How U. S. Companies Plan for a Safe Return to the Workplace

In a new survey of 100 executives, respondents expect most employees to be working on-site by December. To do so, they are implementing a range of interventions that could transform how people work.
As COVID-19 lockdowns lift across the United States and worldwide, company leaders are considering the monumental challenge of how to restart and then run their businesses while ensuring the safety and well-being of their employees and, where applicable, customers.

To gain insight into the potential steps US companies are taking, we surveyed 100 executives at firms across the country and across industries. These executives expect 80 percent of their workforce, on average, to be back on-site by September and that 88 percent will be back by December (Exhibit 1). The results also suggest that for these companies, working from home won’t be the next normal for all. Four in ten respondents say that permanent remote working is possible for less than one-quarter of their desk employees, while two-thirds say that no field employees will be able to work from home indefinitely.

As part of their guidance for reopening businesses,1 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that companies follow a hierarchy of controls (starting with eliminating the virus from their workplaces) to protect on-site workers.2 Executives were asked about the following four types of interventions that correspond with the CDC’s guidance: limiting direct and indirect person-to-person contact, identifying and isolating potentially infectious people, increasing hygiene protocols, and using personal protective equipment, or PPE (Exhibit 2).3 The results suggest that most companies surveyed have, or will, implement many of the measures tested in the survey, as well as a range of change-management practices that reinforce the behaviors that can help keep employees safe at their workplaces. In fact, many respondents’ companies are applying measures across the four interventions. Seventy-six percent of those surveyed say they have implemented or planned for at least one measure from each of the four categories.

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