Return to the Workplace: The Numerous and Nuanced Decisions for Employers (i4cp login required)


65% of organizations have dedicated teams or task forces
in place charged with return to the workplace strategy

Nearly all employers are planning for a phased return to
the workplace and staggered schedules; 63% will provide employees who have
childcare responsibilities with special consideration and enhanced flexibility

Many in the media and in governments at all levels are
increasingly talking of how and when to “get America back to work again.” Naturally
for companies that have had to suspend operations, this is an urgent question. For
those (and far more) organizations where work never stopped because employees
continued to work from home, the broader question is how to plan for a return
to the traditional workplace.

The focus of the most recent survey by the Institute for
Corporate Productivity (i4cp), which gathered over 300 responses from HR
leaders of companies with 1,000 or more employees, is a look at how employers plan
to navigate returning employees to the workplace.

The survey explores the many nuances of this undertaking,
such as the high-level guidelines provided by governors, who ultimately
determine how and when people come back to their traditional workplaces, as
well as other concerns and considerations.

Most organizations have deployed a planning strategy—nearly two-thirds
(65%) of respondents indicated their organization already has a dedicated team
or task force charged with its return to the workplace strategy, and another
26% noted their organization is considering it.

These teams or task forces are a shared responsibility of
the executive leadership team in 37% of organizations. In terms of the makeup
of the teams, the most common individual role involved is the Chief Human
Resources Officer (72%), followed by the corporate communications leader (57%),
select business unit leaders (53%), general counsel / legal (48%), and the
environmental health & safety leader (41%). A wide range of other key positions
are variously involved including the CEO, CFO, top IT leader, corporate real
estate leader, and many others.

Respondents universally said their organizations will follow
the guidelines set by the respective governors and leaders in each global geography.
But those guidelines are high-level and are only a starting point, leaving numerous
and complex decisions up to each employer.

The importance and impact of return to the workplace
decisions are increasingly consuming more energy among senior leadership teams;
up to 65% of survey respondents said that this is consuming 25% of the
collective energy of leadership, and 31% reported that up to 50% or more of
their senior leadership’s collective energy is focused on this monumental task.

One concern expressed by many respondents is the desire to
avoid a premature return to the workplace, and the potential of having to close
down the workplace again should the virus reignite, etc.

A common dilemma is the question of what is best done in the
traditional workplace vs. what can be done well (or in some cases, more
productively) from home. Employers are also very focused on how to make
employees feel safe, even if that means taking steps beyond what is
necessary for them to actually be safe, as it is perceptions and
feelings that will ultimately keep engagement, morale, and productivity high.

Almost universally, survey respondents said that their
organizations are likely to have a phased return to the workplace strategy,
with employees coming back in waves based on a variety of factors. In terms of
communication, some noted it will amount to phases of allowing, encouraging,
and then later recommending a return, spread out over weeks if not months.

Some indicated they are considering staggered returns to the
workplace, using shift rotations for morning/evening or by day of the week, in
order to limit the total number of employees at the workplace at any one time.
Some are prioritizing critical roles, while being careful with messaging so
that all employees continue to feel valued. And for some organizations, there
are important geographic considerations, with different plans for cities with
mass transit and elevators in tall buildings vs. locations with flatter
campuses and most employees driving themselves to work.


Survey respondents made clear that some employees might need
special consideration as part of an organization’s return to the workplace
strategy. Nearly two-thirds indicated that employees with childcare
responsibilities would garner some special consideration, with the top two
approaches being flexibility in allowing them to continue to work remotely or
allowing for flexible work schedules where possible (i.e., ability to adjust
days and hours.)

Other groups most likely to be given special consideration
included employees with eldercare responsibilities (45%), employees who never
stopped working onsite (43%), employees in customer-facing roles (42%) and, not
surprisingly, employees who have tested positive for COVID-19.

What exactly organizations might do to help ensure workplace
safety, in terms of policy or protocol changes, is still very fluid and varies
widely across organizations. The most common measures cited are the most
obvious measures—requiring work from home for anyone who is or has been ill
(82%), increasing the frequency of cleaning services (76%), and requiring
self-quarantine for anyone who has traveled to an area of concern (69%).

protocol changes during the return to work

Several other common strategies cited focus on ways to
implement social distancing at the workplace, including staggering schedules to
manage worker congestion (75%), creating policies that address physical contact
such as handshakes or high fives (75%), limiting the number of in-person
meetings or people attending such meetings (68%), limiting the number of people
allowed in common areas such as break rooms or cafeterias (61%), and
reconfiguring personal workspaces (58%). 

Download the full survey results—due to the
current global health and productivity crisis affecting everyone, i4cp is
making all related ongoing research publicly available. 

We also encourage you to visit for
other employer resources including discussion forums, next practices, useful
resources, and more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.