Avoid commuting with others and check into the safety of public transportation.
Before the pandemic hit, everyone was told that they should be carpooling with their coworkers as it is great for the environment and reducing our carbon footprint. Now, commuting together puts you and the people you are with in danger as it automatically puts you in close distance with others. If possible, we recommend that you stop commuting together. If, however this is something that is unavoidable, everyone should be wearing masks to make the situation as safe as it could be. The people in which you commute with should also be the same group of people to avoid more exposure. As well, when deciding who you should commute with ensure the people share your same values in regards to vaccinations, social distancing and mask wearing as you.
Public transportation is a great resource cities and towns have to successfully help get their citizens where they need to go. Many people rely on public transportation to get them to and from work. Look into your local public transportation and figure out if it is a safe option for you. Like every business, they should have adjusted their requirements and protocols to ensure the safety of their passengers. An example of what this could be is closing off seats on trains and buses to ensure proper social distancing as well as strict mask – wearing protocols. Still, businesses can only do so much so it is best to take your own precautions when taking public transportation. We recommend bringing with you your own hand sanitizer and wipes. Use the wipes to wipe down your seat and other surfaces you must touch and remember to always keep your hands away from your face.
3. At work, practice social distancing.
In today’s environment, returning to the workplace is a luxury. Many people are excited to be able to see their coworkers outside of a computer screen. We understand that people grow close relationships with their co workers as they spend so much time together and would ideally like to go up to them and do a proper catch up. However, it is important to remember that it is still not safe to do so. The CDC (Centre for Disease Control) is still advising that people remain at least six feet apart and to wear a mask. Catching up with your coworkers is fine as long as you follow the CDC guidelines.
Another way you can ensure that you are safely social distancing is to ask your employer to put Plexiglass at your desk or cubicle if you have to sit next to people. Many businesses as well have introduced flex schedules, meaning that employees only come into the office on certain days so one would not need to sit in close contact with someone else. Another example of a flex schedule could be adjusting your start and end times so that there is not a wave of people entering and exiting the workplace at the same time.
4. Stay off crowded elevators.
Many businesses operate in buildings associated with other companies. The building itself can have their own safety protocols which can make you feel protected, however that doesn’t mean you are entitled to know what protocols are being enforced with the other businesses in said building. Due to this, it is ok and justified to feel unsafe being in the same proximity as strangers. We advise that in order to best protect yourself you should stay off and avoid crowded elevators. If possible, and if you are able, take the stairs instead. If this is not an option for you, it is ok to simply ask people if they can wait for the next elevator, if you feel vulnerable. Many people start work at the same time, so crowds forming around elevators might be difficult to avoid. Try your best to beat the rush and get to work 10 minutes earlier than usual.
5. Clean and sanitize your workspace.
We recommend making sure you have sanitizer and cleaning supplies such as disinfectant wipes at your desk and/or workstation. As well, avoid touching handrails and other surfaces around your office when possible. While many companies have stepped up their cleaning protocols, you still are never going to be 100 percent certain what germs can be on common surfaces.
When touching unavoidable surfaces such as door handles and elevator buttons, make sure to sanitize and then wash your hands as soon as you are able to do so. If possible, try using an object such as keys in replace of your fingers on certain surfaces, for example elevator buttons.
6. Be cautious of break areas.
Your break areas are places for you and your co-workers to get space away from your desks to decompress and take your much-needed breaks. However, since this space is open to anyone, one should be extra cautious in the space. Ensure your company has rules and protocols to follow in that space, such as mask requirements when not eating. If for example, there is a communal coffee pot, you should be sanitizing the handle before and after each use. In this space, you should remain six feet apart as per social distancing requirements, emphasis that sitting across from someone at a table is more of a three-foot distance rather than six and should be avoided if possible. Remember the best way to stay safe would be to wipe off surfaces like refrigerator and sink handles, microwave buttons and other commonly used surfaces before and after use.
7. Ask your co-workers for cooperation.
In order to keep everyone safe in your office, it is essential that everyone is following the same protocols and taking the proper precautions. If you are the only one following the protocols, chances are you are more likely to get infected. Creating a space where everyone feels comfortable is the most ideal for all in the office. Inviting co-workers to tell you if you are doing something unsafe, maybe unconsciously, such as touching your face can be very beneficial. Which in turn, might make them feel comfortable in inviting you to do the same for them. Creating a team environment where everyone looks out for one another in helping each other stay and feel safe, will make you more comfortable going into the office everyday.
8. Speak to your employer about any concerns you have.
If anyone can enforce rules, it will be the boss. If you see something making you feel unsafe, speak to your supervisor and politely offer suggestions. This is a learning time for everyone, so be sure to use a non-confrontational stance to indicate your intent. An example of this could be to open your safety concerns or suggestions with a statement like: “I’m grateful that our company has been so invested in ensuring that we all work safely, I’ve noticed that…” Or “i’ve been thinking about… and i thought we all might benefit from…”. Remember it is best to include not only your personal concern, but suggestions or recommendations for everyone in your workplace.
While you might fear that there’s a risk that raising your concerns could be held against you by your employer, there is also the chance that positively presenting recommendations will be recognized as initiative and you could be rewarded with growth opportunities, new assignments, or even a salary increase. However, if your concerns are in fact held against you, your workplace might not be the best fit or environment for you to be in as there is nothing wrong with expressing safety concerns during a pandemic.