COVID-19 policies still important as workplaces move on

From factories to offices, companies need to keep changing the playbook as the pandemic changes the workplace.

Companies’ COVID-19 policies have been changing as case numbers change — and they learn more about what has worked at their workplaces and those of peer companies.

“When you return to work in the office, it’s not just a matter of unlocking the doors and letting everyone back in. You need a strategy that encompasses governmental guidelines as well as some of your own that you consider crucial to safeguarding the health of your employees, visitors, customers and vendors,” consultant firm Robert Half writes in a summary of the research it has done on the topic.

Many manufacturing operations — where workers were in person for much of the pandemic — have added health monitoring devices and protocols, better sanitization and also rearranged stations to provide more distance between workers when possible.

At many companies, those changes are staying. Some companies didn’t have to change policies. They simply related on policies that were put in place before the pandemic.

In a tight job market, potential workers are asking about safety and health policies and flexibility as well as pay, Robert Half and other surveys show.

At St. Louis Park-based Lifespark, a health care company that provides a range of services to seniors, many employees were already working remotely, and clinicians working the front lines of COVID-19 were used to maintaining infection control protocols while wearing personal protection equipment, said Meaghan Puglisi, the company’s communications director.

However, the organization’s leaders did find that with workers providing care throughout the Twin Cities amid a virus outbreak and civil unrest, more resources for self-care were needed, Puglisi said. The company created a series on self-care that included videos and words from a chaplain.

Re/Max Results, a real estate brokerage in Eden Prairie with roughly 1,400 employees, made several accommodations for employees and sales executives in 2020 and 2021 to support a flexible and safe work environment, Chief Executive Brenda Tushaus said. That included modifying policies that extended paid time off benefits for employees.

The company also provided COVID-19 resources for sales agents including signage, checklists and safety protocols for open houses and showings; added disinfecting routines for common areas in its offices, and hired additional human resources staff to assist employees in navigating the complexities of COVID-19, Tushaus said.

At Uponor North America in Apple Valley — the US headquarters of the Finland-based manufacturer of piping for plumbing, cooling and heating systems — feedback from just over 1,000 employees there led to the creation of a flexible work model.

Now, workers are varied in their patterns — some at the offices full-time, some part-time and some fully remote. The company will hew to its new “flexible first” model indefinitely, said Jennifer Hauschildt, vice president of human resources.

Company leadership shifted other policies to support workers during the pandemic, Hauschildt said. That included adding a new paid-leave benefit.

Uponor offered employees up to seven days of paid leave if they were symptomatic, diagnosed or directly exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, allowing people time to recover. After those seven days, employees could work with human resources to use their family medical leave or short-term disability benefits.

“While we have eased many of the measures we implemented — like mandatory temperature screenings — we continue to uphold heightened safety practices like social distancing when possible, offering disinfection and sanitization products on the shop floor, and the monitoring of positive cases throughout our facilities, “Hauschildt said. “What we learned and continue to embrace is this notion that preparing for the unexpected requires everyone’s buy-in.”

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