Consider These 3 Scenarios Before Bringing Your Team Back to the Office

Published on June 26, 2020

Executives and business leaders face a tremendous challenge – determining when and how to bring their workforce back to the office. Of course, they are relying on an array of sources to help them make this decision, whether its government officials, medical professionals or even other business leaders in regions that are further along in their reopening plans.

What has emerged for leaders from the abundant information, recommendations and resources is the difficulty making decision during this period. The question is, who holds the ultimate responsibility to determine when and how to reopen offices? These challenging considerations stem from the level of uncertainty we face today. We do not know what the recovery from the pandemic will look like or how long it will take. We have not seen a global pandemic like this in modern times.

How we return to work

As we learn more about how the virus spreads and infects humans, three clear paths emerge for the future of the office workforce. There are several possibilities for these paths to overlap, or for companies to deploy a combination of the three approaches.

What is most important is that business leaders closely evaluate their workforce in terms of risk and talent needed before initiating difficult conversations in the name of both customer and employee safety. For instance, what might have seemed like age discrimination several months ago will become an important conversation for keeping employees and customers safe. Similarly, potentially intrusive questions about past travels and health situations will become normal, and necessary, to ask.

Scenario One: W-Shaped Recovery

In this scenario, we expect to see an oscillation of opening and retreating, much like what we’ve seen in Singapore. Companies will allow a very limited employee base to return to the office, with significant re-engineering of workspaces. Leaders will need to substantially change how they conduct business in the office to reduce vulnerabilities of disease resurgence and be rigorous in how they enforce the new rules.

For this scenario, it is imperative for business leaders to determine the level of risk with which they, and their employees, are comfortable when creating a plan for bringing people back. This may require difficult and sometimes personal conversations around health for the sake of employee safety.

Scenario Two: Effective treatments emerging

In this circumstance, treatments that are not cost-prohibitive will emerge and, as a result, mitigate much of the severe COVID-19-related health consequences – rather, the benefits of reopening will outweigh the health risks for the majority of businesses.

This scenario will still require substantial changes to the office such as limiting the number of low-risk employees permitted to return. However, the costliest options for changing the workplace will be spared when we are able to effectively treat the virus. Of course, leaders will still need to carefully evaluate their workforce with health and safety as a core focus, as many people may not be willing to come to work or

be able to show up in-person.

Scenario Three: Widespread immunity

We see widespread immunity playing out in two separate scenarios – either enough of the population contracts the illness to guarantee immunity, or a vaccine is created. In the first scenario, only cleared individuals will be able to return to work, with the requirement of having a passport or other identification to prove they are cleared. Ultimately, this is the most intrusive option for employees.

Right now, it is too early to truly consider this possibility. Antibody tests are inconsistent at best, and immunity seems to be assumed, but not guaranteed. Additionally, the legality of ongoing prohibitions against the uninfected and most at risk will likely pose new challenges, and “passports” will vary country-to-country (and even state-by-state) which will create issues for larger organizations.

What’s next?

For business leaders, the decision of when and how to bring workers back to the office depends on several factors, including the composition of employees, the types of work and physical touchpoints and whether the workplace can be reconfigured. Additionally, fostering a sense of safety must extend beyond employees to include customers as well, with strategies like adding additional sanitary procedures.

While the attitudes of employees and customers have shifted, what’s most important is ensuring the safety of both groups, which might mean an extended re-opening phase with an agile action plan to accommodate an uptick in cases, new government regulations and guidelines or the emergence of an effective treatment. For business leaders, now is the time to be present, and to act and communicate to ensure everyone is as comfortable as possible, while also making customer and employee safety a top priority.

Kerry Stover is a Grit Daily contributor and the COO of Pariveda Solutions and has over three decades of management and technology consulting experience in developing and implementing business strategies enabled by leading technology. With expertise in defining and implementing the strategy, organization, people, processes and technology required to execute meaningful business change, he has specific experience in co-creating value in his clients and companies throughout his career. Mr. Stover has delivered solutions in the areas of IT strategy, large system implementation, process management, enterprise architecture development, project management, customer relationship management and business intelligence. His industry experience includes work with high-tech manufacturing, software products, consumer products, health care, retail, not for profit and financial services clients. He possesses a unique set of skills in the delivery and administration aspects of corporate, business operations, information technology and customer support while delivering effective business process change in companies from small start-up ventures to companies in the Fortune 500.

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