Colleges and universities across the country are the latest coronavirus hotspots and are providing business leaders a lesson in how to approach their own re-openings.
Just last week, The New York Times reported these higher education institutions recorded more than 36,000 additional COVID-19 cases. Total campus infections have climbed to 88,000 since the pandemic started.
Let’s examine where colleges have gone wrong and what businesses can do instead to get re-openings right.
Experts say there are a variety of reasons why these campuses haven’t contained the spread of the virus. Among them:
- Lack of comprehensive testing protocols
- Close living quarters in dorms
- Human nature to socialize
Aside from not opening a campus at all and having coursework completed entirely online, there is very little evidence to suggest colleges can keep the coronavirus from creeping in. This correlation also holds true for businesses, and that’s why many of them who are able to do so continue to operate remotely. But there will soon come a time when some businesses need to reopen their brick-and-mortar offices and recall employees.
We can look to how colleges have stumbled to stop the spread of the virus to help construct ways businesses can mitigate the same risk. Here are three lessons businesses can learn from colleges that have re-opened.
1. Aggressive Testing Strategy
The colleges and universities that have launched rigorous testing and tracing programs have been much more successful at fighting COVID-19 transmissions than schools who have not deployed comprehensive testing. Aggressive testing may not stop the virus entirely, but it certainly slows it down and gives contact tracers important data they may need to identify and contact people who may have been exposed to the virus. Testing can also help identify people who may be asymptomatic and unknowingly infecting others with COVID-19.
In short, widespread testing for businesses keeps your employees and your clients or visitors safe. Testing is the most effective tool at identifying who may have the coronavirus, and when combined with contact tracing, provides businesses an essential method of limiting the virus’ spread. While there is a cost associated with implementing regular COVID-19 testing for your employees, it’s a minimal investment when compared to the impact a large outbreak could have on your employees’ health and safety, your business’ output, and ultimately, its bottom line.
2. Physical Distancing Guidelines
Dorm life is proving to be a tough challenge for colleges trying to combat COVID-19. Michigan State University closed on-campus housing to try to prevent housing outbreaks that had already impacted other colleges nationwide. The last-minute decision affected nearly 40,000 students, leaving many in precarious living situations.
Other institutions like Unity College in Maine that responded proactively to the virus by closing its campus and notifying students early enough, actually saw a noticeable increase in enrollment.
What this shows businesses is twofold:
- Physical and social distancing is still necessary to protect your employees and customers. Maintaining CDC guidelines of being six feet apart from other people who are not from your household is critical to prevent the spread of the virus. An office that is re-opening is not unlike a dorm – you are inviting people who are not from the same household into a confined and usually close-knit area. It’s imperative businesses implement some sort of physical distancing guidelines and work station configuration that helps employees maintain safe spacing.
- There is an emotional component when employees feel their employer has worked diligently to protect their personal safety. In the case of Unity College, its early decision-making and communication fostered a sense of loyalty in its existing student body and attracted new students. Businesses who work to protect employee safety could experience the same type of loyalty from its workers, and even use their risk mitigation efforts as a talent acquisition and public relations strategy.
3. Account for Human Behavior
Humans are social creatures. We crave interaction, communication, and simply being in the presence of other people. It’s in our nature, and when forced into social isolation, we may rebel.
That’s what may be happening on hundreds of college campuses where young people are gathering in massive numbers to, honestly, celebrate the return to school and their “normal” lives. They’re experiencing COVID-19 burnout and their still-developing brains can’t process how to live in isolation in an environment designed for social interaction.
And some people argue, it’s not the students’ faults for rising COVID-19 numbers. It’s that administrators haven’t done enough to properly devise campus living guidelines, health and safety protocols, and build in enough socially distanced student activities. If students were re-introduced into an environment where physical distancing was already built-in, health and safety protocols were clearly communicated beforehand and during orientation, and were provided enough socially distanced stimulation that they wouldn’t need to resort to massive maskless parties, this current wave of coronavirus cases at colleges could’ve been greatly reduced.
Translating this into an enterprise environment, we can see that it’s essential businesses have a robust, thoughtful, and clearly communicated employee health and safety program implemented before requesting employees return to the workplace. Tools like testing, temperature screening, contact tracing, physical distancing measures, and mask policies are big changes for employees. It’s important employees are given the time to process these changes and the opportunity to ask questions about how to best follow the new protocols. This level of transparency delivered ahead of time creates a culture of trust between employers and employees.
A backend program like EBI’s Workplace Health and Safety can take the guesswork out of how to implement a standardized return-to-work protocol. This comprehensive solution provides temperature screening, contact tracing, social distancing monitoring, and operations and risk management in accordance with CDC guidelines, all in one platform.
EBI Advocates for You
We strive to always advocate for your business goals. If you’re looking to get an “A” on your return-to-work strategy, EBI can help.