October 2, 2020

How Government Employees Can Safely Return To Office


Across the country, businesses and organizations are turning to their state and local governments for guidance on best practices to ensure safety and compliance while maintaining accurate and efficient operations as states prepare to reopen. However, while government agencies are engrossed in helping their local communities, some may have neglected to prepare their own workforces and offices for a safe return to work.

The public sector, like most industries, was greatly impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. As case numbers across the country rose, many of these employees found that the nature of their work had changed in some capacity—research found that 74% of state and local government employees worked remotely, compared to 24% of employees who were able to do so in 2019.

To meet safety and compliance standards, state and local government agency leaders can implement the following best practices before their employees return to the office.

1. Ensure employee safety with limited common surfaces
As employees make their way back to shared workspaces, there are concerns about common surfaces and cross-contamination, such as timeclocks, elevator buttons and door handles. In the case of timeclocks, agency leaders may consider leveraging technology, including barcode or proximity badge-reading clocks that allow for employees to perform operations without touching the screen, or apps that enable employees to check in on their mobile devices. By investing in solutions that eliminate, or at least limit, these shared surfaces, leaders can foster peace of mind.

2. Trace and identify potential symptoms and exposure
With contact tracing efforts ramping up and procedures such as temperature checks becoming the norm, government agencies can leverage technology that provides the ability to collect and track employee temperatures, helping the agency identify when an employee may be too ill to work. Stored location information can be used for contact tracing and alert employees when they may have been exposed to a colleague showing symptoms of COVID-19. This way, agency leaders can work to contain the potential spread of illness and prioritize the health of employees.

3. Engage employees with surveys to facilitate well-being
As employees return to work, it’s important for agency leaders to gauge their demeanor and check on their physical health to improve working conditions and address employee concerns. Even though the primary role for state and local government agencies is to focus on helping constituents, government employees must also consider their own well-being. By asking questions related to exhibiting symptoms of illness, surveying employee attitudes towards work and safety precautions and ensuring that workplace safety policies were respected, leaders can engage in real-time feedback to improve the work environment.

4. Adapt schedules quickly
Although offices may be reopening, agency leaders should expect that their workforce will need flexibility in the coming months, especially if more employees fall ill. Additionally, if an agency leader finds that there may have been an exposure, it might be needed to adapt and change schedules quickly to ensure shift needs are met while prioritizing employee safety. With technology solutions that enable teams to run and view reports of current schedules, leaders are better able to make rapid changes and notify employees of schedule alterations or conflicts.

5. Ensure compliance
Now, more than ever, government agencies need to maintain compliance with the Family Medical and Leave Act (FMLA) if an employee or employee’s family member gets sick. Leveraging easy-to-process-and-approve solutions that allow employees to build customizable cases and submit requests for approved absences—as well as summary and detail reports for these requests—leaders are freed up to focus on more constituent-critical issues.

6. Measure and manage inefficiencies
To ensure operations run smoothly, agency leaders must be able to review and measure any inefficiencies while accounting for a safe workplace. There are technological solutions available that allow leaders to track, analyze and manage inefficiencies ranging from period totals, breakdowns and summaries; jobs worked; leave and accrual balances; and scheduled shifts. Investing in these types of solutions allows management to understand where improvements can be made while keeping employees safe.

COVID-19 has created an unfortunate “new normal,” and as such, government agency leaders should act now to implement best practices and policies that ensure employee safety and well-being. Investing in technological solutions that can manage compliance-related tasks, or getting the most value out of the systems you might already have, helps leaders focus their attention on priority issues such as tracing and identifying potential exposure, changing schedules when needed and surveying how employees are feeling—both physically and mentally. And, by leveraging automated systems that create efficiencies, government agencies and their employees can focus on the most important part of their job: taking care of constituents.

This article also appeared on the Gov Loop blog. Eric Thurston is the CEO of TimeClock Plus, a market-leading workforce management software company. Eric has a track record of leading companies through critical, transformative moments in their history and has enabled many of the world’s leading organizations to leverage technology solutions to drive business performance. Eric has a wealth of experience in the software industry and previously served as the President and CEO of Personify. He has also held leadership roles at Mitratech, P2 Energy Solutions, Oracle and SAP. He lives in Austin and enjoys boating, hiking and fishing with his family.