Returning to Work: Answers to the Questions that Are on Your Mind Today


Your company’s employees are “returning to work.”

But is that really true? People aren’t just walking back to their old desks, it’s a lot more complex than that. A lot of your employees, possibly the majority of them, never stopped working, they worked from their homes. Other employees were furloughed or laid off, and even though they are going to increase their working hours now, their jobs have almost certainly changed dramatically. Some of your employees might even have decided not to return to work, and you either have to replace them or eliminate their jobs. And it is even possible that you need to hire some new categories of employees because your needs have changed.

So, are you really “returning” to work? The answer is, not really. You are getting back to work, but actually going somewhere new, and possibly better.

As someone once wrote, “You can’t go home again.” But maybe that will be okay. But how are you going to do it? The more you think about it, the more questions crop up in your mind. In this article, we will take a look at the answers to those questions.

FAQs on Supporting Your Employees

Q: What are the main concerns that our employees are feeling about returning to work?

A: Research into that question is happening right now. But so far, it seems that these are the issues that worry people the most.

Most important concerns reported by employees:

  • Access to sanitizers

  • Availability of protective gear

  • Cleaning procedures in use, including those for computers, keyboards, phones

  • Cleanliness and maintenance of washrooms

  • Cleanliness of kitchenettes and lunch areas and equipment (fridges, water coolers)

  • Cleanliness of cubicles, offices, and work spaces

  • Commuting to work

  • Health of coworkers

  • Social distancing

  • Use of elevators and other common areas

  • Monitoring of coworkers’ hygiene and use of virus-exposure- limiting protocols

Secondary concerns, but still important:

  • Ability of city and local services to treat and respond to people if they become ill

  • Access and ease of accessing parking facilities

  • Availability and safety of nearby food stores and food concessions

  • Building security and security personnel

  • Company emergency response procedures

  • Evacuation procedures and safety

  • Proximity of hospitals and medical facilities

  • Reliability and effectiveness of emergency procedures, including evacuation routes

  • Security and staffing of parking facilities

  • What will the company do if employees become ill on the job?

Q: How can we assure our employees, and protect them, by monitoring the incidence of Covid-19 illnesses in our geographic area?

A: The National Institutes of Health (NIH), a federal government agency, offers authoritative and unbiased information online about the epidemic, as well as an emailed newsletter with updates. In addition, check out Covid-related resources that are provided by your state and local governments.

Q: What is the best way to understand my team’s concerns about returning to the office?

A: KettleSpace is currently conducting a survey about this topic, and will be reporting findings on an ongoing basis. A review of current literature shows that the most common mental health-related concerns related to Covid-19 are anxiety, depression, and panic episodes. In addition, certain pre-existing conditions may cause additional anxiety, including underlying serious illnesses and illnesses, advanced age, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition, relationship issues, including stress with their spouses and partners, can increase the anxiety that people feel when returning to work.

One of the best ways to understand these issues and support your employees is to contact the company that provides your company health plan, if you have one, and to ask about the programs and informational resources they provide. Hospitals in your area are another source of presenters on health topics.

Q: What is the most reliable way to communicate emergency information, information about office closings, etc., with our employees?

A: Be sure to update and collect contact information from all employees before they return to work, especially their cellphone numbers so you can message them immediately with advisories and updates. If you have 10 or more employees and the resources, you can also consider holding a weekly or twice-weekly videoconference where an expert shares health news and other updates.

Q: Should our company try to support employees who are grieving?

A: Although it is tempting - and kind - to try to support employees who have lost loved ones during the pandemic, remember that counseling people who are grieving is best done by trained and qualified mental health professionals. Encourage employees who are grieving to find professional sources of help or, if your company provides a health care plan, find out about the services it pays for and make them available to your employees.

Q: Are there professional associations or other resources I can refer our employees to for counseling?

A: The American Psychological Association (APA) has an online directory of therapists and other services, and a special page of resources related to Covid-19, that are available to anyone.

FAQs on Restarting Your Business

Q: We have heard the term “phased return to work.” What does that mean?

A: It means allowing different people to return to work at different times. But there are different ways to do it. You can allow certain employees to return to your offices in two weeks, in four weeks, and so on, for example. You can also stagger start and end times for workdays. You can allow certain employees to continue working remotely indefinitely. Your choice depends on your needs, and on the needs of your employees.

Q: If our employees do not want to resume commuting to our office(s), what other options are available?

A: You can either let them work from their homes or consider letting them use shared coworking spaces like KettleSpace. KettleSpace is currently developing new ways to let employees identify, establish and use shared working spaces near where they live, so their commuting can be minimized. Business can sign up to get more information about how their teams can use the network of spaces.

Q: We’ve read about return-to-work task forces. Do we need one?

A: It is a great idea to assemble specialized teams to plan your company’s return to work. Remember to invite not only company leaders, but employees who work in all sectors and at all levels in your organization, who can add needed perspectives and help identify the most important issues that need to be addressed. Some planning areas to consider include:

  • Health concerns, such as social distancing

  • Employee hours and work schedules

  • Commuting

  • Working at home and use of shared remote coworking spaces

  • Communications

  • Morale

  • Facilities

  • Technology

  • Accessibility

Q: Our company has really thrived during the time our people have been working from home. Should we close our physical facilities and just keep doing it? Is there a downside?

A: Maybe you really do not need to continue operating your main office or primary facilities. But there are a number of factors to consider, including:

  • Cost - How much money do you save if you close your current facilities? And what new costs could you incur by using coworking spaces and other options?

  • Functions - Are there certain activities that can only be performed in headquarters? Why? What are they? But do remember that during the pandemic, people have become accustomed to performing a wider range of activities online or remotely; Even if you are a law office, for example, you might have discovered that you can conduct real estate closings and other activities without the need for an in-office conference room.

  • Customer and client expectations and needs - If you are a retail store, for example, you will probably want to reopen your facilities in some way. If you are an accounting firm and your clients are used to visiting you in your offices, you might be able to introduce them to new and more efficient ways of doing business.

Q: Some members of our team want to stay remote. Is that good or bad for team morale and productivity?

A: The answer is, it depends. If certain employees have enjoyed working remotely and have continued to meet expectations and perform, it could be worth allowing them to continue. But other factors do come into play. If your company enjoys a strong culture of team collaboration, for example, allowing all employees to work remotely could hamper that. Do bear in mind, however, that during the Covid-19 period, many employees have discovered that virtual meetings and other working solutions provide effective forums for team meetings and cooperation.

Q: What are the biggest HR issues we should be looking at during this time of returning to work?

A: According to “Covid-19: HR’s Main Challenges Revealed,” an article that Nurhuda Sayed published in Human Resources Director Magazine on April 1, 2020, these are the major issues that HR directors are dealing with thus far during the pandemic:

  • Business continuity plans

  • Manage flexible work arrangements

  • Manage employee communication

  • Address employee concerns on workplace policies

  • Implementation of preventive measures

  • Review of current welfare policies

  • Provide updates regarding measures adopted by the company

  • Issue guidance to travelling employees

  • Share updates from business leaders via email or video

  • Share verified and trusted links to external sources of information

  • Provide ongoing communication on HR policies related to outbreak

  • Offer education through health talks

In addition to the issues that Ms. Sayed mentioned, KettleSpace believes that HR departments will have do deal with a range of other issues in the coming period when employees are returning to work, including:

  • Recruiting and onboarding new employees

  • Terminating employees

  • Negotiating reduced and modified working schedules

  • Redesigning benefits, health care plans, retirement plans, to suit the needs of a changing workforce

Q: What is the best way to estimate our budget if we are about to have our workforce located in different places?

A: The U.S. Small Business Administration offers a free online Business Startup Expense Calculator that you can adapt to estimate the costs. Bear in mind that although calculating your expenses for the recovery period can seem like a difficult project, the basic approach boils down to comparing your expenses before the pandemic hit (maybe including the cost of your facilities, utilities, insurance, payroll) to what those same expenses will be now that you are reopening.

Q: If we are shifting to a remote workforce and don’t need our current facilities, can we break our lease?

A: That is a question for your lawyers. However, bear in mind that many landlords are just as eager as you are to resume normal business operations right now and should be willing to help you move to smaller office space, reduce your rent, or offer other incentives to keep you in place.

Q: How do we deploy computers and other equipment if our employees will be located in different places?

A: The answer to this question depends in part on how your employees have been working before and/or during the pandemic, and what equipment they have been using. If they were using company-supplied computers, you will probably want them to continue doing so now. If they jumped in and helped by using their own equipment, you should consider supplying them with computers that the company owns - if you can afford to do so.

If employees will be working from their homes or in remote work spaces, remember that your company should be paying for their Internet access and other expenses of doing business.

Q: What should we be thinking about now regarding cybersecurity and protecting our company data?

A: If your employees have been working from their homes, or from public spaces, this is an important time to consider how you are protecting your company data. “How to Protect Your Business from a Data Breach,” an article in Forbes that was published in 2018, suggests security measures that are still applicable today, including:

  • Hire a cybersecurity consultant

  • Keep business and employee’s personal accounts separate

  • Increase employee awareness of the issue

  • Get employees actively involved in protecting your data

  • Build a sense of urgency about security

  • Educate people about the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) checklist of security measures to follow

  • Enforce a strong program of restrictive data permissions

Q: How will our employees interact with customers, vendors and other company outsiders now?

A: Even though you are probably hoping that customer relationships and protocols will return to “normal” in the near future, it is also worth analyzing improvements that took place organically over the previous months. One company’s sales force, for example, relied on frequent videoconferencing with top customers, which worked well, increased revenues, and saved time because salespeople did not have to physically travel to sales calls. That company plans to continue to do that. Can you think of recent “lessons learned” that you can continue to apply now?

Q: How will our company handle meetings of different sizes? Off-sites?

A: Consider how many employees you will invite, where they are located - and then see if you can apply videoconferencing and other solutions you relied on during the shutdown. Many companies have discovered efficient new ways to keep communications strong with employees. Have you learned lessons that you too can apply now?

Q: What should our accountants know about our expenses and other factors that are about to change?

A: The U.S. Small Business Administration’s Business Startup Expense Calculator that we mentioned above can serve as a checksheet for expenses to discuss with your accountants. But if you have an excellent accountant - and you should - he or she should be able to work with you to answer this question.

Q: What special issues or laws do we need to think about regarding accessibility and allied issues?

A: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)’s website, which now offers special advisories on helping employees during the COVID-19 pandemic, is an excellent resource you will want to explore. Bear in mind that employees with mobility issues may have special concerns during the coming return-to-work period, a time when all employees are likely to have concerns about commuting. For some employees, the option of working at home, or working shared coworking facilities, can be attractive now. Please be aware that your state may also have laws that pertain to accessibility issues for your workers. ‍

Q: Should we be thinking of offering on-site childcare or other benefits that could be important to our employees as they return to work?

A: On-site childcare could be a benefit that some of your employees will welcome during a period when schools will be closed. But because it is an expensive benefit, other options are worth considering too, such as allowing employees to use established childcare facilities that are located near their home or the shared coworking spaces they will be using. If your company can help, chances are you will be building stronger and longer-running relationships with your working parents.

Q: What is the best way to recruit and hire new employees in the coming recovery period? What has changed?

A: Over the last few months, companies and employees have become increasingly comfortable and skilled doing their work online. We therefore believe that this could be an especially good time to do more of your recruiting, interviewing and hiring online. We could be entering a new age of video interviewing and virtual hiring, which could turn out to be good for everyone. ‍

Q: What sales and marketing efforts will be most successful in the recovery period? What marketing opportunities or problems should we keep in mind in this new world of work?

A: Even though the last few months have been extremely challenging for companies of all sizes and kinds, the fact is that the coming months will offer a positive opportunity for companies to literally start over with customers. If you stop to consider what your relationships with your clients have been like during the pandemic, you might even find that you have grown closer to them - you have helped them, offered extra services, and built stronger ties. With some innovative marketing, you could be able to capitalize on those advantages now.

Q: Are there options available for companies who want flexible workspace without committing to long term contracts?

A: Yes there are. KettleSpace is one such provider, and our solutions can allow your company to keep productivity high while reducing the cost of leasing or buying office space. Contact us to learn more and discuss your options.

Q: For employees who don’t want to return to work, is it better to have them at home or find some alternative work solution (local offices / coworking solutions)?

A: We are fortunate that we are returning to work at a time when these new options are available. They offer flexibility at a time when both your company and your employees need it most.

Q: How can we prepare for a potential COVID resurgence without disrupting our whole team’s work arrangements?

A: The National Institutes of Health (NIH), a federal government agency that we mentioned at the start of this advisory, offers authoritative and unbiased information online about the epidemic, as well as an emailed newsletter with updates. In addition, check out Covid-related resources that are provided by your state and local governments. All of us, of course, are hoping that once the current period ends, the virus will disappear thanks to vaccines, social distancing, and other countermeasures. But if resurgences do happen, it will be best to be informed and prepared.

Q: Will a remote work program help us recruit new employees and make us a more attractive employer?

A: Experience is already proving that companies that offer work-at-home and remote working options are better able to recruit employees today. The result can be a competitive advantage in the marketplace that will allow your company to become more successful in the post-virus period than it was before the crisis began.