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The COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its toll on the global economy, forcing businesses and the people within them to adapt to significant work and lifestyle changes. While the trajectory of confirmed cases differs around the world, many businesses are looking to the future. Work may never be the same again, but careful planning on the return to work can help transition to the new normal.
The pandemic is forcing companies and their talent leaders to rethink their current business and talent practices. According to Harvard Business Review, there’s an unprecedented opportunity for companies to move talent where it’s needed most. Kroger, for example, borrowed furloughed employees for 30 days from a wholesale food distributor, while Bank of America temporarily converted 3,000 existing employees into positions to field calls from consumers and small business customers. Such moves emphasize how talent is used to solve current, pressing business challenges.
At the same time, companies are looking to the future. For a company to come back from the pandemic stronger than ever, research from McKinsey suggests focusing on four strategic areas: recovering revenue, rebuilding operations, rethinking the organization, and accelerating the adoption of digital solutions. To rapidly recover, businesses must swiftly identify revenue opportunities, redesign operations and supply chains for resilience, rethink how to work and grow, and embrace digital solutions.
Beyond these strategic areas, businesses will need to develop a return to work plan that focuses on the health and safety of employees. A 3-step approach from Cooley recommends starting by establishing rules and the overall organizational approach. This could entail designating a point person or team of employees with expertise in HR, IT, and building operations to draft the plan. This team will need to be well-versed in overall return to work orders throughout various jurisdictions, knowing when, where, and to what extent returning to work is legal.
Next, understand that the recent shift to more remote, online work will trigger conversations about which roles can continue to be performed remotely and which need to return to the work site immediately. Employers making these plans will find that some employees may still have caretaking obligations or live in more at-risk jurisdictions. After this, the last step focuses on those who can return to the office. A safe and effective return to work plan will consider whether to require face masks, temperature checks, increased social distancing, more frequent office space cleanings (or an entirely reconfigured office set-up), and limiting in-person meetings or visitors.
Businesses can also use the Center for Disease Control’s Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers as they develop their own return to work plans. The CDC notes that it’s important to prevent stigma and discrimination by not making determinations based on an employee’s race or country of origin, and to maintain the confidentiality of those with confirmed cases of COVID-19. Above all, employers should be flexible and considerate, focusing on activities in three key areas: reducing transmission among employees, maintaining healthy business operations, and maintaining a healthy work environment.
As businesses return to work around the world, understanding the need for a thorough and safe return to work plan is just the first step. Proper planning that takes employee health and safety above all else will ensure that employees can return to work smoothly, and that business operations can adapt to a new normal.
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