What Does a Return to Work Look Like?: The E&C Pulse - May 6, 2020

May 6, 2020 Ben DiPietro

May 6, 2020

What Does a Return to Work Look Like?


Ready or not, some states are starting to reopen for business, and so companies are having to prepare for an eventual return to the workplace.


What will that return look like? What will it mean to work in a COVID-19 world? What becomes of the office? What about workers accustomed now to working from home, how many will want to return to the office and their daily commute? Is now the time to reopen? What are the risks for being too fast? 


And don’t forget all the health and safety concerns, and how those will be addressed by organizations working within the rules set by their federal and local governments.


It’s a lot for companies to think about as they chart their own courses for when to reopen facilities, with their decisions having real-life consequences for their workers, families, and society.


Three ethics and compliance leaders joined me for an LRN webinar last month that spent some times examining some of the issues surrounding a return to work, and one larger question: Is this a chance to re-envision what work is, and what it looks like?


“We’re all very aware of the risk; that’s being talked about a lot. If we open up too slow, the economy suffers. If we rush it, we may end up back exactly where we are now,” said Samantha Kelen, chief ethics and compliance officer at Cardinal Innovations Healthcare. “It goes back to trust. You have to continue to make decisions based on the welfare of your employees.” 


Questions the company is working through include: Should schedules be staggered so people can come in on different days so two cube mates aren’t sitting right next to each other? Will people wear masks in the office? Will they have to have their temperature checked? Will they need documentation to show they’ve been exposed to COVID-19, or not?


“There are so many things at play,” said Kelen. “We’re approaching it now from a, ‘We don’t have the answers, let’s just come up with the questions.’ What do we need to come up with contingencies for?”


Lisa Beth Lentini Walker, founder of consulting and wellness firm Lumen Worldwide Endeavors, said this is a chance to enact some structural changes to how we work and live.


“Let’s do it better. There are things that we’ve been doing that make so sense,” said Lentini Walker. “We always say, ‘Don’t do it because this is the way we’ve always done it,’ and now it’s really time to walk the walk. We have had a shift, and the question is, why go back?”


The pandemic has showed many people can work from anywhere, which can be an advantage to organizations fighting to attract and retain talent. It’s a great advantage not to be bound by geography, she said. The same with other aspects of our lives, such as telemedicine. 


“Telemedicine, I’m loving it,” said Lentini Walker, citing not having to drive to the office to see a doctor, not having to sit in the waiting room. “I can save hours out of my day for every visit,” she said. “Why have we had so many restrictions around that when there are other ways to do it better?...This is a time of innovation, because we can all do things to think differently and better about what we’ve been doing.”


Jim Massey, a sustainability and wellness leader at pharmaceutical company Astra Zeneca, said benefits to the environment caused by people driving less and polluting less are a real advantage to people and organizations.


“I’ve exchanged my commute for walking. I’ll touch grass, I’ll touch a tree, and it’s just my piece of mind when I enter into what I need to be doing for the organization is so much better, my productivity is stronger, and it’s helping me to focus,” said Massey. 


An extrovert, Massey talked about how he has found a way to connect to people in a way that mimics the conversations he would have with them during an office coffee break. With Skype, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, it’s easy to see if someone is online and ask for a quick chat to catch up.


“It’s the same thing, but I’m not doing 30 minutes each way,” said Massey. “The cars are off the roads, business air travel is way down. I’m not trying to harm the industry, but it’s the rethinking of the intersectionality of business on a planet with limited resources.” 


Kelen said it’s an opportunity for people to embrace other ways of doing business. “Can we set ourselves up for success better by taking our time, rather than rushing back?” she asked, citing as one example the success of people working from home. 


“I don’t think we’re going to be able to go back,” said Kelen. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to say, ‘No, sorry, everybody is going to have be in the office every day for this many hours,’ or there is going to be a one-size-fits-all. We’ve had such an attitude of grace now, why wouldn’t we continue that?”


                                                                                                            BEN DIPIETRO




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What impact is the pandemic having on board oversight of enterprise risk?


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Alexandre Di Miceli writes on LinkedIn about the three qualities organizations need to succeed in a post-COVID world.


Wharton School looks at what it means to be digital in the pandemic world.


Brazil is becoming a hotspot for COVID-19.


Many big employers are exploring ways to keep workers working at home.


Davia Temin writes about what happens when a crisis turns into chaos.


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