COVID-19 restrictions have forced community agencies to work in very different ways over the past few months. Responses have ranged from closing, mandating that employees work from home and/or providing emergency services in safe ways. Regardless of where your agency is on the continuum, a plan for re-opening your office is a necessary step in preparing for the next phase of the pandemic response and recovery. It is essential to keep up to date on guidance from state and local health departments and follow guidelines closely, as well as to have a comprehensive plan.
This guide is designed to help you create a plan and policies that take into account the safety of your staff and those using your services, while also acknowledging that virtual services cannot fully replace in-person interactions. The goal of creating a robust plan is to balance these two needs. As with any plan, it should be evaluated frequently, and adjustments made based on new information and assessment of practices.
This guide is not exhaustive. There are several resources listed throughout with more details. In addition, the following are trusted sources for updated information:
Essential Elements of a Plan
COVID-19 Leadership Team or Point Person
• Someone, or a team of people, on your staff should be charged with monitoring all relevant guidance and information coming from trusted public health sources (CDC, MA Dept. of Public Health, local health departments)
• This person or team should report any changes or relevant information to agency leadership at least weekly (recommend daily at the start of re-opening) who can determine if changes to protocols are needed
• This person or team should also be part of the decision to open the office, either fully or partially, and close it again if there is a threat to health and safety
• Regular communication is needed with staff about policies, work expectations (home or office), safety protocols, when to stay home, sick leave, etc.
• Regular communication is needed with volunteers about what role they will play if they choose to return, including risks, new policies and procedures, and when to stay home
• Regular communication is needed with those using services about new policies and procedures, when to stay home and what services are available to them remotely and in-person
• Regular communication is needed with vendors, especially those providing cleaning and food delivery services, about new procedures and expectations
• A communication plan should include how to best reach each audience (i.e. email, phone, text, etc.) and who is responsible for communicating with each audience
• Physical space changes
o Create a cleaning plan that includes frequency and identifies which products will be used
- If you use an outside cleaning company, make sure you verify they are following best practices in frequency of cleaning and products used
o Promote physical distancing by design
- Are there ways to reconfigure workspaces to provide at least 6ft. between employees?
- If you anticipate clients using a waiting area, what is hour plan to ensure they wear masks and keep physical distance from each other?
o Common areas
- Consider eliminating non-essential “high touch” points such as coffee machines, microwave ovens and shared food
- Advise staff to avoid congregating in common areas (i.e. conference or break rooms) – if this is an ongoing issue you may need to consider closing those spaces temporarily
• Analyze your workforce and space to determine:
o How many can be in the office at one time while still maintaining the recommended physical distance?
o Which employees are a priority to return to the office?
o Which employees can or need to continue working from home?
- Those whose jobs can be done as effectively remotely as in the office
- Those who are in high-risk categories:
- Those with childcare and other caregiving responsibilities
- Those who need to be quarantined: check with local health department about who falls into this category
o Are there ways to stagger schedules so fewer staff are in the office at one time?
• Develop clear travel and off-site meeting policies for staff
• Plan for utilizing volunteers
o Are they ways to use volunteers remotely?
o If you ask them to come on-site, do you have a big enough space to maintain recommended social distancing guidelines?
o Do you have enough soap, hand sanitizer, masks, and other needed protective equipment to ensure their safety?
o Only utilize those who are not in high-risk groups and ensure they follow the same guidelines as staff if they are sick or living with someone who has tested positive
Office Access for visitors
• General guidelines
o Clear posting outside door about expectations and guidelines, which can include:
- Nobody who is sick or living with someone who has an active COVID-19 infection permitted to enter
- Everyone must wear a mask
- Everyone must wash or sanitize hands before entering the space
o Limits on how many can be in the office (or rooms within the office) at one time
• In-person meetings
o Clear communication about how many can attend at one time (follow recommendations from local and state health departments on physical distancing requirements)
o Consider which meetings are essential to be held in person, which an be done online and which can be postponed – create a process for staff to assess their meetings and make decisions in collaboration with senior leadership and/or COVID-19 response team/point person
o If you are holding a meeting, clearly communicate the visitor guidelines to all attendees prior to the meeting
• Plan for multiple scenarios of delivering services depending on public health recommendations including, but not limited to:
o Fully remote operations except for essential services
o Opening the office with strict social distancing and masks
o Gradual relaxation of social distancing measures
• Fundraising plan that considers the above scenarios
• Budget planning and contingency planning for a current lost revenue and the potential for a resurgence of the virus and re-institution of stay-at-home orders even after restrictions are initially lifted
• Contingency planning to maintain essential services if budget cuts are necessary
Basic Personal Infection Prevention Measures
• Promote frequent handwashing by ensuring supplies of soap or hand sanitizer, if running water is not readily available, are stocked
• Encourage staff and volunteers to stay home if they feel sick or if someone in their home has been exposed to the virus
o Provide employees sick and family leave if possible
• Encourage proper respiratory etiquette (i.e. coughing and sneezing into elbow or tissue)
• Encourage or require all in the office to wear masks unless they can always stay at least 6 ft. from each other
• Discourage sharing workspaces and equipment – if this is unavoidable, ensure equipment is disinfected between use
• Visuals you can post: