Organizations Across the Country Consider Return to Work Strategies During Pandemic

Late last year, the KHC received word that we were going to have a major infrastructure change, and one of the decisions that had to be made was about office space. Would we find a new office to house us, or go 100% remote? Under no uncertain terms, I was completely against the idea of working remotely. I truly didn’t think that I or the KHC would thrive under that environment, given the collaborative nature of our work. We found a new space and in December moved in.

Six months later, and so much has changed. Like many organizations across the country, the KHC staff has been working remotely since March 12. And I must say, it hasn’t been bad! In fact, I dare to say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that from my perspective, we’ve been just as effective during the last two-and-counting months. I’ve even taken the opportunity to visit my parents for a few weeks, staying in my childhood bedroom, albeit on an air mattress, as my bedroom has been converted to a gym.

I definitely have “rules” and routines that set me up for success, as I know my co-workers also have to thrive and generally stay sane during this extended time of distance (my colleague Natalie has also written a piece that’s worth a read where we share talk about our strategies for coping). But eventually we will return to the office, and organizations across the region and throughout the country will have to think through the logistics of doing so safely and responsibly.

The KHC hosted an all-member discussion about what our members are facing for return-to-work planning, and the conversation was fascinating. I hadn’t thought about lunchtime policies and whether it was safer to use a common kitchen or go out to lunch. Or how large office buildings’ elevator use policies could cause a logistical nightmare. What is the best process for temperature checks, and what needs to be in place before an organization can legally even open for business?

The National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions, a nonprofit, purchaser-led organization to which the KHC is a member, recently conducted a survey on just this. The National Alliance has been very active during this time of crisis, hosting bi-weekly employer town halls on various topics relevant to employers, which you can find on our KHC COVID-19 resources page. Their most recent survey of 210 employers of varying size found that U.S. employers are making plans to ensure their employees can safely return to work with 90% considering a phased re-entry and 88% having a multi-disciplinary task force in place.

“There is a clear pivot across America as employers prepare to go back to work, but this will hardly be business as usual,” said Michael Thompson, National Alliance president and CEO. “In general, employees who can work from home will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Other employees will return to the workplace in a phased manner with a clear plan of action intended to mitigate risk and accommodate those most at risk or concerned for their safety. This is likely our ‘new normal’ in the COVID-19 era.”

You can find the full results of the survey here, but some highlights include:

  • Of those employers with over 1,000 employees, 97% already have a multi-disciplinary return to work task force in place. Over 7 in 10 of smaller employer indicated they have a task force in place.
  • More than 90% of employers are including these functions in their return to work task force: senior leadership, human resources, communications, operations and safety. Surprisingly, just 50% indicated the inclusion of a clinical advisor.
  • Employers are looking to guidance from all levels – federal (96%), state (95%) and county/city/local (92%). The Centers for Disease Control is viewed as a key resource for guidance by 95% of employers.
  • As for timing, 60% of employers indicated that they are not considering opening the work site for all employees within the next 60 days. Policies currently in place include mandatory social distancing (87%), mandatory 100% work from home for those who can (70%), and 59% have accommodations for parents while schools are closed.
  • Testing is not currently a major factor for most companies in their phased re-entry as only 43% indicated testing capability is currently in place, 24% are considering within the next 60 days, and 33% are not considering within 60 days.
  • The top five safety strategies are increased cleaning of workspace (90%), mandatory use of masks (88%), restrictions on meeting size (81%), personal protection equipment (beyond masks, 58%) and alternate shifts (55%).
  • The top criteria being considered in clearing employees to come back to the workplace are daily screenings for COVID-19 symptoms (51% in place and 28% considering), employee pledge to social distance both inside and outside the workplace (46% in place, 38% considering), tested and free of COVID-19 (22% currently, 39% considering) and positive antibody testing (45% considering and 54% are not considering).

It’s clear that this pandemic will permanently change the way we think about work and working remotely. I suspect that we will see more working from home options going forward, after realizing through this unplanned national experiment that was can be productive even if not physically in the office. Just how much will change remains to be seen, but as we enter the next phase of re-entry, we still have many logistical items to work through.

To keep up with the latest in pandemic-related information, visit our KHC resources page, which includes relevant news, events, guides, and more.