When to bring your people back to work—four issues to decide when and how
With so much conflicting and sometimes vague guidance on when to bring people back to work as part of the Great Reboot of your enterprise, how do you make the decision for your own team? What’s needed is a rigorous way to disentangle issues and address each one in an orderly way. Through analysis with the IT consulting firm Pariveda, we’ve distilled four key issues to sort through as you determine the right policies for your circumstances, covering not only when to come back but also how to conduct that work when it resumes.
To begin, we need to recognize that we can’t predict the future with certainty, and so you should consider the major issues as they appear in three distinct scenarios:
Scenario 1 – W-shaped Recovery: We expect that the return to more normal conditions will be sporadic and non-linear, with advances followed by renewed outbreaks and contraction. Already, we have seen this scenario play out in countries such as a Singapore. The greatest certainty will be flux.
Scenario 2 – Effective Treatment Emerges: In this scenario, we see the early beginnings of effective treatment, as with remdesivir, built upon over time to become increasingly impactful. The consequences of developing COVID thereby become less dire. There will still be risks, but for certain individuals they may be more tolerable.
Scenario 3 – Broadening Immunity: In some major cities such as Boston, we are already seeing over 10% of randomly-tested inhabitants displaying coronavirus antibodies. As more and more people develop these antibodies, and if they prove both long-lasting and effective at preventing future infection, a significant population of at least somewhat immune individuals will emerge. This scenario would also potentially apply if an early vaccine proves safe but not entirely effective.
Then, consider how to address four key issues. We’ll see in a moment how the scenarios, and your distinct circumstances, might affect your answers:
Issue 1 – How Fast to Return? This is the question which seems to get the most attention these days, but it’s far from settled. For your particular workplace, how quickly should which people come back to work? Should they come in distinct shifts to minimize cross-exposure? Should there be different policies for the most vulnerable employees?
Issue 2—How Much to Re-Engineer the Workplace? Employers have been trying to re-arrange workplaces to various degrees, from marking off personal space to Boeing giving staff red cards to anonymously call attention to safety violations. With the duration of the pandemic unknown, and with some aggregation points like hallways and restrooms possibly unavoidable, the right decisions vary on both scenarios for the pandemic and the circumstances laid out below.
Issue 3 – How Much to Transform Work? This topic covers not just workplace safety, but resiliency issues such as how much to diversify your supplier base, cross-train employees, and otherwise reduce the ways that COVID can quickly devastate your business.
Issue 4 – How Intrusive to Be? Are you willing to take employees’ temperatures as they report to work? If antibodies prove to be effective in stopping disease, are you willing to check their antibody status (where the law allows)? What unintended consequences might emerge, like people intentionally exposing themselves to the coronavirus so they can develop antibodies and eventually come back to work early?
Choosing your right response within each cell of this grid depends upon your circumstances, of course. Some key contexts to think through are:
- How critical is it for your employees to be at work? How viable is continued remote work? What are some of the knock-on effects, like impeding hiring because it’s harder to onboard staff remotely? How does this vary among staff types, and is it possible to have different policies for different roles in the organization?
- Does the workplace contain unavoidable risks of contact, like in-person services or places where people will inevitably be in close quarters?
- Is your workplace relatively easy to reconfigure?
- Are your customers insisting on knowing your workplace safety? Is there any way to certify that you’re doing all you can to keep your employees and customers safe?
- How willing are you to be intrusive? We are already taking steps that would be unconscionable in years past, such as insisting on knowing about customers’ and employees’ health status. How far are you willing to go?
- What are your employees’ and customers’ attitudes toward risk? Do you need to eliminate all risk, or are your best efforts good enough?
Knowing the answers to these questions provides a compass heading which makes addressing the issues in the grid more straightforward. These times confront us with tough challenges on many fronts, but this sort of rigorous approach enables detailed reasoning through distinct issues given specific circumstances. It makes a logical response both more possible and sustainable.