COVID-19 Updates

Back to the Future: What’s the New Normal When We Go Back to Work?

May 6, 2020


As many organizations continue to operate remote workforces in order to abide by stay-at-home government mandates and follow the broad best practice for keeping employees safe, planning is underway for how to safely return to work. Cross-functional teams — from human resources to compliance and facilities — are evaluating approaches for migrating back to their buildings. These plans and pending adaptations range from the basics of staggering employees’ worksite-return dates to deploying the latest in wearable technology.

Such strategies to mindfully reenter and remain safely operational in offices or shared-space work environments (e.g., production/manufacturing areas, laboratories, warehouses, construction sites) include, but are not limited to:

  • Automated body-temperature screening at entry points through thermal, infrared-technology cameras
  • Door openings prompted by a foot-tap interaction with a button vs. a typical trigger at hand-level
  • Cubicle and workspace reconfiguration, separating employee desks in accordance with social-distancing guidelines
  • Testing employees for COVID-19 antibodies
  • Wearable tech (e.g., wristbands, necklaces), which:
    • Alerts the wearer to a fellow employee being too close when two devices come within six feet
    • Provides contact-tracing to determine wearers who have been in proximity of one another, displaying a dashboard of interaction data for organizations to determine employees’ exposure
    • Shares real-time employees’ health statuses through a function for wearers to report their health changes to trigger immediate implementation of the organization’s response (e.g., personnel notification, quarantine procedures, area sanitization)
  • First allowing certain groups or individuals back based on essential job function or need for worksite resources, followed by an approach to allow subsequent groups back, in phases, one at a time

To the last point, for some companies, like Zillow, having a phased reentry means devoting an entire phase — the remainder of 2020 — to keeping their employees working at home. The phased reentry approach’s minimal associated expenditures and setup in the form of system installations, workspace adaptions, facility reconfigurations, etc., may make it the most popular practice employed; however, the business environment will dictate if some of the technologies cited mean a better return on investment (ROI) and may be cause for greater employee wellbeing. For instance, for any facility welcoming frequent visitors or customers, a phased re-entry of their personnel will only have protective effects in the short term. If automated temperature screenings can be applied to any vendor, customer, or person walking through a business’s door from henceforth (to ensure no one enters with a fever), that will keep everyone safe and assured in the long term.

In search of solutions, one Global Fortune 500’s HR leadership is essentially crowd-sourcing ideas for avoiding virus spread from its employee base, which goes to show there is no roadmap at an organization’s disposal to navigate through responding to a global disruption of this nature.

What these products, plans, and practices all demonstrate is how the collective “we” of organizational thought leaders, employees of all levels and functions, and members of society, are building and anticipating best-practice responses as we go along. While it may have required a global pandemic to catch on, the advanced and widespread levels of collaboration and agility present in these approaches will result in safer work conditions and businesses better versed in operating nimbly, the latter of which proves an ever-growing factor for sustained success in our changing global environment.