Back to work challenges for HR post COVID19

Back to work challenges for HR post COVID19

Back to work challenges for HR post COVID19 are not just about high-level strategy creation. Leaders are realising that life and death can literally be around small behavioural changes.

The global pandemic will have a massive impact on our workplaces with enormous back to work challenges for HR post COVID19 in the re-opening of business. And for once HR is in its rightful place – in the centre of the decision making process.

A Paris based HR Director told me “At Board level we are talking about significant change management and disruption scenarios. In practice, it’s down to the implementation of small daily changes to the workplace and the way we behave and interact which are vital. They can literally make the difference between life and death.” 

We need to change how, where and the way we work. It’s also probably unlikely that we will all go back to the life we knew.

Short-term needs

CHROs are obviously looking at all the elements of the HR function including training for remote working, review of hiring needs, health and well-being of employees, headcount adjustments and employee engagement. But talking to clients outside the initial strategy setting at leadership level, there is one relationship which is taking on increased importance and that is the relationship between HR, IT and facilities management.

Until a vaccine is found, a second wave of infection is possible unless we all take extreme care. Although the numbers have been contested, history has shown a massive resurgence of the 1918 Spanish flu when people stopped being cautious. One HR business partner told me “HR has always worked with facilities management and the health and safety function, but at the moment the interaction is increasingly important. We have to get it right.”  Managing physical and social distancing in the workplace is now a top business priority.

Wellness and security

Every element of  the way we structure our workplaces has to be evaluated and adjusted. This involves re-examining:

  • infra-structure changes
  • accepted behaviours and the way we interact
  • workflow barriers

All of this is going to be on trial and error basis, because we really are in unchartered territory. The general consensus seems to be to start small and trial various options.

Emergency infra-structure changes

These are short-term reactive measures. In most geographies employees will return in a split work pattern involving between 10% to 30% of the workforce at any one time.

Organisations will need to review their remote working policies to understand who really needs to come into the office and who can continue to work from home. If possible it should be a choice and the first employees returning should be volunteers. Research suggests that this being obliged to work from home impacts productivity.

Currently, particularly for those who have been self- isolating, or have an underlying condition, returning to work will be a source of concern. One CEO told me that “when people volunteer they are more likely to be objective and constructive in their comments than if they are anxious.”

Some organisations are only bringing in part of each function, so in the event of infection there is always back up form those still working remotely.

Practical measures to meet social distancing requirements

1. Pre-return

  • Deep cleaning of office space prior to return.
  • Car park spaces should be widened or alternated to allow 1.5m distance.
  • Install sanitizer dispensers at frequent points in the building.
  • Clear demarcation of space between desks with indicated movement flow around the office.
  • Work stations will be allocated to individuals. No more hot desking.
  • Provision of masks and gloves. Some companies are switching the content of their vending machines and dropping the crisps and cookies and replacing the compartments with PPE .
  • Physical distancing in meetings. Removal of chairs from meeting rooms.
  • Guidelines around number of people allowed in lifts and meeting areas at any one  time. Taped markings and standing circles.
  • Glass or Perspex protection on reception desks and work stations next to thoroughfares to create a COVID19 safe environment.
  • Tape to delineate physical distancing space in bathrooms. Taped off hand basins.
  • Disconnecting coffee machines and water coolers.
  • Recycling bins for plastic waste.
  • Public hygiene reminder posters and “nudges.”
  • Regular and open communication via “workstreams” or designated communication channels.

2. Return

  • Staggered start so everyone doesn’t arrive at the same time.
  • Organisations split into teams of “on and off” or “in and out” weeks.
  • Transport support. Those travelling on public transport will be a higher risk. Some companies are providing taxi vouchers or a private bus service from a collection point. Others are only allowing employees who have their own transport to return to the office.
  • Employers may ask staff to wear gloves and masks, which is not comfortable.
  • Temperature checks on entry to the office.
  • Visible increase in cleaning presence. Regular disinfecting of door handles, stair rails and communal areas. Most companies have an out-sourced daily cleaning service when the office is closed. Now many are going back to hiring the old-school in-house clearer for this specific function.
  • Provide lunch boxes with a daily online ordering system.
  • Employees to provide their own drinks.

3.To be considered

  • Potential testing of employees. This is a very sensitive area which is still being tested in Asia.
  • Monitoring of air quality. 
  • Moving office workers to shifts: Week 1 and Week 2.


How leaders communicate these new protocols will be key and enforcing them will require sensitivity and empathy. The most common message is that all employees want consistent and regular communication from their leaders. One of the most noticeable changes is senior managers being willing to say “We are all learning as we go along. None of us know what will work and what won’t.”  

I asked my HR Director contact which topic came up most in these back to work challenges for HR post COVID19.  She said “One thing. Yellow marking tape.”  

Get in touch if you need support on training remote teams. Hint: it’s not about the tech!




2 thoughts on “Back to work challenges for HR post COVID19

  1. Keith Amoss

    That last posting of yours – on the challenges of returning to work after all this – was excellent. I have immediately shared it widely. Thank you for the advice and keep up your great work. Stay safe Keith

    1. Dorothy Dalton Post author

      Thanks Keith. I think it’s important to understand that this is a live experiment and everyone is learning as they go along. The list is by no means exhaustive and I am happy to update when other people share their experiences.

      But there is no doubt that small daily habits will make a difference and it’s not just about a big picture strategy. Stay safe.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *