Planning a Return to the Workplace

April 22, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions to rethink how they get their jobs done, with many now working remotely. Although it’s unclear when these employees will return to the workplace, it’s important for communication professionals to get ahead of the curve and start planning now for a smooth transition.

When Are We Going Back?

Without a doubt, the return to the workplace decision will be unique to each organization. Leaders have much to consider:

  • What are the current federal and local government mandates?
  • Has the region passed the peak of the current wave?
  • Do local health care systems have resources and personnel available to deal with second waves of disease?
  • Is there sufficient testing capability?
  • Is there widespread availability of personal protection equipment for employees?

While it’s uncertain when workplaces will reopen, communication professionals can work now with leaders to clarify how the decision will be made so they can begin planning and keep employees informed.

What to Expect

While the return to the workplace will look very different for each region and organization, it can be helpful to see what others are doing. For example, our global clients who have reopened workplaces around the world introduced some of the following protocols:

  • Personal health checks
    • Checking employee temperatures when they arrive at work
    • Asking employees to complete a daily health questionnaire
  • Cleaning protocols
    • Thoroughly sanitizing workplaces, including cleaning shared spaces several times a day
    • Requiring employees to wash hands upon entry
    • Requiring employees to wear a mask while they are at work
    • Providing hand sanitizer stations around the workplace including outside elevators, in cafés and other shared spaces
  • Physical distancing
    • Staggering re-entry including allowing only certain teams back to the workplace or requiring teams to alternate days
    • Reconfiguring workspaces to move workstations farther apart, creating separate office spaces
    • Limiting the number of people allowed in an elevator
    • Providing markers on the floor identifying proper spacing for waiting in line
    • Ensuring exits are in different locations from entrances to avoid contact between entering and exiting employees
    • Limiting employee movement within a building or campus; allowing employees in one section to only use the bathrooms and cafés in that section
    • Distributing wrist bands to designate where employees are allowed onsite

Welcoming Employees Back

With concerns about safety and uncertainty about what to expect, returning to the workplace after COVID-19 will be new territory for everyone. Here’s advice that we’re giving our clients on managing the transition:

  • Start by completing our COVID-19 Back to the Workplace worksheet to consider some of the core issues
  • Identify key decisions that need to be made, such as new protocols and processes, who needs to be involved, and how you’ll communicate with everyone
  • Design a Welcome Back campaign to ensure employees know what to expect, feel confident in leadership’s Return to the Workplace guidance, and have what they need to do their jobs
  • Know your audience – share your plan with a representative group of managers and employees for insight on what they need most for a smooth transition
  • Partner with HR, Workplace Services, IT and other key teams to design Pre-Back to the Workplace Orientation Sessions and Day One Welcome Back Sessions, to ensure employees fully understand and are trained in new policies and procedures
  • Develop Welcome Back resources for managers, such as a Back to the Workplace manager guide, what’s changing/what’s not at-a-glance sheets, guidelines for a flexible and/or gradual re-entry, and actions for Day One, Week One, Month One
  • Provide Welcome Back resources for employees, such as a Back to the Workplace employee guide, Welcome Back care packages, and FAQs
  • Set up a process for tracking progress via pulses and other tools. Be sure to keep leaders in the know via a Back to the Workplace dashboard, using the ROI dashboard tool

Where to Turn for Help

Know that the ROI team is here to help you prepare for the return to the workplace. Here are a few examples of how we can support you:

  • Create your Back to the Workplace communication strategy
  • Develop a change roadmap and tools to help drive the behavior change needed in a post COVID-19 workplace
  • Develop Back to the Workplace Orientation Sessions and Guides for Employees and Managers
  • Create Welcome Back Kits for employees


Lesli Gee ROI Internal Communication Agency Employee.
Lesli Gee

Executive Vice President

A founding member of ROI, Lesli is an expert at change management and HR comms expert with more than two decades helping executives design and execute large-scale change initiatives to strengthen organizational culture, streamline processes and improve performance. A 27-time marathon runner and charity fundraiser, she has helped numerous Fortune 500 companies achieve their business goals.

Linda Pederson ROI Internal Communication Agency Employee.
Linda Pederson

Vice President, Strategist

Linda is a seasoned communications professional with two decades of experience in internal and external communications, media relations, crisis management, and more. She excels in crafting clear and effective communication strategies, helping leaders simplify their message and engage both employees and stakeholders.