As the economies are gradually opening up, companies across industry verticals get ready to open their workplaces. However, the important question is whether these organizations are ready for it. And an even important factor is whether employees feel secured to come back after this hiatus.

This isn’t an easy decision to make for any business. Setting new priorities, redesigned workflows, staggered work shifts, business will never be the same like before. The safety of the employees will need a complete infrastructural overhauling. These transitional infrastructure changes will require infusion of substantial investments, primarily for large corporates with a big employee base at offices, manufacturing, warehouse, and back-end support offices setup. The immediate focus of this will have to be touch free elevators, sensor enabled doors, remodeled manufacturing floors, redesigned common facilities to ensure social distancing, sanitizing stations, safe ways to discard used gloves and masks, to name few. But these changes require time and investments.

Focusing on safety as the foremost priority, Human Resources will have to brace themselves to work on reducing employee anxiety. The employees are no doubt eager to contribute towards their workplace but at the same time, they are worried, anxious about their safety at work and how not to bring infection home.

As employees cope with this changing world, they will surely have several queries and concerns.

Firstly if it is safe to go back to office? Also If I can work from home without compromising on productivity which I did during lockdown, why am I required to go to office?

Am I required to wear a mask for the entire 8 hrs duration at work, which is practically not possible for me to do.

Also will the company conduct testing of every employee to ensure safety for everyone?

How safe are the common facilities like pantry room, cafeteria, washrooms, and conference rooms. How often these are cleaned and sanitized?

Who is ensuring that chairs and tables, desk phones, file drawers are wiped clean. Am I required to clean my desk before I start my day?

Do I get my own sanitizers, mask and gloves?

How will I maintain social distancing in the narrow passage of stairs and office corridors, etc?

Do I need to wear gloves while using common facilities? how does the company intend to keep manual office doors and washroom doors disinfected as so many people touch them daily.

In case of symptoms of flu, can I ask my manager to let me work from home.

In case I am not feeling well and need to go for a Covid test, will I get paid time off for that. Do I join office immediately or do I have to self-quarantine myself for 14 days or till I get to know the results.

What if I was tested positive, but now I am fine, do I have to produce my certificate to HR about being symptom free, and tested negative?

In case of hospitalization, am I eligible to avail short term disability?

If I catch an infection on resumption of work, will I be eligible for workers compensation, as I may have presumably caught the infection from someone in the office.

What about the confidentiality of my health information?

I am over 60 years, or have underlying health conditions that makes me vulnerable to virus, am I still required to report to work?

The above sets of questions are just a few cases in the long list of scenarios which we are dealing with. We need to carefully analyze the possibilities and prepare ourselves as we resume operations.

We may have answers for a few concerns if not all. A majority of companies are consulting employment attorneys to get the right response. For every question you will have a legal response, but you have to eventually focus on practical answers and not just legal. In these tough times, we have to be sensitive and cognizant of our employees’ concerns and respond accordingly. As we analyze the dynamics of the situation, we need to be pragmatic in our approach and surely have a real business reason to bring them back.

The organization needs to communicate to the employees on a regular basis about the necessary steps taken towards their safety and to begin with, explain in no uncertain terms the rationale behind opening the office and bringing the employees back to their workplace

Review all the state and federal laws for updated guidelines on COVID. Update employee handbooks or adopt new policies that spell out from the start the expectations and responsibilities for employees and employers.

Qualtrics is offering free COVID-19 surveys to organizations to get the pulse of their employees on returning back to work. SHRM is another great resource for you to get all the updates on local, state and Federal laws on COVID related situations plus have checklist, forms, Q&As and tool-kits for employers to refer to. Check with your Healthcare providers on behavioral health programs, payroll processing companies like ADP also have great guidance on latest updates on regulations.

Companies will have to tread very carefully and will have to follow a very balanced approach towards their obligations of keeping their employee safe and protecting their privacy rights. Communicating consistently and clearly is the key here. Leverage technology platform for sensing the pulse. Think long term, be creative, understand priorities, digitize and automate processes wherever possible. Make employee safety your utmost priority!