Reports by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 35% of businesses don’t have a firm reopening plan, but nearly 70% of leaders would prefer workers return to the office at least three days a week — when it’s safe to do so. In the absence of a COVID-19 vaccine being administered until summer for younger and healthy adults, employers seeking to bring team members back to the workplace need to have easily implemented solutions in place that can help understandably cautious employees feel safe.

There is also evidence to suggest employees value a hybrid workplace model that enables flexibility between working from home and in the office. Like many schools in America, European companies have adopted a hybrid approach that provides workers with designated days in-office. This model provides better maintenance of social distancing policies and a smaller pool of individuals required to quarantine should an infection arise. Business leaders need solutions in place to balance employee preferences with ever-changing scenarios that offer transparency about the organization’s return-to-work safety plans.

A few effective strategies include:

Real-time, local data

Employers, universities, event venues, airlines and many other businesses and organizations are seeking ways to safely reopen gathering spaces and to plan for and mitigate future risks to ensure office spaces stay open. They need a solution that delivers accurate, authentic, real-time health verification that also protects individuals’ privacy and identity. Data points like vaccine status, COVID-19 viral testing results, and COVID-19 antibody testing results will play important roles in this effort alongside identity verification and data security controls. Access to real-time, hyper-local COVID-19 prevalence data gives decision-makers enough notice to enact precautionary protocols — such as increased social distancing, reducing in-person meetings, and limiting the use of office space — that can mitigate the spread of the virus and allow employees to safely return to in-person work.

Systematic symptom checks

During early business reopening efforts,  the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended frequent symptom checks as part of the strategy. Regular symptom tracking and consistent follow-up communication with employees about workplace changes are advantageous because it benefits not only the organization but overall public health in the local community as well. Furthermore, it enables leaders to intervene proactively by identifying,  isolating and recommending treatment for both affected, symptomatic team members and asymptomatic cases before the infection spreads to others. This model of rapid isolation of infected individuals as well as encouraging people to wear masks will reduce the risk of spread in the workplace.

Transparency with your team

Developing an action plan is crucial and it’s even more important to ensure team members and leadership are trained to adhere to all preventative protocols that have been put into place. A thoroughly thought out communication plan that clearly conveys how team members can interact safely while benefiting from the advantages that come with face-to-face interaction will help instill confidence with employees and customers in returning to the office. If employees are hesitant, conducting a survey or an anonymous feedback session can help promote compliance and reduce concerns. Remind employees about the importance of symptom checking and vaccination as a larger strategy to assure the safety and health of the corporation, their families, and the community. These protective measures also stabilize the financial security of the organization and the job security of those it employs, while helping reduce overall healthcare costs and lost productivity due to missed work.

Taking these actions now will pay dividends down the road by allowing employees to get back to work safely, especially for businesses that benefit from face-to-face communication, such as retail or hospitality industries. It may not be simple, but solidifying an infrastructure that engages risk-based safety measures and transparent, empathic communication is going to be a key component of the playbook for getting us to the other side of COVID-19 in 2021.