The last 15 months have been different from any we have experienced, both as humans and as employees. COVID-19 has affected every part of our lives, and living in a constant state of change has become the norm. The response to COVID-19 has been unique in that the decisions we are making for ourselves and our families directly affect our work life, and vice versa. We are now making hundreds of decisions a day to calculate risk for our immediate families, our communities, our colleagues and ourselves. Because of this, employers that would like to return to “the office” have a wide range of issues to consider when determining how to bring their staff back safely and in a way that maximizes employees’ piece of mind. Employers will have to make decisions they never considered, such as how many people can be in the restroom, kitchen or elevator at one time, and how to handle high-touch items — think coffee makers, microwaves, refrigerators and elevator buttons — in these common spaces.

How people get to work suddenly becomes more than a personal decision, and employers will have to consider accommodations such as parking reimbursement for those who don’t feel comfortable using public transportation or carpooling. Building design considerations, including ventilation and open-plan vs individual offices, takes on a new level of importance, and options for teleworking become a public health and space issue rather than just a hip way to operate. Questions surrounding vaccination policies — and being asked to stay home if someone was exposed — raise the collective heart rates of HR and legal departments everywhere, as they struggle to balance individual rights, societal safety and continuity of the company mission. And any company dealing with clients that have different safety standards than their own faces a host of questions about in-person meetings when requested.

There are no easy answers to these questions, and they are more likely parts of an ongoing discussion rather than a series of decisions and edicts. In all cases, constant and open communication between employers and employees will be critical to ensuring practices that make everyone feel safe while still accomplishing the organization’s mission.


COVID After-Action Series

Dawn Thomas is an Associate Director and Research Analyst on the Safety and Security team of CNA, and is an expert in large-scale incident planning and response.