Discussions on plans and protocols for getting employees back to the workplace were high on the agenda for the Members of the Fortune CEO Initiative who met virtually yesterday.
Unsurprisingly, incognito CEOs appeared determined to make their own decisions about the health and safety of workers. They will take the recommendations of Governments and other authorities under advisement. One quoted: “We are not going to return just because the government says it’s okay.”
Of course, business Owners, CEOs and leadership teams should tread lightly.
The CEO of one global company with thousands of employees, said he believes the majority of the workforce will remain working from home until the end of 2020. Another said her company, with hundreds of thousands of employees, would gradually transition with around 20% of workers in phase 1, agreeing 2020 years-end for a full onsite workforce return. A third CEO said it will be after the 1st half of 2021 before they return to a prior normal. Another said, I don’t think we will ever get back to normal.
All appear to have given much thought to phasing the return to work and creating new protocols at the office, such as social distancing, intensive cleaning, personal protective equipment, temperature checks, A/B shift teams and, in some cases, office tests to map who has or hasn't been infected.
The participating CEOs mostly discussed the challenges of professional workers - many of whom have successfully adjusted to work from home not needing physical proximity for productivity. The broader more difficult, greater systemic challenge is where employees would by even most creative solutions need to leave home to do their jobs - maintenance workers, factory, retail and restaurant staff, transportation worker…. For them, the discussion of when to return to work is a greater challenge - for many reasons
In my opinion, there is a true inflection point occurring Globally at this moment. Besides a company’s duty of care, and the "moral persuasion" ironies this virus economy is revealing, seen in the polar opinions and actions of the public (recent "open up" State protests) and governing bodies when faced with life and livelihood decisions. There's morality, ethical, and liability quagmire to be deciphered by each Company, employees, Government, and local authorities and of course, insurance coverage.
Following Government guidelines will be difficult in any industry, some more than others - Spa salons, barbers, tattoo parlors...the list goes on. Regardless of industry large organizations are best equipped to navigate this dilemma - If COVID-19 deaths occur as a result of lifted workforce restrictions, the liability maybe somewhat mitigated by "leaving the decision" to each employee to return, BUT company Ethics, and morality is something else and for each company and person to grapple with in the event of a renewed spread of COVID-19.