“all survey participants (95%) said that face-to-face meetings are essential to building long term business relationships.”
As vaccination rates have increased to 50% in the USA, we are now in a position to think through reopening and getting back on the road to meet customers.
However, how can we reopen while minimizing risk in a cost-effective manner? What are the best practices, and how can we broaden access to those solutions?
While the desire is to return to “normal” as quickly as possible, the reality is that the workplaces employees return to in 2021 will not look like the ones they left in 2020.
The companies that are thoughtful about safety, flexibility, and clear communication will have the most success as we enter another period of profound change.
What we have learned and developed in a short 12 month
With the new mRNA vaccine technology, we can hope for:
1) More effective flu vaccines that more accurately match the most virulent strains.
2) More effective social and behavioral norms that reduce transmission in any pandemic
We will have to continue to monitor, especially for the new strains. Our surveillance system has to be a global effort, and if it is done effectively, we can move from pandemic to endemic. COVID-19 is something we have to be able to live with.
Wearing masks when traveling may be something that some individuals will elect to continue to do also after they are vaccinated to reduce the risk of getting infected with a novel strain where the current vaccine is less effective.
People with risk factors (such as cancer patients, as chemo kills the immune system), people with autoimmune diseases, and people taking certain types of immune suppressant drugs may not mount an effective antibody response to the vaccine and will have to continue to take precautions.
Finally, we have now developed several effective treatments that can expand the treatment toolbox when someone gets infected and seriously ill and reduce the seriousness of the illness.
With all of the above tools in the toolbox; vaccine, drugs, masks in some situations, we can start thinking through how to reopen safely.
How to get back to work post-COVID-19 pandemic
Management needs to understand federal, local, and state regulations before opening, and then create a plan for maintaining the safety of employees when they return to work.
The regulations are constantly changing in response to the situation, so establishing a team that can respond and implement policies will be a good practice.
In the following, we will touch upon the main issues that need to be addressed in such a plan.
Can you mandate employees to get vaccinated?
Employers can mandate their employees to get vaccinated if it is imperative for the job. However, there are circumstances in which the employee can ask for an exception from this requirement.
The two exceptions are religious beliefs and medical exemptions.
The question of whether you can mandate employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine is similar to when employers require employees to get the influenza vaccine.
“An employee may be entitled to an exemption from a mandatory vaccination requirement based on an ADA disability that prevents him from taking the influenza vaccine….
Similarly, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, once an employer receives notice that an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance prevents him from taking the influenza vaccine, the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless it would pose an undue hardship.
Should employees file for one of these exemptions, employers should be able to make accommodations to fit the needs of their employees without undue hardship.
If an employee were to refuse to get vaccinated without meeting one of the exemption requirements, it is up to the employer whether or not to terminate their employment.
Businesses should contact their lawyers for further guidance on requiring vaccines for employees.
The impact on productivity
Online conferencing tools such as Zoom got American businesses through the pandemic. As time goes on, employees are starting to feel the effects of how working remotely can turn out to be counterproductive.
According to a study done by Vocon 40% of businesses saw decreases in productivity while employees were working from home. Moreover, 25% of businesses also reported that their employees were burned out from working remotely.
These statistics show that many employees have suffered a loss of productivity working remotely during the pandemic, which can negatively impact a business.
Not only does remote work affect productivity, but it also affects employees’ abilities to create new business relationships.
Steps that can reduce the risk of COVID19 spread in the office
We learned how to get things done remotely, saving on everything from time for traveling and childcare costs. Thus, employers could greatly benefit from adopting a more flexible back-to-the-office policy, enabling employees to choose how they want to balance their in-office and out-of-office work hours.
Some simple steps to reduce the risk of an outbreak
- Ask employees to submit a negative COVID-19 test report before returning to work for the first time.
- Encourage unvaccinated employees as well as anybody at risk for COVID-19 to wear a mask.
- Enable social distancing and promote frequent hand sanitizing/washing.
- Provide good air circulation by installing air purifiers or filters in the office.
- Reduce the number of people working at a time by planning rotational shifts at the workplace.
- Limit physical meeting sizes and the number of people in a conference room.
- Make sure that employees stay home if they or one of their family members are sick. Ask for a negative test before they return to the office.
- Clean the workspaces frequently, and do not share any equipment, desk, or space unless it is thoroughly sanitized.
- Reduce non-essential travel, especially to places where there are high infection rates, and make sure the traveling employee gets tested after returning from a trip, before showing up in the office.
Employees should be encouraged and for some businesses mandated to receive the vaccine, as it is the most effective way to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
Incentives such as a day off or other monetary incentives have been deployed by some employers.
Testing your employees is another significant step in reducing the spread.
Considerations for selection of COVID19 testing program
Use a PCR-based test that is accurate and FDA EUA-approved for asymptomatic screening. A lot of rapid tests are not sensitive enough to detect asymptomatic individuals nor are they approved for that purpose.
Genomic Expression offers an integrated and scalable COVID-19 PCR testing platform that allows you to effectively limit the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection among employees.
Our online COVID19 management platform enables you to enroll and test your employees while maintaining an overview from a dashboard in a regulatory-compliant manner that includes vaccination status. If we detect any positive cases, a health care provider will follow up automatically. COVID-19 is a key component of an effective strategy for businesses getting back in the office or back on the road meeting customers. The test is simple: spit in a tube, send it to our lab, and within 24 hours the test results are available online and are also automatically sent to the employee directly, while you maintain an overview from a dashboard.
We entered into a collaboration with Yale University/Saliva Direct, who have proved that saliva is just as effective a sample type as the nasopharyngeal (NP) swab, which requires a healthcare worker to administer it. Most importantly, our test is approved by an FDA EUA for unsupervised self-collection and screening of asymptomatic individuals. Finally, it reduces collection errors from swabs.