COLONIE — To judge from rush-hour traffic, work-at-home isolation has ended for a lot of Capital Region workers.
If children go back to school as scheduled this month, and if the COVID-19 pandemic doesn't regain strength, even more people are likely to start returning to their offices soon.
Beyond the now-familiar precautions of keeping apart from one another and remaining sanitary, employers and their workforces have other tasks ahead of them as they get back together under the same roof.
A local accounting and human resources firm said the steps mostly boil down to employer and employee communicating with each other about what they want, need and expect.
"We get a lot of questions on reopening," said Adam Lawrence, director of human resources and talent development at BST & Co.
That's not just from corporate clients but from employees, as well — BST becomes an employee resource for companies that retain it.
Employee concerns are often along the lines of, "Should I feel safe coming back?" Lawrence said.
Aside from an early stint in recruiting, Lawrence's career in HR has been focused on efficiency. He summarized it as "How do we make our business and our organization run more effectively?"
That's essentially what his response to COVID-19 is: Helping the business function while keeping the people who make the business function safe and confident about their safety.
"The biggest thing is being sure you’re up to date and continuously monitoring [regulations], especially for a smaller organization that may not have access to that HR person every day," Lawrence said.
That has been one of the difficulties of the pandemic: Knowledge of the virus is evolving continually so requirements and recommendations change frequently. The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, for one example, created a new set of paid sick leave and family leave regulations.
For employers, Lawrence's top points of advice are:
- Prepare the worksite with greater airflow and better filtration;
- Develop a plan to monitor and check the health of those entering the building, whether employee, client or vendor;
- Decide how to ensure social distancing;
- Consider reducing density by closing off common areas or putting people on staggered schedules;
- Choose ways to increase hygiene and decrease touch points;
- And most important, communicate with employees — find out what their concerns are, perhaps with a survey.
"Making sure your employees feel safe is the No. 1 concern, Lawrence said. "Communicate everything you’re doing."
It's just as important that employees communicate any concerns or needs they may have, he added — there may well be a solution, but it won't be found if the concern isn't raised.
"Start with conversation and go from there," Lawrence said. "If you have a concern, I absolutely recommend talking to your manager."
His personal, non-scientific assessment is that the on-site workforce is growing — not to pre-COVId levels but higher than in the early summer. More people are talking about it with him, more people are on the roads with him.
"I think what you do see out there, you see more people out and about, you see more people on the commute," Lawrence said.
"March, April, even May, commutes were a ghost town."
The hybridization of the workplace — some employees working remotely, some in the office, some mixing the two — is likely to continue through the end of the pandemic and perhaps beyond, he said.
The variables that could skew the balance back to a more heavily remote workforce include a second wave of COVID-19 infections or widespread elementary school shutdowns that force parents to work from home, Lawrence said.
The chances of either scenario happening can't be predicted.
"That's the hardest thing about this," he said.