The scale of the COVID-19 disruption to what had long been normal working arrangements has been unprecedented. Take remote work: an early April 2020 MIT survey revealed that nearly a third of all workers in the U.S. who had been employed the month before were working from home, up from five percent in 2017.
In Australia, the increase was even starker. According to a Gartner HR survey, a staggering 88 percent of organizations had encouraged or required employees to work from home due to the coronavirus, up from a baseline of six percent.
Given these rates, the intended return to on-site premises represents business risk of its own. Back to work, therefore, requires just as much foresight and planning as any other crisis scenario. How, then, to achieve a smooth transition to return to work during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Start with a dedicated team – after all, team-driven operational planning is central to most successful crisis responses and recoveries. What to do, exactly? Choose a coordinator and/or team and task them with defined roles and responsibilities for preparing to return back to work.
Often, crisis response teams include representatives from the Board, C-suite, Communications, Legal, Operations, Finance, HR, Facilities, and IT. Having a representative from the Safety and/or Risk team makes sense, as well, when addressing the recovery aspects of the COVID-19 crisis.
The primary asset the planning team will deliver is the return-to-work plan, outlining roles, responsibilities, and duties, both for your organization’s representatives, as well as interested third-party stakeholders (like suppliers). Given the plan’s centrality to the return to work effort, it’s critical to consider that plan’s purpose and scope. Goals and objectives will vary depending on a few factors, e.g. industry, local lockdown rules, available resources, and employee appetite for returning to work.
On the changing compliance environment: jurisdictions have been taking a phased approach to easing up on lockdown orders, rather than eliminating them all at once. Once those restrictions no longer apply, though, a resurgence of cases might trigger new closures.
Jurisdictions have also put out guidance on what constitutes safe reopening for businesses, for which your plan should account. It will be the employer’s responsibility to heed that guidance – part of the employer’s broader duty of care obligation to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
The safety considerations will be myriad. And so, it will be vitally important to get Facilities Management (and building management, if relevant) on board the crisis effort, as most regulators are recommending enhanced cleaning and disinfection of work premises before staff returns to work.
Further, it might be ill-advised to bring your entire workforce back to work all at once. If you opt to stagger re-entry, though, you will want to determine which group of workers will return first. Also, it might not make sense to reintroduce whole functions back to the office at once. Instead, you might consider segmenting teams and phasing re-entry.
Finally, the bulk of the planning effort will consist of devising and implementing measures to protect workers once they have come back, many of which might have already been mandated by relevant health authorities. Those crisis measures are most likely to look like the following:
|Support hand hygiene habits||
|Monitor and report||
That’s not the half of it, though. Returning staff on site in the midst of an active pandemic introduces just as much risk as the original decision to vacate your premises. As such, the effort will take careful crisis planning. For more best-practice crisis planning tips, download our guide to developing your back to work plan.