While the coronavirus pandemic has brought remote work into focus, many essential employees are still working on-site. Just as telecommuting has changed the way of work, on-site employment is being forced to change too, Gartner found.

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic)

“There’s been an enormous amount of attention and talk focused on ‘How do you use zoom?’ But there’s so many employees that are not actually able to work remotely that we’ve effectively forgotten about,” said Brian Kropp, chief of research for the Gartner HR practice.

“If you break these employees into three categories, there’s ones that can work remotely; there’s those that are no longer working; and there’s those that are actually still going into a workplace,” Kropp said. “That category that’s still going into the workplace is 30% to 40% of employees.”

Working on-site during a pandemic isn’t only a stressful time for the employees, but also for leaders. It brings about questions: “How do you manage them? How do you think about engaging with them? It’s incredibly important, but a very overlooked group from this perspective,” Kropp said.

While government organizations such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have provided suggestions for basic safety protocols, such as social distancing and frequent cleanings, many organizations are still in the dark for how exactly to conduct in-person business, Kropp noted.

To help HR leaders improve on-site employees’ experiences during this pandemic, Kropp outlined the following six tips to help HR professionals best manage on-site workers.

6 strategies for managing on-site employees

1. Ensure employee safety

Employers who still have workers reporting in-person should screen every individual before they enter the premises. HR and senior leaders should continue encouraging employees with symptoms to remain at home, and amend policies to ensure sick employees can stay home without losing pay, according to a Gartner press release.

Gartner also recommended limiting on-site teams to as few people as possible, providing more private spaces, and enforcing strict hygiene rules to help prevent the spread of the virus.

In addition to basic safety standards, Kropp also emphasized the importance of managing the perception of safety. People will react to this pandemic in various ways, companies should maintain composure and steer employees toward feelings of safety, Kropp added.

2. Maintain regular communication with employees

Employees are going to view the coronavirus in different manners. Some may think the virus is a hoax or not worth paying attention to, and others will take it very seriously. Regardless of beliefs, organizations must maintain clear communication with its workers, Kropp said.

Leaders should show their commitment to safety by regularly sharing helpful and fact-based information via the company’s internal employee portal or through virtual town halls. These mediums allow HR leaders to educate workers with proper courses of action should they begin showing signs of infection or come in contact with an infected individual, according to the release.

Instead of trying to offer all of the answers, Gartner suggested leaders and managers encourage employees to use trusted websites such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to gain information.

3. Ensure equitable employee policies

“Another thing that really matters is that even if you’ve got some employees working remotely and some employees still coming into the office, you need to create fairness across those two groups as much as you can,” Kropp said.

HR should review and alter company policies to ensure every employee has equal access to healthcare offerings. They should also make sure employees coming on-site for work still have access to their usual sick leave or PTO, according to the release.

Gartner suggested that once the crisis has passed, employers encourage employees working from home, or those who have accumulated leave, to donate some of that time off to create a PTO bank for those working on-site.

4. Develop employee-support solutions

“We realize right now, especially with school out, people are juggling different things with all of the uncertainty that’s out there,” Kropp said. “A lot of companies are trying to find ways to make their employees’ lives easier.”

HR leaders can provide support in numerous ways, whether it’s by dividing workers into teams that alternate work days, or providing free on-site food and snacks. Kropp said some companies are even doing the grocery shopping and dry cleaning for workers.

Organizations should also permit high risk employees–such as pregnant women, those with weakened immune systems, or those older than 65–to take paid sick leave for up to 30 days if necessary.

5. Seek employee feedback

“We’re all making it up as we’re going along. We’re listening and we’re adjusting and we’re learning, but there’s no playbook for any of this,” Kropp said. “What you have to do is consistently get feedback from those employees that are coming into the workplace to learn from them, learn what’s working, what’s not working, and what is makes them feel safe.”

Some 43% of employees in an April 2 Gartner poll said their organizations are asking managers to collect feedback from workers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This information is intended to then be shared with senior leaders, as stated in the release.

Feedback can be used to drive employee investment decisions and learn how to better deal and manage the safety and experience of on-site workers, according to the release.

6. Reward and recognize employees

Many high-level professionals in leadership have announced they are taking pay-cuts to help on-site workers. HR professionals can also show recognition by using the company’s communications channels to acknowledge employees by name for the commitment they’ve shown working during this crisis, according to the release.

“Employees, for the most part, are trying to work hard and make an impact,” Kropp said. “The problem is that everyone is moving a thousand miles an hour trying to get things done. One of the things that we often forget, as leaders of an organization, is simply to say thank you and recognize the contributions that our employees are making.”

For more, check out Robots assisting factory workers and retailers in fight against coronavirus on TechRepublic.

Image: Sompong Rattanakunchon / Getty Images

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