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How Safe Is It To Go Back To The Office?

Updated: Mar 2, 2022

As the economy cautiously reopens, employers now want to know when and how to bring their remote employees back during a pandemic. Download our Return to Work Survey template and COVID-19 Communication Plan template.

Just when we thought it is safe to return to the office, a spike in the number of cases or the news of a second and third wave of COVID-19 infections around the world draws employers back to square one. It seems as though the return-to-work plan is constantly being updated as we learn more about the virus, and the timeline to get employees back to work continues to be a moving target. The plan was never to have 100% of their workforce return to the office for many reasons:

  • Most offices are not set up for physical distancing. In fact, over the last ten years, the open office concept designed to improve collaboration has been adopted by many employers. This office configuration is now considered a safety hazard.

  • Older buildings might not have proper ventilation installed. According to a study conducted by US researchers, air-conditioning could potentially help spread viral particles. While there was no evidence this had happened, airborne transmission cannot be ruled out. There is still a lot we don't know about the virus.

  • It's a logistical nightmare. If your office is on the 30th floor of a building and only two people can ride an elevator at any given time, your commute time is extended by at least 20 minutes a day. In addition, maintaining a return to work roster and staggering breaks can be a headache.

  • Hot desking doesn't work. In addition to the increased cost of keeping the office clean, you will need an additional budget just for Lysol wipes. According to CDC, "SARS-CoV-2 may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials," employees hot-desking are going to need to wipe down before, during, and at the end of the day. Sadly, we are also polluting land and sea with these wipes.

  • PPE helps reduce transmission only when they are put on correctly. Many people are reusing disposable masks (yes, you see these masks hung over the review mirror in many cars) and are not always properly disposed of. For those using reusable masks, you don't know when the last time they were washed. This could create tension between employees in the office with different degrees of hygiene standards.

What can employers do to ensure employees feel mentally and physically safe to return to the office?

First and foremost, listen to your employees. Those responsible for building the return to work plan need as much data as they can to assess when and how to bring remote workers back into the office. As part of the return to work communication plan, employers want to address the concerns of their employees upfront. This requires employers to listen attentively to the needs and concerns of their employees, which might not always be relatable to those doing the planning.

Here are a few things employers can do to create a successful return to work plan.

  • Expand the return to work task force outside of HR and Health and Safety. Including a few employees outside of HR and Health and Safety to be part of the task force allows the employer better to understand the challenges and needs of their employees to build an effective return to work plan.

  • Conduct a Return to Work survey to get a fuller picture of the current circumstances of your employees. The pandemic has changed our daily routines. For some, it's a switch from office to remote work. For others, it's juggling work, child care, and keeping the elderly safe. Asking these questions will allow employers to identify barriers preventing their employees from returning to the office and build a return to work plan that can accommodate their employees' needs. What are the main barriers you have returning to work? Check all that apply. ☑️ I'm in the at-risk group ☑️ Childcare ☑️ Other caregiving responsibilities (e.g., elderly parents or other family members) ☑️ Commute ☑️ Physical distancing at work ☑️ Availability of PPE ☑️ Household members at high risk of illness from COVID-19 ☑️ Household members in high-risk jobs related to COVID-19 ☑️ Other barriers (please specify) Consider your circumstances, check all return to work phased approach that would work for you. Check all that apply. ☑️ Employees returning in phases ☑️ Restricting the number of employees on the worksite ☑️ Controlling onsite movement ☑️ Alternating onsite schedule ☑️ Staggering breaks ☑️ Staggering shift start times ☑️ Job rotation ☑️ Other approaches (please specify) Click here to download our Return to Work Survey Template.

  • Transparency and communication are key to help employees to return to the office. If anything we have learned from previous crises, you can never over-communicate with your employees. COVID-19 has created a lot of anxiety in people, from job security to health and safety. Employees want to be kept informed of decisions and changes impacting them. Click here to download our COVID-19 Communication Plan Template.

There is no single Return to Work plan that can guarantee a COVID-19 free workspace, but there are many actions employers can take to reduce the risk of transmission as they make plans to welcome their employees back into the office!

How Can We Help?

Retainify offers a unified solution that allows employers to track their employees' sentiment throughout their employment life cycle in real-time. From onboarding to exit, our customers can customize and automate their employee surveys and measure what truly matters to them. Find out more at

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