Everywhere I look online, I see articles about how to opt for a flexible or hybrid workplace, as employers struggle to deal with reversing the exodus from offices that started in March 2020 due to COVID-19. Two years ago, May, I opened my beautiful high-tech office with standing desks, new technology packages, and a big open kitchen stocked with food. Out of a dire need for sanity, I’ve actually worked here alone for the past 15 months, while being ever grateful to our clients who kept me and my home-based team very busy with work.
If my team didn’t come back to the office, what was I going to do with 3,200 square feet? What about my staff’s declining mental health, which study after study shows is due to effects of the pandemic trapping us all in a work-life hamster wheel?
I decided that hybrid was just not going to work for me, and we would all return to the office, full time. But then came all the questions! After all, this pandemic is far from over, and vaccine-proof variants linger around the globe. I came up with a plan that is in the works as I write this.
I started by contacting my employment lawyer to find out exactly what the current status was of the CDC guidance in reference to the EEOC and my own home state of Florida. This consultation assisted me in developing a written plan that contained multiple policies and protocols with which to move forward safely for my employees. Early in my business ownership, I learned that spending money on preventive legal work is a vaccine that you shouldn’t refuse. Although I had my choice of attorneys in my local area, I chose one who was part of a large, nationwide firm and had over 100 employment law colleagues in other states serving big and small clients. This way I benefited from policies being developed by more than one attorney serving one business in one state. The six steps are a result of all this research.
First, we needed to improve air quality in the office. We initially looked at UV lights that are installed as part of the air conditioning system. However, we learned that these can damage a large air conditioner by inhibiting a system’s capacity. After ruling this out, we found and decided to use a relatively new technology, from a company called Healthe
, for purifying the air using an ionizer and UV light without interfering with the flow inside the air conditioning system. These units, available in two- or four-foot models, fit perfectly in place of normal ceiling tiles — and, because they are white, blend in nicely. The unit pulls in the air, which the ionizer and UV light then sanitizes before it is pushed back out the other side, quietly. Regular office lights that come with the units can be disabled or dimmed if you already have enough overhead lights. An electrician handled the installation, which using 110-volt power, sips electricity. Each unit covers approximately 400-600 square feet, depending on the shape of your space.
We didn’t want to take any chances with a stray COVID-19 particle, so we decided to supplement the Heathe units with desktop air purifiers from SilverOnyx
, available on Amazon. We’re using five-speed units, which we found to be much quieter than the smaller three-speed version. These purifiers come in black, white, and silver, and include a true HEPA filter, an ionizer, and UV light. A large unit covers 500 sq.ft., but we are putting one in every cubicle right next to each staff member’s monitor, as they face their screens most of the day, even when they are on the phone. Besides the manual settings, they come with an auto setting that increases the speed when it senses particles, and through different color lights, even tells you when the air quality is good, fair, poor, etc.
As you see in every business, we needed some more personal cleaning products. In my new office, I had already installed no-touch bathroom sinks from Sloan that feature electronic sensor soap, water, and hand dryer appliances in a line on each basin (such that you see at many airports today). So, I had the bathroom covered. But, we needed hand gel and wipes stationed throughout the office. Being a bit of a tree-hugger, after some research, I chose Honeyskin Best Defense
hand purifying gel, as it is a bit more gentle on the skin, and Caboo
bamboo cleaning wipes, both available on Amazon. I bought a few more small tables and placed them at the front door, at the entrance to the kitchen, and in each collaboration room. The policy and procedures document includes discussion about consistently using these products throughout the day.
I’ll circle back to my written policies now with the last three steps.
Four: First we created a face mask and social distancing policy. This involved figuring out when staff need to wear masks, how to implement the CDC’s and EEOC’s latest guidance on vaccinated individuals, and what was actually going to work. We provide a stash of masks that meet current guidelines, but also give individuals the option of wearing their own, as long as they meet both those guidelines and our dress code, which includes guidance on offensive language, logos, etc. We’ve set some limits on the number of people in a collaboration room and at the lunch table, but a lot of that is dependent on vaccination status, again based on the CDC’s advice. We also addressed visitors, including vendors, who will need to wear masks at all times.
Five: Next our policy firmly discusses their covenant to not come into work ill, even if not COVID-related. This policy will be hard for some, as they are what we used to call “troopers,” and now call “spreaders!” Every flu season, one staff member would get sick, and the rest were only days behind. No more! This policy clearly states which specific symptoms should keep an individual at home.
I saved this for last, because I think it really is the best. I added two incentives in my written policy for getting fully vaccinated. First, I defined it as getting all recommended shots in a series, within the recommended time frame, and with the presentation of a valid CDC vaccine card. Employees who voluntarily get fully vaccinated and choose to share their card get two extra hours of paid time off added to their bank, whether they use them for the vaccine or not. Plus, they get their choice of a $100 gift card to popular stores. To steal from professional sports, the best offense really is the best defense. The EEOC just paved the way for these modest incentives, so if the state of Ohio can give out a million dollars
as an incentive, I can give out $100.
On June 21, we are officially returning to our newly sanitized office space, so I hope to provide an update in the coming months. Wish us luck and health, and we wish you the same!