HR execs taking cautious approach to reopening workplaces

A scant 2% of employers surveyed believe they can remove precautions in a matter of weeks.
By: | April 29, 2020 • 3 min read
(Photo by Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

With states including Texas, Georgia and South Carolina–among others–about to loosen their COVID-19 guidelines and reopen some non-essential businesses, you might think the COVID concerns are easing up.

Well, if the results of a recent survey of 300 HR leaders from a variety of industries are any indication, that is not the case for the majority (62%) of employers nationwide. The predominant COVID strategy, which includes working from home and closing non-essential businesses, will remain right where it is until experts agree it is safe. In addition, 47% said they would follow the lead of each location’s state governor.

Related: Read all of HRE’s coronavirus-related coverage here

In addition, 24% expect COVID challenges to keep businesses closed for one to three months, while 7% expect to keep plans in place for three to six months months and 4% expect the crisis to last until 2021. One telling number? A scant 2% believe they can remove precautions in a matter of weeks.

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“Companies across the country are eager to return to business as usual. However, the new normal will look quite different from how business was done a mere two months ago,” said Andrew Challenger, senior vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“HR executives are closely following government mandates and are planning protocols to keep workers, customers and their loved ones safe.”

In fact, 93% will take precautions once their workers return to work, while 7% are unsure at this time how they will proceed. Unsurprisingly, zero respondents said they would take no precautions once workers returned.

Related: 65 percent of workers find they’re more productive working at home

“Employers are grappling with how to best equip their teams once they come back to work sites,” Challenger said. “Many will follow social distancing guidelines, limit gatherings and supply PPE to workers.”

Companies are also putting plans in place should an employee be diagnosed with COVID-19. Nearly 77% reported they would require anyone that worker might have exposed to quarantine for two weeks. Also, 71% said they would deep clean the work site, while 13% said they would shut down and quarantine the entire work site. Nearly 40% reported they would revert to crisis protocols, implementing work-from-home procedures, and 39% said they would alert authorities to aid in contact tracing.

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“It is imperative that businesses nationwide think critically about reopening plans before issuing any mandates to return to work,” Challenger said. “No doubt the virus will still be circulating well into this year. Testing will give many businesses more data to inform these plans. In fact, two respondents were discussing plans to test workers regularly.”

On the emerging issue of telecommuting, businesses that can allow workers to work from home (28%) say they are making those accommodations permanent for some of their workforce, while 6% said they would make these accommodations permanent for everyone. Another 27.5% reported they would allow employees to work from home until they reported they felt safe to return to the office.

Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at hreletters@lrp.com.