The Hurdles for the Post-Pandemic Return to Work


In 30 years of managing crises and issues, I have never seen such a complex set of issues as those that face employers as they manage the return to work of team members after the shutdowns, furloughs and lay-offs during the COVID-19 crisis.

So many things have changed in the past few weeks, some of which are temporary and a lot which may turn out to be permanent.

So many expectations have undergone major shifts - from the health of the overall economy and unemployment levels, to how each employee views workplace risk and job security.

So many steps must happen quickly to create a safe and productive work environment for the returning workers.

Judging How Layoffs Were Handled

The first point to make is that employees will remember how the organization handled the closure, furloughs and layoffs, and whether they were handled with humanity.

The tech sector was hard hit by layoffs (as I write this blog, Uber, Lyft and Airbnb have announced huge cuts to their labor forces). 

The CEO of Palo Alto-based Carta, Henry Ward, shared his empathetic layoff announcement in the hope it would inspire other CEOs to think about their approach.

Aside from a generous severance package, Ward wrote in an email to employees; “It is important that you know I personally reviewed every list and every person. If you are one of those affected, it is because I decided it. Your manager did not…..they are blameless.”

Read the full memo here.

Investors Expect Strengthened Employee Benefits

A second significant observation is that investors are putting pressure on companies to strengthen employee benefits as the COVID-19 crisis exposed dangerous shortcomings.

The Wall Street Journal reported on May 6 that investors are scrutinizing how US companies have managed their workforces during the crisis to determine how ready they are for future global emergencies.

According to the Journal, a coalition of more than 300 investors, representing more than $9 trillion in assets, has asked companies to provide paid sick leave and ensure worker safety through measures such as remote work, rotating shifts, protective equipment and sanitization.

Morgan Stanley is quoted as estimating that labor costs could rise by 15% to pay for the new benefits.

Which brings us to the immediate preparations to ensure the workplace is safe for the return of employees.

Safety and Business Continuity Complexities of the Return to Work

In a comprehensive and detailed look at best practices for the return to work, the national law firm Stinson LLP says that while a plan must be tailored to the corporate mission and culture of an organization, at a minimum most organizations must:

  • Create an infectious disease preparedness and response plan {Learn how to distribute your plans in an accessible and actionable format}.
  •  Conduct a hazard assessment for any new policies or equipment put in place.
  •  Create or update policies on issues impacted by COVID-19 such as remote working, leave of absence or travel rules.
  •  Craft communications to returning workers ensuring that they are aware of the safety measures in place and how to comply with them.
  •  Ensure that proper personal protective equipment and general cleaning materials such as soap and hand sanitizer are available.
  •  Designate who within the company will be a resource for questions.

There are so many angles and details to consider for a successful return to work after such a transformative trauma, that I expect it is a topic to which we will be returning often in future blogs!



RockDove created our COVID-19 Playbook, available on mobile devices via In Case of Crisis, to help organizations share their trusted information with employees and stakeholders during this unprecedented public health crisis.



The latest official national & international updates are available here:

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC)

Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS)

Food & Drug Administration (FDA)

Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)

World Health Organization (WHO)


Learn how hundreds of organizations large and small are using our award-winning crisis management platform, In Case of Crisis, so you can be better prepared and respond faster to emerging threats like Coronavirus.