Return to the workplace: 5 factors that can help employers decide and deploy

Organizations need information that can help support their ongoing efforts to evaluate conditions and mobilize employees to return to work, and remain at work, in the wake of COVID-19

By | 2 minute read | May 11, 2020

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The COVID-19 pandemic has many people asking: When will conditions be favorable to let employees return to the workplace? Under what conditions can employees remain at work in the event of local flare-ups?

During uncertain times, knowing when to ask employees to return to work, and remain at work, can be a very complex decision for employers. They must balance the well-being of their employees with the needs of their clients and strength of their organizations. They must also consider factors unique to each location and individual employees, and they should understand where additional protocols could be put in place that can help protect vulnerable employees.

To help do this effectively, we consider drawing insights from five primary types of data:

  1. Local COVID-19 infection rates and trends
  2. Employee symptoms and test results
  3. Population health status and risk factors
  4. State and local regulations
  5. Applicable company policies

It can be challenging to work with these data inputs, as they can change daily. Applying analytics to information gathered from employees about their current symptoms and risk of exposure, as well as localized data on infection rates and trends, can help give employers a clearer picture of locations where conditions have been met to bring employees back to the workplace. Or these insights may help an employer decide where to delay bringing employees back to protect employee health. In addition, organizations can leverage information on population health and vulnerability to gain insights into specific locations where more stringent health and safety protocols are needed.

Considerations for the employee experience during COVID-19

Organizations I’ve spoken with are very focused on employee health and well-being as they work remotely and prepare to re-enter the workplace. Employee-facing tools designed to help communicate company information and gather individual employee data are critical. Some employers are turning to virtual assistants and conversational AI to help respond to the volume of questions. For example, IBM has trained Watson Assistant to deliver fast, accurate answers to common questions about COVID-19.

Learn more how IBM Workplace Health Advisor is designed to help employers support workforce readiness initiatives for COVID-19.

In a fluid situation, it’s also important for employers to be able to routinely assess employee health and readiness to return to work. This means they need tools that enable employees to share self-reported information in near real time. Like other technologies that support employee healthcare decisions – such as when employees select a health insurance plan – these applications must adhere to high standards of data privacy and security.

Employees and employers must work together to help inform decisions about the right time to return to the workplace. Unfortunately, it is unlikely this will be a one-time decision, as COVID-19 infection rates and state and local policies may fluctuate over time.

Over the coming months of pandemic response and recovery, employers will engage with their teams to help determine what’s in the best interests of individuals and the organization. As part of IBM’s efforts to offer solutions to help employers optimize work for the current environment, IBM Watson Health has developed a cloud services offering that is designed to help organizations monitor and analyze COVID-19’s impact on their workforce, as well as communicate with employees as they return to the workplace. Data and insights from multiple data sources can help employers make informed decisions for their organizations.