Your back-to-workplace plans might be headed for the back burner. As the Delta variant continues to spread across the country, businesses and government agencies alike are rethinking their COVID-19 plans and mandates, including reimplementing mask-wearing policies and requiring employees to get vaccinated.
HR professionals, we feel your pain. You don’t want to give your employees whiplash, but you need to keep everyone safe—and your workplace policies have to reflect those efforts.
So, what can small businesses do to keep employees safe and up to date on changing workplace policies? We’ve taken a closer look at who’s adapting their workplace policies, plus what HR can do to support small businesses with navigating the churning seas of returning to the workplace during a pandemic.
Who’s Adapting Their COVID-19 Workplace Policies?
In just the past few days, we’ve seen reversals of workplace policies—from requiring proof of vaccination to reimplementing mask mandates—rolling across the U.S.
In some places, new mandates are in effect due to local, county, or state requirements, whereas in others, companies are leading the charge with (re)implementing policies.
Here’s a brief timeline of civil and corporate announcements related to the Delta variant:
July 16: Los Angeles County announces it will reinstate its mask mandate, requiring masks to be worn indoors regardless of vaccination status.
Of course, compliance is a whole different animal.
With the excelsior pass they have here in NY it's harder to forge it as they scan QR codes. And the app they are going to release may help mitigate forgeries too.— Maxwell Haddad (@cinemaxwell) August 3, 2021
There's always going to be ways around it. But many places have already been vigilant, checking IDs alongside cards.
July 30: Walmart and Sam’s Club announce they will require employees in high-risk counties to wear masks “inside our facilities, including stores, clubs, distribution centers, and fulfillment centers.”
Walmart also announces its plans to mandate vaccines for staff.
August 2: The Governor of Louisiana reinstates a statewide mask mandate indoors for all people age five and older.
Today, I am reinstating Louisiana’s statewide mask mandate indoors for all people ages 5 & up as COVID-19 cases & hospitalizations continue to rise across Louisiana, threatening the ability of hospitals to deliver care. #lagov pic.twitter.com/bFrI4y6MxT— John Bel Edwards (@LouisianaGov) August 2, 2021
August 2: Target announces that all store employees will be required to wear masks in counties deemed high risk for COVID-19 transmission.
August 2: McDonald’s announces it will require all employees and customers to wear masks in U.S. locations with high or substantial COVID-19 transmission.
August 3: New York City announces it will require employees and customers at indoor businesses to show proof of vaccination starting September 13, 2021.
New York City will require workers and patrons at indoor businesses to show proof of vaccination starting on September 13, becoming the first major U.S. city to take such action amid a surge of new cases driven by the highly transmissible delta variant. https://t.co/NJdHuMqm3J— NPR (@NPR) August 3, 2021
August 3: Microsoft announces it will require vaccines for employees at its U.S. offices.
What Can Small Businesses Do to Adapt to the Evolving COVID-19 Situation?
It’s encouraging to see places taking action to protect employees and customers against the Delta variant. But what if you’re not located in a city or state that’s reimplementing mask mandates? What if your CEO has asked you, HR professional, to get started drafting the next iteration of your COVID-19 workplace policy? Don’t panic—we have some ideas for where to get started.
Here are four steps HR pros can take to adapt their workplace policies in real time:
- Start small. If you’re planning to bring employees back to the office, start with a small group of people so you can understand what’s working and what’s not—and adapt accordingly.
This also applies to reimplementing policies such as wearing masks in the office. Reintroducing the policy with a small group that’s already back working in the office will give you a better idea of how to effectively communicate policy changes more broadly, as well as get a feel for compliance—and how to handle those that don’t comply.
Supplemental reading: 4 Steps to Creating (and Communicating) a COVID-19 Workplace Policy
- Be flexible (and let your employees know things might keep changing). Set an example of being flexible by recommending that your employees work where they feel safest right now. That might mean everyone goes back to working from home, or only some people come into the office a few days a week. Being flexible shows you’re attuned to your employees’ needs—and want to put their health and well-being first.
It’s also important to set the expectation that plans and policies will continue to change, depending on how the virus continues to mutate and spread. Letting employees know to expect change won’t deter all frustration, but it will demonstrate that you’re all in this situation together.
- Iterate. Every company has different needs and capabilities when it comes to maintaining business operations during a pandemic. Remind leaders that, regardless of the current status of COVID-19, a return-to-workplace policy will never be one size fits all—and every leader should iterate (through trial and error) to find what works best for their team.
- Communicate. Keeping your employees up to date on changing policies will help them feel safer and more engaged. Employees want to understand not only why policies are changing, but also how it affects them on a day-to-day basis.
The key here is to open up two-way communication. Encourage leaders to talk to their people about the Delta variant, discuss how new workplace policies affect them, ask about their concerns with returning to the office or continuing to work remotely, as well as check in on their mental health and well-being (tip: start by simply asking, are you okay?).
While no one can predict how the Delta variant, or COVID-19 virus, will continue to evolve, HR professionals can lead by example—and help their companies adapt in real time. By starting small, being flexible, iterating processes and policies, and constantly (and consistently) communicating, HR will demonstrate how to stay nimble in times of uncertainty.
We’re Here to Help
We know staying on top of today’s ever-changing workplace can be a lot for a small HR team, especially if you’re a team of one. At Eddy, we help take the administrative tasks off your plate, so you can focus on taking care of employees—whether it’s their health and well-being or the policies that protect them.
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