Return-To-Workplace (RTW) Discussion Guide
Background: This guide was created based on working sessions in April & May 2020, with contributions from over 1,000 companies around the globe. Check out recordings of the April (PW: 0M!+%.y=), May (PW: 1K$0K08Z), and June (1F&$1%Nb) sessions.
LifeLabs Learning trains managers, execs, and teams in skills that are essential in times of uncertainty. We’ve created this guide as a working doc to capture up-to-date trends, resources, and open questions as we navigate these uncertain times together.
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Guiding principles for any RTW discussion
Understand the nature of the Return to Workplace (RTW) conversation: VUCA
The conditions involved with RTW change both weekly and locally, and there are few known models to compare it to. So, this falls under what is called VUCA conditions (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous). Within VUCA conditions, conversations can often get confounded and ‘spin.’ VUCA conversations need advanced skills, including:
1. Normalize ambiguity + iteration
You won’t have all the answers at once. It will take time.
2. Create a culture of accountability + co-responsibility
Enroll your entire team to help make this work. No one can be the monitor of all these things. It will require teamwork.
3. Add structure
Our #1 suggestion for any VUCA-based conversation is to create numbered ‘buckets’ for your discussion topics, so you can maintain clean thinking while doing your scenario planning. Refer to your numbers often. For example: “Okay, what you are sharing falls within bucket 1 - ‘Entrance protocols’ - so let’s park it there and return to it after we finish bucket 2’.
RTW planning: 8 common buckets
Suggested instructions: These are areas to discuss with your team. Make a copy of this table. In round one, brainstorm relevant questions. Don’t discuss solutions. In round 2, brainstorm solutions, concerns to keep in mind, and decision criteria. (Please note that below are ideas not legal advice.)
1. Who will return, when?
- Data sources and decision criteria?
- What data sources should we use to make our decisions?
- What will our ‘phased approach’ be? (sample)
- How do we find out employee sentiment + conditions?
- What cadence will we use to survey employees?
- What will we ask?
- What format will we use to ask (surveys, focus groups, representatives, manager tracking, etc.)?
- What will our contingency and rollback strategy be?
- How do we make employees feel safe?
- Do employees know what it will look like when they return?
- Legal + compliance issues?
- What do we need to take into consideration?
- Who should we consult?
2. Screening and tracking protocols
- Temperature screenings: should we do them?
- Administered by a healthcare professional?
- Administered by an employee?
- Risks for screener?
- Need for screener and employee training/protocol?
- Protocol for turning away employees who aren't cleared to enter?
- How should private information be collected through screenings?
- What will our screening locations be (employer-specific premises, building entrance)?
- How do we screen interviewees and vendors?
- How do we mitigate the complications of telling clients/customers not to enter company locations if they do not pass the screening?
- Self-certification: should we do self-certifications (self-health reporting)?
- What will the protocol be?
- How will we handle positive symptoms?
- How will we track who has been onsite, to alert to potential exposures?
- How will we let people know about potential exposure?
- How will we handle onsite symptoms?
3. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Masks: Do we make masks mandatory? If so, will we provide them or reimburse for them?
- Gloves: Are gloves necessary for any areas/duties (e.g., taking/giving money to customers)?
- Is additional PPE required for employees in higher-risk positions?
- Are there requirements for commute to/from work?
- Do badges/access cards need to change when employee’s faces are covered with masks?
- What does discipline look like for not wearing PPE?
- Do employees in the field (e.g., remote sales and support) have what they need?
4. Workspace modification
- Desks and workstation changes?
- De-densify desks and workstations?
- Make only certain workstations available (e.g., every other workstation)?
- Modify open floor plans by adding partitions?
- Instruct employees not to use other employees’ workspaces or equipment?
- Close common areas/conference rooms and break rooms/cafeterias?
- Modify high-touch surfaces (replace latch door knobs with push options)?
- Add tape on the floor or carpets to show appropriate spacing?
- Pantry strategy: individual consumption vs bulk items?
- Make hallways one-way?
- Create disinfection stations to receive packages?
- Display signs reminding customers and employees of best practices? (e.g., Maintain social distancing in areas where people congregate; Avoid touching surfaces unnecessarily; Wash hands properly and regularly)
5. Cleaning and disinfecting protocols
- Who cleans spaces like lobby, front doors, and elevators?
- If employees took equipment (screens, keyboards, etc.) home, how will they be cleaned upon being brought back?
- How often will disinfecting happen?
- Should cleanings be done every few hours, in addition to deeper cleanings at night?
- Do employees need to be remote on cleaning days? (e.g., mandatory Friday WFH)?
- What supplies will we need?
- How much advance supply do we need? Do we have enough suppliers?
- Make cleaning supplies/hand sanitizer available to employees (and customers/visitors)?
- How to provide supplies to travelling employees?
- What cleaning norms will we set with employees?
- Which vendors will we use?
- Review and renegotiate contracts with cleaning vendors?
6. Meetings / crowd control planning
- How many people should be allowed in the office at any given time?
- What is our re-entry plan for employees with immunodeficiencies?
- Limit size of in-person gatherings/social events (e.g., less than five people)?
- Team planning - staggered shifts, alternating teams?
- Set staggered or spaced meal schedules? Grab and go versus buffet?
7. Education, communication, and enforcement
- Survey employees now/ongoing to see how they feel about the situation?
- Designate responsible contacts for overseeing and ensuring implementation?
- Train employees on social distancing policies and protocols, including where to go with questions or complaints?
- Train management to understand responsibility for enforcing policies at local level?
- Compliance protocols needed?
- How to track and (consistently) discipline employees for failure to follow protocols?
- What if people don’t feel comfortable coming back?
- What if someone who has been in the office does test positive?
8. Integration and employee support
- How will onboarding happen?
- How will we introduce folks onboarded virtually to the team?
- How will we train folks in how to do hybrid working (some onsite, some remote?)
- How can we provide support to parents if schools/ daycares are not open? (e.g. flexible schedules, childcare benefits)
- What will the interim travel policy be?
- Coordination / allocation so that not all are gone at once?
- What precautions are needed if employees travel abroad or to high risk locations (for example, mandatory 14 day quarantine before returning)?
- Adjustments to new goals/KPIs?
- Communication strategy letting employees know how bonuses are impacted?
What triggers determine when it is safe to return to the office?
As of 5/12/20:
- Most companies say they are following local and state guidance, as well as trusted sources like CDC and WHO.
- On a 1-10 scale of confidence with their company’s RTW plan, average was 4.9.
- Most companies say they will do a phased approach. Dependencies include: opening of schools and daycares, monitoring whether a geography is seeing a 14 day trend of decreased cases, trends in company productivity, and team interest.
Who should return?
- Potential ways to prioritize:
- Essential v. non-essential (including by geographic location and role)
- Required onsite v. able to work remotely
- Volunteers - employees that are interested in returning
- Seat location - in order to maintain social distancing
- Percentage of department (to encourage cross-department collaboration)
- Special accommodations for high-risk individuals (and those who have, or are caring for high risk family members - including health care workers)
- Rotation of leadership team (business continuity concerns)
- A Team and B Team strategy
- Two week interval approach - a percentage of employees return every two weeks
- Daily staggered start times and end times to accommodate child care needs / allow employees to commute during lower-traffic times
- Document employee attendance in the office to ensure exposure can be traced
- Ensure no disparate treatment between management and other employee
Employee categorization ideas: Create a color coding system, for example...
- Green: Completely able to work from home
- Yellow: Able to work from home, but it’s not ideal
- Red: Struggling to work from home because of lack of tools or home environment
Sample: Phased RTW Approach Template
(Copy-paste this template and fill in your criteria)
Scale up (>20%)
- add yours here (e.g. Stay at home orders are rescinded, Phase 1 of the Opening Up America Guidelines.)
- Add yours
- Add yours
- Add yours
- Identify data sources you will use to make decisions (federal, state, local levels, CDC, WHO, etc.
- Determine which policies are needed
- Create if-then triggers for who should return, when
- Determine reliable ppe sources. Contact vendors and suppliers
- Create and implement facilities plan, to prepare office space
- Create communications plan - ongoing Survey employees on state of readiness to return
- Tier 1 employees return (all others WFH)
- List entrance screening requirements here
- List social distancing measures here
- List ppe requirements
- List travel restrictions
- List visitor restrictions
- Tier 2 employees return (all others WFH)
- List screening requirements here
- List social distancing measures here
- List ppe requirements
- List travel restrictions
- List visitor restrictions
- Tier 3 employees return (all others WFH)
- List updated screening requirements here
- List updated social distancing measures here
- List updated ppe requirements
- List updated travel restrictions
- List updated visitor restrictions
- Moving to business as usual
Sample pulse survey for employees
Survey for all employees:
- How do you feel, personally, about returning to the office? 1 not eager - 10 very eager
- What actions would you like to see us take before you’re comfortable returning to the office?
- Are there conditions that are unique to you that should be known, regarding returning?
- How effective do you feel your team has been working remotely? 1 not very - 10 very
- Do you have the equipment, support, and conditions you need to work well from home? 1-10
- How much do you enjoy working from home? How often would you like to wfh in the future?
Survey for managers:
- How has working from home impacted your team’s effectiveness? 1 not at all - 10 very much
- What would improve work quality by 10%?
Determine who should be on the task force:
- Most common: Cross-functional leaders (including Legal, HR, and Facilities) and stakeholders from other offices.
- With time: consider forming separate sub-task forces, focused on supporting specific categories of employees (e.g., remote v onsite).
1. Discuss task force process and scope
- How often will we meet? Most common frequency reported as of 5/12/20: daily, 1 hour
- What values matter to us, in how we work together?
- What will success look like?
- Who else should be on this task-force?
- What is our scope of power? Scope of accountability?
- What is our emergency communications protocol?
2. Prioritize projects
- What do we need to focus on first?
3. Determine data sources
4. Set policies and plans
- Which policies need updating?
- Which new policies do we need?
- How should we prioritize which ones to focus on first?
5. Define communication cadence and protocols
- To employees and management
- What surveys will be conducted?
- Create a style guide - what should all good communications include?
6. Create contingency plans
- What is the rollback strategy?
7. Define feedback loops and compliance monitoring plans
- Consider assessments after Day 1, Week 1 and Month 1 post-RTW rollout.
- Who has power to determine roll back of RTW efforts?
Sample Return to workplace policies & plans
LifeLabs Learning recommends: 5 org habits
No matter what the conditions are, here are 5 habits to build within your org.
1. Create task-force teams
- In times of stress, people want the option to meaningfully contribute. A cross-functional task force creates buy-in and uses a network effect to make sure local voices are heard.
- Timelines and CDC recommendations change daily - you will need a dedicated team who can keep you informed.
- You likely need local solutions vs. ‘similar for all’ mandates since each city/state/country location has different rules. Having task force members from different locations help create clear lines of communication.
2. Create a communication style guide
- Directives need to be clear and simple so that people can understand them. Creating a style guide that can be checked against prevents anyone in the org from providing confusing messages. Options to include:
- Do a weed check. Remove unnecessary words. Remove ‘ands.’
- Do a CTA (call to action) check. Is the action clear?
- Do an empathy / values check. Are emotions acknowledged?
- Do a slush test. Make sure folks know protocols aren’t frozen and can change.
3. Create a channel map + cadence protocol
- Emergency coverage - Changing conditions might require creating new channels for fast alerts (e.g. via text messaging, if an emergency happens)
- Repeat important messages often and in a variety of channels (e.g. all-hands, company email, chat). The goal is Effective frequency - messages need repeating for them to stick.
- Create predictable cadence to your updates (e.g., every friday). The motto is: Predictability of communication cadence, even if uncertainty of communication content!
4. Create and share decision criteria
- Even if someone doesn’t agree with a decision, knowing the criteria it was based on creates a sense of fairness, trust, and certainty (see procedural justice literature)
- To do: train teams in this skill. Begin role modelling and practicing.
5. Train teams in adaptivity skills (including hybrid work skills!)
- Organizational resilience can quickly increase. Times of disruption are times to create new, great habits.
- Average companies focus on ‘risk mitigation.’ Great companies focus on risk, but also think of this as a chance for workforce and culture innovation. To do: nominate a reframer - a person who is always in charge of thinking of what new, positive habits can be created.
- Hybrid meetings happen when some members of a team are remote and some are in person. This is a breeding ground for problems, including unintentional exclusion, miscommunications, and poor meeting quality. (LifeLabs provides training in hybrid skills. Contact us if you want help.)
Common data sources for making decisions
Date: 5/12/20. These are the most common data sources companies named:
Other communication tips and templates
- Company-wide email or video from CEO and/or Head of People
- C-level for org-wide or global comms, HR for local comms
- Hold company-wide discussions / Q&As / AMAs (ask me anything sessions)
- Set up Slack channel with updates (pro-tip: let people opt out)
- Create a contact email (e.g., email health@company with questions or if you need to alert the company you or someone in contact with you is sick)
Sample decision flow chart
- General communication/announcements: The LifeLabs Learning team created this template for you. Please feel free to customize as needed.
- Hygiene signs (as of Feb 2020):
Beeswax: this sign
Handshake: hygiene best practices - posted in every bathroom and throughout the office
- Pre-screen questions for visitors (as of Feb 2020):
The Back Tux: See sample questionnaire here
Active Wellness: See sample questionnaire here
- Informing of possible exposure (as of Feb 2020):
“I’m sorry to share with you that on [DATE], we learned that someone you may have come into contact with through our work together tested positive for COVID-19 on [DATE]. While the risk of transmission through a brief interaction may be low, we wanted to inform you immediately. Please let us know if we can provide any support or further information. We hope you and your team are safe and well!”
HBR article with good tips: here.
Other general helpful resources
Company policies, plans, and benchmarks
Working from home and remote work resources
- LifeLabs Learning complete playbook for remote work.
- LifeLabs Learning quick tips to pass along on working from home (for ICs, managers, HR)
Physical and mental health resource options
- Affiliated Physicians (AP) provides a trained, on-site nurse to deliver symptom screenings for all employees, including symptom and temperature checks. Additionally, a nurse will be available throughout the day as a general resource for all COVID-19 related questions, Pricing: First 4 weeks of service: $195/hr/nurse; After 4 weeks: $175/hr/nurse
- Meridian Kiosks for on-site screening
Addressing stigma / racism / xenophobia