To Work-From-Home and Back Again
As states that were once shut down begin clearing a way for non-essential employees to return to work, many employers are firming up their plans for a return to the office. Here are a range of perspectives—including Voya, which quickly adapted to a work-from-home model, as well as Simpson Manufacturing, which remained open due to the nature of its business — that may help as you consider your plans.
Insights being applied at Voya
When COVID-19 was classified as a pandemic, and states started announcing stay-at-home orders, the vast majority of Voya employees began working from home. Now, as Voya has begun planning a phased return to its offices, gathering input from employees has been an important priority. “Early on, we established a working group with representatives from across our business and functions to determine the appropriate timing and processes for our people to safely return,” said Voya’s Chief Human Resources Officer, Kevin Silva.
“We’re making a return that is thoughtful and gradual, in order to prioritize the health and safety of our employees, contractors, families and clients,” Silva continued. The return includes inviting a small wave of employees back to their offices to this summer, along with other waves of employees in the fall.
As employees return, they’ll find new protocols in place, such as the use of face coverings and social distancing requirements/signage in communal areas and other parts of offices, and recommendations that meetings remain virtual whenever possible. Cafeteria and workout facilities will remain closed.
Both onsite and remote employees will continue receiving a broader range of resources to help them through the COVID-19 pandemic. Prescription delivery and virtual visits are available through Voya’s health plans; back-up and crisis care for children and adults have been made available; and more flexibility with paid time off has been granted.
In addition, employees enrolled in the Critical Illness Insurance offered by Voya Employee Benefits may be eligible for an Infectious Disease benefit if they contract COVID-19. And all employees have access to the services provided by Wellthy®, which includes support from care coordinators who can help with food and medication delivery, plus other services such as working on back-up plans for treatments like dialysis, chemotherapy, oxygen delivery, and more if they become unavailable due to the pandemic.
“We’re thankful for the perseverance of our office-essential and work-from-home teams during this challenging time,” Silva said. “It’s all allowed us to keep our employees, contractors, customers and their families safe.”
Lessons learned from an essential business
Pleasanton, CA-based Simpson Manufacturing is one of a number of U.S. businesses deemed essential due to the nature of their business, so they needed to learn to adapt early on. “While we did send our nonessential office staff to work from home, in most cases, our manufacturing has continued to produce,” said Galahad Dong, a member of the Voya Employer Insights Panel and Simpson’s director of HR Systems and Total Rewards.
“Now, as these lockdown restrictions have eased, we've actually already started phasing employees back to work,” Dong continued. “Some of our locations are completely back on some sort of flex schedule. Others might be back in limited capacity.”
Before re-opening, each branch needs to complete a checklist of requirements. “The first thing we ask is, ‘Does the county or state order allow you to bring non-essential office employees back?’” Dong said. “Next is from a safety standpoint; there are certain standards each branch needs to put in place. They have to document what their sanitation schedule is. They have to document what they're doing in terms of increased sanitation frequency, how they're providing disinfectant for common areas or common touchpoints like a forklift’s steering wheel, for example. All of that has to be documented.”
Like many other businesses, Simpson is also using best practices such as a plethora of signage reminding employees of safety best practices, required training for any employee being asked to return to the office, staggered work shifts/lunch breaks, flexible work schedules, required social distancing or face coverings when the former cannot be accommodated and temperature checks. Again, each branch is documenting specifics — down to the location of the entrance where temperature checks will take place — and submitting their plans before they’re approved to re-open.
Should an employee become exposed to COVID-19, in the workplace or elsewhere, they will also benefit from increased leave options put in place by the organization. “For our employees in the United States, we provided an amendment to our time off and leave of absence policy,” Dong said.
Their amendment included an additional 80 hours of sick pay; 100% wage replacement for individuals who have to quarantine due to potential or actual exposure to the virus while at the workplace; and the option to take up to four weeks of unpaid, protected job leave if needed — whether or not they are eligible for FMLA coverage.
“When it comes to returning employees to the office, we've been fortunate as an essential business,” Dong said. “We were able to learn from all the things that we continually put in place to protect our existing production employees, and apply them to the rest of our business.”