As you might imagine being an HR consulting firm has been an interesting couple of months. Some days are challenging and are interesting and through it all we’ve been able to assist clients and walk through a variety of scenarios as they navigate their new working environment.

These inquires got us thinking that with the Northwest governors beginning the re-opening process it would be helpful to share ideas for consideration as you begin bringing employees back into the workplace. Perhaps some of these ideas you’ve already thought of and our hope is that some of these things might not even ever occurred to you and it’s just one more measure that you can put in place to safely bring back more and more of your staff as appropriate.

Please keep in mind that not all solutions or activities will be applicable to all organizations. The primary focus is to keep all individuals safe.

There are six essential areas to focus on:

  • Preparing the building or office space
  • Prepare the workforce
  • Control access
  • Creating a social distancing plan
  • Reducing touch points and increase sanitizing frequency
  • Communicate for confidence

For the purposes of this article we will not go into every section, but rather focus on the items that are the more immediate needs, are relatively easy to do, and are employee focused.

For many a beginning step is creating a COVID-19 Task Force and if nothing else a key contact “safety” person (which may be part of your state’s re-opening requirements).  The team should consist of (depending on the size of your organization) executives, human resources, facilities, legal, marketing, office management, safety folks, suppliers and contractors (those that enter your space), and any other consultants that would be appropriate for your industry and working environment.

Steps that might be part of the Task Force include:

  • Establish goals and guiding principles aligned with culture
  • Define priorities for at least a 6-month outlook
  • Define what roles are required in the workplace vs. in the field vs. working from home
  • Create a phased return to workplace approach based on priorities and roles
  • Create and implement flexible work policies, as needed
  • Build a facilities capacity plan and reconfiguration of the physical office, as needed
  • Prepare office re-closure procedures
  • Maintain fluency in regulation policies


Acquire Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Be thoughtful about defining appropriate PPE for your workspace and adhering to state and local directives as well as, OSHA Guidelines.

  • Boxes of tissues and hand sanitizers to employees (at workstations and work areas, etc.).
  • Provide PPE to ALL employees (facemasks, face shields, goggles, gloves, gowns, booties, etc.).
  • Health screenings can take place.  This can be a series of questions or a temperature check.  If you’re going to ask questions before employees can return to the office, you might consider asking:
    1. Have you or anyone in your household had any of the following symptoms in the last 21 days: sore throat, cough, chills, body aches for unknown reasons, shortness of breath for unknown reasons, loss of smell, loss of taste, fever at or greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit? (104 is a breaking point for everyone).
    2.  Have you or anyone in your household been tested for COVID-19?
    3. Do you have any reason to believe you or anyone in your household has been exposed to or acquired COVID-19?
    4. To the best of your knowledge have you been in close proximity to any individual who tested positive for COVID-19?
    5. Have you or anyone in your household cared for an individual who is in quarantine or is a presumptive positive or has tested positive for COVID-19?
    6. Have you or anyone in your household visited or received treatment in a hospital, nursing home, long-term care, or other health care facility in the past 30 days?
    7. Have you or anyone in your household traveled in the U.S. in the past 21 days?
    8. Are you or anyone in your household a health care provider or emergency responder?


Establish Changes to the Workplace

This could include your cleaning/sensitization protocols, proper distancing guidelines, and screening protocols for employees, vendors, and visitors.  This section would also cover Testing, Tracking, and Tracing protocols and tools.

  • New entrance protocols for employees and visitors.
  • Checking in and out (time clock, etc.).
  • Install air purifiers – think about your cubic feet.
  • Educate employees on proper ways of washing hands.
  • Increase your cleaning schedule and deep cleaning.  Consider new guidelines for employees to wipe down and sanitize their workspace when they leave it and, in some cases, when they arrive especially if you have any shared spaces (including locker rooms) or shared tools.
  • Social distancing – 6 feet is the requirement but if you can do more that’s preferred.  Being able to mark off 6-foot increments in key places – lunchroom, work areas, conference rooms, reception area, etc.  This includes the elevator think about the dimensions – probably only one person at a time. Think about people pushing the buttons and needing hand sanitizer on every floor or at every door.
  • Consider installing plexiglass for customer facing staff and employees or where distancing will be difficult.
  • Social distancing when it comes to the restrooms – take into consideration the number of stalls or urinals you have.  You may need to block access to one or more to provide the distance needed.
  • Social distancing and work schedules – ask yourself: would staggering shifts or alternating work schedules be necessary.  This includes lunch hours and breaks work for organizations.  This could also include rotating employees or reducing shifts or having additional shifts to maintain the distancing.
  • There are watches that beep when a 6 feet perimeter is breached – these could be issued to employees.
  • Some employers have closed their lunchrooms, or they’ve closed the use of the vending machines.
  • Some organizations have suggested it’s best if employees eat in their car.
  • Others have removed dishware and utensils and move to items that are disposable only.  If there is dishwasher in the breakroom that need to be emptied, then people who are doing this task need to wear gloves.
  • Keep office and warehouse doors open as much as possible.
  • Using UV light as a cleaning instrument.
  • Asking employees to de clutter as many surfaces as possible it also makes it easier for cleaning and also limits virus targets.
  • Removal of communal spaces.
  • Signage will be important.  New internal signage which may include 6-foot markers with circles or big X’s, or even arrows for direction.  Anything that you need in terms of additional communication of new guidelines or expectations – the signs will be a constant reminder.
  • Employers might need to consider posting new policies and have a plan in place for continual communication activities as people begin to form new habits.



  • All nonessential travel is postponed or limited.
  • Consider if it is possible for some employees to continue (or start) to work remotely.


In industries in which flu vaccinations are not mandatory, an employer can strongly urge employees to get flu shots and provide incentives to employees who do so. Incentives may include:

  • Paid time off to get the shot
  • Providing the shot free to employees
  • Reimbursing employees for the cost of the shot
  • Hosting a flu shot clinic


From an HR perspective let’s also share with you that while you’re ensuring the health and safety of your employees you may also need to change policies and practices to accommodate your new workplace. A thorough analysis of existing policies should be undertaken to include in adjustments made for recent legislation as well as recent organizational decisions. Some of the policies you will want to review may include:

  • Attendance;
  • Vacation/paid time off;
  • Remote work;
  • Work hours including start and stop time, breaks, lunch times, flexible hours, and staggered work hours;
  • Time keeping including clocking in and out procedures;
  • Leave policies including sick leave;
  • Travel policies including business and personal travel; and
  • Information technology and usage.
  • Guest and visitor policies.

 Please note: attendance recording-keeping and documentation is going to be key.  This will be helpful in PTO and vacation request as well as contact tracing.


And of course, there is the CDC website and other sources for additional considerations.

  •  CDC Guidance for Temperature Checks (see the question titled “Should we be screening employees for COVID-19 symptoms? What is the best way to do that?” under the “Reducing the Spread of COVID-19 in Workplaces section).

  • CDC Signage

  • Toolkits, sample policies, checklists, etc.

  • OSHA Guidance Preparing Workplace for COVID-19

  • Reaching people of diverse languages and cultures with flu considerations communications


If you would like a copy of the HRA COVID-19 Back-to-Work Checklist, download it here.