Tools that Enable Workplace Safety in 2021 (Post COVID-19)

These safety precautions are as much for customer satisfaction and comfort, as for employee satisfaction. Because of this, the question of how do I create workplace safety will be a critical challenge for any business in 2021.

Written By:
Bryan Stouffer
Publish Date:
December 4, 2020
Pomeranian Dog safely carried in an airplane carry-on luggage case.
Pomeranian Dog safely carried in an airplane carry-on luggage case.

How do I create Workplace Safety in 2021?

There will be many lasting changes to the workplace well after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended. The pandemic of 2020 has caused many changes to the way we live, shop for goods, conduct business and seek medical treatment. Many of these changes put in place for businesses to safely function will most likely stay with us into the foreseeable future. These safety precautions are as much for customer satisfaction and comfort, as for employee satisfaction. Because of this, the question of how do I create workplace safety will be a critical challenge for any business in 2021.

The question is, how do I improve office workplace health and safety for my employees and customers? To accomplish this, you will need to both follow CDC guidelines and modernize your workplace communication tools.

Improving the health and safety from COVID-19 in my office.

The CDC Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019 outlines recommendations on how do I create workplace safety.

Most of the recommendations can be better accomplished with modern communication tools and software systems. For example, all 7 out of 7 recommendations in the section Prevent and Reduce Transmission Among Employees could be accomplished with simple IT solutions. Astoundingly, 7 out of 8 recommendations from Maintain Healthy Business Operations could be implemented with common communication tools you may have in place today.

Some of these are easier said than done. When a business requires that their employees work together as a team in a physical space for need to physically interact with their customers. In order to produce their service.

So how can you ensure social distancing in a business where team collaboration and cooperation is so critical and essential.

Even after the temperature checks and daily office cleaning, you still must ensure that every employee is wearing a mask eight hours every day. When that's not practical, how do you stop employees from congregating? This could happen around water cooler, in the cafeteria, in meeting rooms, or simply at each other's desks.

Technology can help promote effective virtual communication and management of your team. Using virtual tools to communicate, rather than physically co-locating in the same office can even increase team productivity.

Let's look at each CDC recommendation and identify simple solutions when asking how do I create workplace safety for my employees and customers.

Prevent and Reduce Transmission Among Employees

The CDC recommends preventing close physical co-location among employees by:

  • Actively encourage sick employees to stay home
  • Consider conducting daily in-person or virtual health checks
  • Identify where and how workers might be exposed to COVID-19 at work
  • Separate sick employees
  • Take action if an employee is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 infection
  • Educate employees about steps they can take to protect themselves at work and at home
  • Consider employees who commute to work using public transportation or ride sharing

This demands a solution where your employees can easily communicate with one another at least as effectively as they do in-person.

Maintain Healthy Business Operations

CDC recommendations center around creating flexible policies where people aren't penalized for staying home when sick and mitigating risks related to spikes in absenteeism. To preserve PTO, Employees may be willing to work even if they're sick. When no telecommuting policy is in place, some may even be compelled to hide their condition out of necessity.

  • Flexible sick leave policies
  • Protect higher risk employees
  • Communicate supportive workplace policies clearly, frequently, and via multiple methods
  • Assess your essential functions
  • Determine how you will operate if absenteeism spikes
  • Establish policies and practices for social distancing
  • Isolate multiple locations

As a result, any modern business is expected to provide the technology required for an employee to be able to work remotely.

Maintain a healthy work environment

  • Limit travel and advice employees if they must travel to take additional precautions and preparations
  • Minimize risk to employees when planning meeting and gatherings

Furthermore, even in a healthy work environment it is critical to minimize contact among multiple locations and between disparate groups of employees or customers.

Technology can be a critical component even if you don't allow employee telecommuting.

There are many tools available to enable communication between your employees. Additionally, portals are an excellent way of virtually service and connecting with your clients without the need to be physically present.

Although these tools may enable telecommuting employees to work from home, they are also critical to enable social distancing within an office. Many tools used for this purpose by businesses today include programs such as:

Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is a chat application where employees can sign in to their Office 365 accounts and join private chats with one another. Teams also supports audio and video calls each other for those with a webcam. You can also speak to each other with inexpensive USB headsets.

Microsoft Teams works on mobile devices, can share files and schedule meetings all from within the same app.

Slack for Business

For those that don't subscribe to Office 365, Slack for Business is a great alternative. Slack allows you to create channels and use hashtags to steer your conversations within your team. You get notifications when somebody types, shares a file, or pastes a picture. You can use Slack for video or audio calls all the Slack desktop app. These chat applications would be used more for quick thoughts and rapid response opposed to longer form or mission critical email messages.

Google Hangouts

Another tool for team collaboration is Google Hangouts. Hangouts don't focus as much in terms of the history of your conversations, searchability and ease of coworkers discovery as Teams. It does however provide the ability to chat, start video meetings, and screen sharing. If your organization relies on a business suite such as Google's G Suite this may be a natural fit for your workspace.

Dropbox and Team Access to Shared Files

On the file collaboration side, many businesses have moved towards file syncing tools such as Dropbox or Box. Syncing files to and from the cloud saves local disk space and ensures that files are backed up and synchronized across employees computers. Dropbox can be a better alternative than network file shares since it requires less IT infrastructure and doesn't require VPN to safely access files. It also enables conflict resolution and version history. Dropbox combined with something like Microsoft Teams is a powerful combination. You can copy a private link in Dropbox, paste that into Microsoft Teams, and then instantly collaborate on the same file.

For the purposes of sharing files with customers or external teams, you want to implement a client portal. A client file sharing portal like Zapa Client Portal is a great option to make sure that your customers have secure file access. Zapa Client Portals are completely customizable to be branded for your business. This mitigates concerns that customers could access internal information or struggle with email attachment limitations.

What is COVID-19 Discrimination and why should I care?

Many of these tools are ideal for having a combination of employees that work on site, as well as the employees that work remotely. But you might say, "well I don't have any employees that work remotely".

One thing to consider is an increasing number amount of litigation caused by COVID-19 discrimination.

So the question is, what is COVID-19 discrimination and why should I care? Discrimination comes in many shapes and forms. According to SHRM, if an employee doesn't feel safe returning to the office you may need to accommodate their concern. Particularly when they may carry that back to a vulnerable family member or fear a personal health vulnerability. They could be discriminated either for concern of family or not provided a workspace to safely perform their job duties. In some cases, an employer can be sued on the grounds of discriminating against the employees concern for personal safety. This could set a long-standing precedent well beyond the current pandemic in terms of infectious diseases more generally.

This is why it's important that you consider a telecommuting policy even if you don't yet have one in place. SHRM is a great place to find sample Telecommuting Policies before specific concerns about vulnerable family members are presented in a post-pandemic landscape. Empathy is a key component when answering the question of "How do I create workplace safety".

Tools to help manage Remote Employees and measure performance.

Tools that help your team collaborate and co-communicate also help manage remote employees and measure performance. With oversight, you will know if employees working virtually or separate from each other are meeting your expectations. These include applications like:

Like they say "what you can't measure you can't manage". It is important to start by assesses your business for key performance indicators (KPIs). Then routinely confirm that each of your divisions and teams are meeting those key performance indicators. Systems such as ticket support systems (CRMs) or help desk systems can help you assess and manage these metrics.

An example of this would be help desk systems such as Freshdesk or Zendesk. Internal emails within your team or external emails from your customers get converted to tickets, which can then can be measured by:

  • Time to first response
  • Total time to resolve the issue (or close the email)
  • How many emails / tickets one team or team member has received
  • How many were closed / resolved in some period of time

This is a great way to measure proportionate team load and team member performance relative to others. Metrics like this are essential to manage quality control of excellent customer service. For more information, see our blog article about how to improve customer response times and incorporate this type of tool into your business.

Salesforce is also a common tool for managing customer expectations and how your team is resolving customer expectations. However, this is can be an intensive and difficult tool to implement.

Key Performance Indicators to Enable Virtual Operations

In addition to CRM platforms, simple tools such as Excel can be an excellent way of measuring and managing your team. Never underestimate the power of Excel.

Each week, have your team or department leads complete a simple form including their top 10 core metrics. Collect these at the beginning of each week and enter them into your KPI spreadsheet to track performance. Unless you manage this level of operational quality control, virtualizing your workplace for safety can present long-term challenges. For example, see this template, where you can track and measure metrics from your team.

For managing a project or breaking down tasks within your team, there are also tools like Asana and Trello. Good project management tools provide visual task boards where you assign them to your team members and monitor daily progress.

Virtualizing your office may enable your team to communicate more effectively than they could in person. Let's prevent employees from feeling like they must co-communicate in tight spaces. This will ensure drastic improvements when answering "how do I create workplace safety" as we move into 2021.

Bryan Stouffer is a software architect who has spent his career in the Healthcare and Legal field. His passion for software comes from his desire to see professionals accelerated by computers, not hindered.