Indoor mask mandates have been lifted in all U.S. States as of March 15, except Hawaii. In Europe, many countries are also scrapping COVID-related restrictions following the gradual decline of the Omicron wave. For many, the lifting of mask mandates and other restrictions comes as a welcome relief following two brutal years of on-and-off lockdowns and other disruptions to daily routines. Others are more cautiously optimistic, hoping to avoid having to resort back to restrictive measures.

As infections drop and restrictions are lifted, many workplaces are beginning to welcome back their employees after long periods of remote work. But even as the virus’s impact seemingly drops, institutions would be ill-advised to abruptly offload the various safety protocols employed during the pandemic. Some workers may be unvaccinated for personal or health concerns, and others may have chronic diseases that put them at higher risk of a serious infection. Accommodating these employees and keeping workplaces safe needs to be a top priority for all institutions.

Reducing anxiety

Sixty-six percent of employees in the U.S. are worried about their safety when coming back to the office, according to a survey by Forbes. Each workspace has its own unique challenges with varying degrees of health-related obstacles to overcome. By prioritizing, promoting, and investing in smart and appropriate health solutions—related to the pandemic or not—companies can ease workers’ anxieties about returning to on-location jobs. For workplaces that aren’t compatible with remote work, the same procedures must be taken to ensure workers are being protected.

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed many people’s behaviour in public spaces. People are more aware of and cautious about spreading germs. Carrying a mini bottle of hand sanitizer everywhere would have been considered a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) three years ago, while now it’s expected. Employers need to recognize these changes and listen to their workers to find the right combination of both high-tech and low-tech health solutions.

By investing in the health solutions that fit a businesses’ exact needs, employees can rest easy knowing their concerns are being heard and addressed, thus leading to a more motivated and grateful workforce. This will allow business operations to continue running like well-oiled machines.

Here are several concrete steps that employers can take to protect their employees while promoting a culture of health and safety.

  • Creating a culture of health: Employees should be encouraged to stay home when they don’t feel well by creating a system of workflows that allow for their work to be covered when they need to take a couple of sick days. Additionally, this means creating awareness surrounding hand washing and other sanitation practices that affect a workforce’s overall wellbeing.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE): It’s important to keep crucial PPE supplies on-site to be distributed if needed. This includes rapid-antigen COVID tests, gloves, and other sanitation products. Being prepared for another COVID outbreak or an unforeseen health emergency is paramount.
  • Provide healthy snacks: Promoting a healthy lifestyle and culture starts with a healthy diet. Buying fruit for the office, for example, is a great way to promote a healthy diet and show appreciation.
  • Ventilation systems and air purifiers: There are many smart and innovative systems to maintain strong air quality that fit great with offices and workspaces of all types. Clean air in the office is paramount to protecting employees’ health, especially during a pandemic. Many ventilation and air purification systems leverage AI to operate more efficiently and cost-effectively.
  • Planning: It is more relevant than ever that employers not only create a culture that promotes health, but also one that develops mechanisms and protocols in case of a new COVID wave or another unforeseen health emergency. This also includes understanding workers’ health needs and problems. Having ready-to-go plans in case of a new COVID variant—or another infectious outbreak—or a workplace injury is in the best interest of both employees and employers.

Furthermore, good friends and colleagues of mine in Israel have told me that many startups are embracing the need for change in the workplace. The practical measures that they mentioned included allowing employees to work from home from time to time—especially if feeling ill—and providing rapid-antigen tests in the office to get ahead of any potential outbreak among workers. Additionally, I hear that many companies and office buildings are turning to innovative and affordable solutions to reduce risks such as remote visitor check-ins and germ-killing UV light technology.

The days of mask-wearing might be numbered, but from AI-based sanitization solutions to rapid COVID tests, smart protocols that prioritize workers’ health provide permanent value way beyond containing the virus. Adaptability is also now a mandatory business competency, not a luxury. Priorities should lie in both basic and smart tools that help businesses weather potential health risks.

Moving forward, businesses should keep an eye on the World Health Organization's COVID-19 safety recommendations, as well as those outlined by their governments. We’re all sick of masks, and we should certainly be grateful that the pandemic isn’t as bad as it used to be. But the preparation of the proper infrastructure must continue to be a priority for companies across the board—their employees, and therefore their success, depend on it.

Written by Omri Shafran, CEO of Texas Medical Technology