Many employers should adopt a “hybrid” model of office work, with some employees in the office and others working remotely. Clearly communicate phased reopening plans with employees, especially new office protocols, such as testing and wearing masks.
What public experts say
- Consider a staggered return. “Offices may consider starting slow by opening with fewer people at first,” says Dr. Mark Kortepeter, an epidemiology professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and author of Inside the Hot Zone. He also suggests shifting work schedules and “having liberal stay at home policies if people are ill.”
- Antibody testing can be a helpful tool but not a panacea, Kortepeter says. The accuracy of the tests can vary, especially because there is a lag time between being infected with the virus and developing antibodies. We also don’t fully understand whether having antibodies translates to protection from infection and for how long.
- Build areas of protection. The virus mostly spreads via large respiratory droplets, so using plexiglass or other types of barriers can block some of the direct spread of these droplets.
- Minimize face-to-face contact by instituting virtual meetings. For in-person meetings, make sure there is enough room to socially distance.
- Establish employee protocols around personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves.
What industry experts say
- Adopt a “hybrid” approach to reopening. “Some jobs are better performed remotely and some are better performed in the office,” says Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., President and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management. “Employers are going through that process literally by job category.”
- There are varied ways to reopen, says Taylor. The society’s most recent survey of employers found 39 percent were planning to implement a phased reopening strategy, with critical teams returning first, while 19 percent plan to implement an alternating schedule strategy, with most employees returning on alternating days or weeks.
- Establish a policy around personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves, because lax or conflicting guidelines will cause confusion. “We are now watching very closely what happens when you get people back into the workplace, particularly where businesses don’t mandate the wearing of a mask,” says Taylor. “You have a new area of dispute that’s going to need to be resolved by employers.”