As COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease across the country, federal agencies are slowly bringing employees back into the office. However, many employees who have spent several months working in a remote environment may be nervous about returning to the office, even with a hybrid approach, where both the number of people and the amount of time spent in the office is limited. Employees at some agencies have even declared they have “no confidence” in reopening plans to keep employees safe.

Agencies across DoD, Civilian, and Intelligence agencies are tackling their reopening plans differently based on their unique situations. While the Pentagon has moved to a stage where they can have 80% of their workforce back in the office, the Social Security Administration announced they will continue telework for their employees for the foreseeable future.

Whether federal teams are returning to the office full time, continuing to work in a remote environment, or using a hybrid approach, the top priority is to keep employees safe and the business of government running smoothly, all while protecting the nation’s most important technology infrastructure. Agencies need to give employees confidence in their reopening plans and overcome their fears. Here are 5 tips and tools designed to keep employees safe and working effectively when they return to the office.

Thermal Imaging Systems

According to the CDC, fever is one of the top symptoms of the COVID-19 virus. To help employees feel more confident that the office environment is safe and the colleagues they are coming in contact with aren’t spreading the virus, many organizations and other public venues are installing Thermal Imaging Systems, which detect heighted skin temperature, often caused by a fever. These machines can be installed at office entrances, and employees are screened when they enter the building.

While these machines don’t detect the cause of the fever, they can be used as a line of defense in keeping federal offices free of viruses, as people with heightened temperatures would be asked to return to their remote working environment until they no longer have a fever. They also serve to boost the confidence of employees, who know that the people coming into the office are fever-free and more likely to not be sick.

There are privacy issues associated with using the machines. Leadership teams are encouraged to weigh the risks of these privacy issues as part of developing their opening plans.

Collaboration Tools

Employees returning to the office will need to continue social distancing to keep everyone safe, but will still need to collaborate with others that are either in the office as well or working remotely. Modern collaboration tools allow employees sitting in different offices or different states to work as though they are in the same conference room.

Collaboration applications such as Webex Teams and Webex Meetings offered by Cisco allow employees the ability to instant message and participate in group chat sessions regardless of physical location. Webex also offers huddle spaces where interactive meetings can take place using virtual white boards, document sharing, and other features that allow participants to collaborate in real time from anywhere, even the office next door.

Federal agencies also have the added complexity of needing collaboration solutions that adhere to the numerous and ever-evolving federal compliance demands, including modernization requirements. If mission security is a concern for your collaboration tools, Cisco offers a FedRAMP Impact Level 2 (IL2) Webex tool for Civilian agencies along with other secure collaboration solutions. They also have HCS-D solutions designed specifically for Department of Defense agencies that offer DoD Impact Level 5 (IL5) certification. Remote workers using these tools can achieve the highest level of security as they do in the office environment.

Monitor Office Traffic

To support building a safe and trusted workspace for federal employees, many reopening plans include limits on the number of people entering the building to better support social distancing. Contact tracing also needs to be considered if an employee that has come into contact with other team members tests positive for the virus.

Cisco DNA Spaces offers rich insights into what is happening within the office environment to assist in improving the safety and health of employees and customers. The apps in DNA Spaces enable IT and facilities staff to monitor building density to ensure the number of people working in the office is at a safe and acceptable level. Leadership teams can also analyze patterns of time spent in the office and location within the building to better understand employee working behaviors. This tool is also vital for contact tracing, as you can review where employees who test positive have been within the building and who they may have come in contact with, helping to contain the spread of the virus.

Install Safety Tools Throughout the Building

Employees may be feeling overwhelmed with returning to the office after working in a remote environment for several months. Often, little gestures that demonstrate that you care about their health and safety can go a long way in boosting their confidence. Including health and wellness items such as hand sanitizing stations, self-filling water stations, and barriers in conference rooms. These tools support employee wellness and can help stop the spread of coronavirus and other viruses like the flu.

Offer Wellness Resources

The past several months have been really hard on people. The coronavirus completely altered the way we live our lives seemingly overnight. With quarantine and mask requirements, office and business closures, and children distance learning, some people may be feeling overwhelmed and having a hard time coping. As federal agencies build their reopening plans, they should consider tools and policies to help employees who may be struggling. These include flexible work schedules, especially if employees have children at home learning remotely. Some private sector organizations have even built distance learning rooms in their offices to help employees with children return to work.

Through internal communication tools, share support resources with employees. These could include contact information for mental health services, tips on staying active during quarantine, financial services resources if employees are struggling due to current economic factors, and support to help families with childcare and virtual learning needs. Supporting employees now will help with retaining them when we do return to a more “normal” state of working. With over 60% of new federal hires leaving within two years of their hire date, prior to the pandemic, developing tools to retain employees during is more important than ever.

Developing a reopening plan that includes safety and wellness considerations and communicating that plan to employees will support a safe and smooth transition back to the office.

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