As a New York employer, I know it can be overwhelming to ensure you are providing a safe and compliant workplace for your employees – especially as ongoing COVID variants emerge. As the head of OnTask’s product management, I’ve helped a range of businesses meet these challenges and come away with helpful insights. Despite spanning a variety of industries and places, I find they share much in common.
Here’s an illustration. Not long ago, we helped two very different New York-based businesses implement secure health tracking systems. They could hardly have been more different: one was a law school and the other a farm-to-table business. Yet both needed essentially the same thing: a strategy to ensure a compliant, healthy environment for both employees and clients. For each, we implemented a simple, secure system – automating workflows for vaccine tracking and health screening, without a total policy or infrastructure overhaul.
We’ve found that the principle of simplicity applies to most employers’ needs. Let’s see how it might apply to yours.
It might be more helpful to start with a foundation before jumping into nuts and bolts. I have found that there are 3 key principles behind the best-laid plans. Consider these to get things off to a great start:
- Put people first – when we know a policy is really for us (not just a legal hoop), we cooperate more readily. It can be easy to forget all the technicalities of meeting compliance, but our policies really are for our employees. Create people-first procedures and communications that make this clear.
- Make it user-friendly – this pandemic has thrown us all lots of curveballs, so we want to help people feel less stressed and confused. I recommend ensuring your plan is straightforward – it’s best to avoid needless complications.
- Incentivize instead of coercing – People who feel their employer is on their side tend to be more collaborative. In my experience, it’s effective to reward employees for cooperation rather than applying negative pressure. (For example, some employers are offering PTO specially for vaccination and any needed recovery time afterward.)
With a foundation like that, you can move confidently to the nuts and bolts of a good plan. At OnTask, we’ve noticed that 4 areas seem to come up a lot in good COVID workplace strategies. Of course, there is room to customize, but consider starting simply and putting these things at the center.
1. Vaccine Tracking & Health Screening – you likely know all too well how crucial it is to remain up-to-date on employee health and COVID immunization status. Some businesses have been caught off-guard with outdated hard-copy records, and inefficiency and compliance riskiness have come back to bite them. One alternative you might consider is using an integrated platform that offers workflow automation and built-in compliance.
2. Generous PTO – it’s so important that we help employees feel secure should they fall ill or need time to get vaccinated. Providing sick and vaccination leave is a great first step. But these days, people are also facing greater needs for time off to care for loved ones and spend time together as a family. Let’s go above and beyond to meet those needs. And, this also may reduce turnover at your business!
3. Written Signage – it’s hard to underestimate the importance of maintaining awareness of crucial safety protocols like distancing, hand washing, and masking. We can help employees remember with friendly and well-placed signs throughout the building.
4. Open Communication – this ties into that people-first principle we discussed earlier. Without it, even the best-designed policies are doomed to fall flat. You can start with sound employee research in the planning stage, building two-way communication into the system. Ensure there’s a way for employees to communicate about issues and confusion, and that your communications about important updates are seen quickly.
A lot of our clients come to us with ambitious goals – this is a big part of what creates intimidation and overwhelm. But I find the best solutions are simple, so my advice is to consider something streamlined. Regardless of the solution, we find strategies offer more that integrate with your existing process and solve several problems. They are also likely to be more resilient in an unpredictable future.