When to Bring Employees Back to the Office

BY Kathy Crosett
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I wrote yesterday on the topic of creating a plan-​ahead team to develop new business strategies in the age of COVID-​19. Business leaders also must consider how and when to bring employees back to the office. The social distancing mandate we’ve been living under has shown that nearly 67% of jobs can be done from a home office, at least for a few months. Still, many managers and team members miss the camaraderie of office life.

In many regions, state and local government officials will lay out broad guidelines about restarting the economy and allowing people to return to their offices. That action may happen sooner than later. As we’ve all been told, the likelihood of a second or third virus outbreak is high. More hot spots will occur, so it won’t be business as usual.

What will be different for so many leaders will be that they will be dealing for the first time with major human physical safety issues — life or the possibility of death,” writes Edward Hess, professor of business administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden Graduate School of Business. We are all going to be extremely nervous if an employee shows up at the office with a cold. 

While your business insurance policy may stipulate some risk management protocols that you’ll want to follow, you need to let your employees know how to behave and what to expect as they return to the job site. Now’s the time to talk with your HR folks and develop guidelines.


If employees don’t feel well, encourage them to work from home. But if you suspect they are gaming the system, encourage them to get tested for COVID-​19. In addition, some of your employees may continue to feel stressed about the outbreak. Remind them to reach out to any mental health services you’ve made available. Be mindful of employees who may have weakened immune systems and need to continue to work from home.

At-​Work Behavior

The corporate kitchen and lunchroom can be great places for people and germs to congregate. Hold a meeting before your staff members return to work and explain the expected kitchen etiquette — such as wiping down surfaces after heating up a meal. Ask employees to load their own dishes into the dishwasher if appropriate. Encourage them to maintain distance between each other when they are eating at company facilities.

Some organizations may ask employees to work staggered schedules. Perhaps some team members will be in the office in the morning and others in the afternoon. The smaller crews of employees will find it easier to maintain appropriate physical distances from co-workers.

Will you require employees to wear gloves when they touch common area equipment like the copy machine or the printer? Should employees wear mask in their cubicles? These are details to address in your revised employee handbook before you invite employees back to the office.

Employee Travel

Your employees will be nervous about traveling again. Decide on a date that make sense to resume in-​person client and prospect meetings. Before folks begin making their travel plans, confirm that all of the facilities in the destination will be open. And check with the people at the destination to be sure they’re comfortable with in-​person meetings.

Bringing Employees Back to the Office

Bringing employees back to the office is another sign that life as we knew it is returning. Be prepared to be flexible to meet employee needs and act quickly to guide workers who have trouble following the new protocols. Demonstrate that you have your employees’ best interests in mind by communicating how you will keep them safe in the workplace and they’ll reward you with productivity and loyalty.