The Way Forward: The People

By Lianne Jacobs
Coworkers moving in office with people meeting - Vitality

As states begin to reopen, employers must navigate a complex set of factors to determine how and when to reopen the workplace. Vitality has put together a holistic framework to help guide our clients through those decisions centered around their communities, their workplaces and their people.

As organizations begin to think about returning to the workplace, it is essential that they put the health and safety of their people first. One of the first steps in preparing to return is to understand how employees are feeling about their current work situation and their ability to return to the workplace. Employers should aim to get feedback on employees’ current living situations, their physical health and their mental well-being, as well as their job needs and their productivity levels since transitioning to remote work. Employees should also be asked about their childcare situation, their primary mode of transportation to work, and their top concerns and comfort levels around returning to the workplace. The responses to these employee surveys should help inform organizations’ plans to return to the workplace.

Create various cohorts of employees based on their ability to return to the workplace, their desire to return, the necessity of their physical presence in the workplace, as well as the risk level of that individual or members of their family. Utilize a phased approach by implementing an alternate schedule where some teams are in the office while others continue to work remotely. Consider working in shifts on a weekly, daily or hourly basis, with some time spent in the office followed by a 14-day remote period before returning to the office. Also consider whether there is a real need for employees to return to the workplace, or whether some employees might continue to work remotely indefinitely.

For employees who commute to work using public transportation or ride sharing, consider offering incentives to encourage alternative modes of transportation, such as walking or biking to work, or consider offering reimbursement for parking. Flexible work hours should also be considered to avoid having employees commute to work at peak times.

Provide disinfectants and hand sanitizer for employees to clean their workspaces. Provide face coverings for employees and require that they be worn. Provide tissues and no-touch trash cans near all doors and restrooms to minimize contact with commonly touched surfaces. Consider eliminating access to communal spaces, such as lunch areas, and providing employees with alternative lunch options instead.

Communication is key as we navigate these uncharted waters. Keep your employees abreast of all COVID-19-related business decisions, such as the implementation of new sick leave policies and any changes to their workspaces they should expect upon their return. The lines of communication should be open both ways – encourage employees to reach out if they have concerns about returning to the workplace or want to discuss their individual situations. Employees may be high-risk themselves or live with a high-risk family member and returning to the workplace may not in their best interest.

Navigating the return to the workplace is a complex, multidimensional challenge. In addition to the above recommendations, Vitality has put together an Employer Toolkit to help support our clients and help you in your planning. As always, Vitality is here for you. We are all in this together.


Lianne Jacobs, Product Analyst, has a master’s degree in public health from Yale University. She is the only indoor cycling instructor who can’t ride a bike. She enjoys traveling the world, laughing at her own jokes, and tricking her husband into eating baked goods made with hidden vegetables.

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