Due to COVID-19, health and safety are the top motives for having employees work remotely … and health and safety will be the driving factors for the employee’s eventual return to the office. 

Ware Malcomb’s 2020 Return to the Office research project explored employee’s motivations and behaviors as they worked remotely. The research affirmed that employees will be emboldened to push back on returning to the workplace until they feel it is safe to do so. As organizations begin planning this transition back to the office, things will be different. Significant attention will be paid to “visible housekeeping” that was once intentionally concealed. Workstation areas will no longer have the crowded cafe feel; rather, they will be de-densified to maintain social distancing. 

  • Every organization’s return to the office will be customized to their circumstances, but each will have a few commonalities:
  • Perception is reality and what employees perceive is what they will believe is happening
  • Transparency is essential for building trust and managing misinformation
  • Common sense should prevail, grounding decision making in practical, sound judgement

The strategic and tactical planning guidelines outlined below are situationally dependent. Different circumstances will require different responses in planning for bringing employees back to the office.


The level of organizational communications prevalent during the work from home period will be maintained after employees are allowed back into the office. Openly advertising protocols for visitors, social distancing, and housekeeping will establish a sense of trust that employee’s health and safety are top priorities. Things will be different around the office post COVID-19, and a robust training and change communications program will establish the “new normal.” Examples of change management techniques include establishing back-to-the-office instructions for using the office space, especially if it has been newly configured for social distancing, and posting or sharing change communications documents, such as “Frequently Asked Questions” postings, and “Stay-Safe” etiquettes guides.


Safety protocols can be adapted in various ways. Screening procedures for employees, visitors, and contractors may use the Infrared Fever Scan Systems (IFss) or other health assessment measures. Staggered work times/days, or 4-day work weeks can reduce the number of employees in the office at the same time. Lunch and break times can be scheduled or lengthened to minimize occupant loads.

In addition to social distancing and capping group sizes, centralizing trash and recycling bins with frequent disposal can slow disease transmission. A clean desk policy devoid of employee memorabilia will enable the nighttime cleaning crew to thoroughly clean all desks.

In addition to the conventional hands-free faucets and soap and paper towel dispensers, no touch options can be considered for doors, badge readers, and garbage/recycling bins. The increased use of virtual digital assistants for enterprise applications is another consideration.

Employees may choose to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when returning to the workplace to protect the transmission of germs through contact and droplet routes. PPEs include face masks, gloves, and potentially goggles. Organizations may also make these available to employees for personal use outside the office as an additional level of protection.


As the owner and leader of your construction company, making sure all areas of operation meet the health and safety regulations and guidelines is an essential task. Below are thoughts given to a particular space to help with overall return-to-work readiness. 

Reception areas. If no formalized visitor protocols or badge requirements exist, consider controlling access to the office via signage for phone-in entry. Temporary plexiglass “sneeze guard” screens can be installed at reception or check-in points. Rearrange or take away seating in the reception area to manage social distancing. To maintain hygiene, remove magazines, corporate swag or pens from the reception space, and keep the hand sanitizer dispensers in plain view.

Workstation areas. To accommodate 6 feet of social distancing, start with a floor plan indicating the workstations to be occupied and determine your maximum capacity per floor or wing. Remove chairs or even monitors to discourage unoccupied workstation use. Seating should remain assigned until the widespread threat of virus transmission has diminished. Employees personal items should be removed for thorough nightly worksurface cleaning. Additional concepts include installing higher panels/shields between workstations or repositioning workstations, so employees do not face one another.

Collaboration areas. To satisfy the 10-person maximum gathering rule imposed by many states and municipalities, remove extra conference room chairs and install signage indicating the maximum number of people allowed in each conference, meeting, huddle, and focus room. Use a portion of your largest conference room for chair storage, until the need for social distancing has diminished.

Breakroom. The office coffee maker, water dispenser, and fresh fruit snacks will temporarily go by the wayside along with the morning bagels and birthday cake, until the threat of transmission has diminished. However, pre-packed twinkies would be safe.


Touchless hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes will become like exit signs; employees can see them from every vantage point. Maintaining adequate stock will be challenging until the supply chain has regulated production.

Increase “during the day” housekeeping, maintaining a visible presence so employees see the efforts of the organization to keep them healthy and safe.

Virtual meeting and collaboration platforms will continue to keep the people connected professionally and personally. Encouraging virtual meeting attendance even while in the office may be recommended until the virus transmission has curbed.


There are vast amounts of speculation and misinformation surrounding the Coronavirus, leading to anxiety and uncertainty. The local, national, and global impacts are monumental. The eventual return to the workplace will provide a sense of routine and the beginnings of the new normal. In planning that return, the considerations can be overwhelming.

Dated January 10, 1776, Thomas Paine wrote the pamphlet Common Sense to the American colonists. He began with this line: “In the following pages, I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense.” 

As organizations navigate the COVID-19 complexities, let common sense be the guide. 

For more information

Cynthia Milota is director, workplace strategy, with Ware Malcomb, where she is responsible for leading Ware Malcomb’s workplace strategy practice in North America. She partners with clients to formulate their unique objectives: mindful of employee experience and business objectives along with wellness, social responsibility, talent strategy, the workforce ecosystem, and measures for success. For more, visit www.waremalcomb.com.

Modern Contractor Solutions, May 2020
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