Create an internal, cross-functional task force, form a plan, and revisit it regularly as new considerations emerge.

The CEOs and HR leaders of LLR’s portfolio companies joined forces in April and May of 2020 to collaborate with their peers on how to address a range of business challenges presented by COVID-19 and the economic downturn, including reopening offices.

Timing and policies for reopening corporate offices and other facilities depend, of course, on state decisions. It is vital that all companies review their own state regulations as well as OSHA guidelines for workplaces. Our CEOs and HR leaders also represent a range of technology and tech-enabled services businesses, end markets, and locations. Each recognizes that there is no single, global way to reopen offices, only what is right for their unique situation.

Key questions and considerations discussed on reopening offices amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Once your state announces guidelines to reopen, how long do you have to come up with a plan?

Two weeks maximum, recommended one CEO. Employees will have a long list of questions and need transparency about your plans and new policies. It is critical to create an internal, cross-functional task force now, form a plan, and revisit it regularly as new considerations emerge. Recognize that there will be bumps in the road ahead and course corrections to make. Consider piloting certain changes with a small group of managers or teams first before rolling out to the entire company.

How do we help employees feel comfortable with coming back to the office?

Continued flexibility, respect for individuals’ comfort levels, and extensive communication about new health and safety procedures were deemed essential for our portfolio leadership. Diverse focus groups and employee surveys on their feelings and concerns about coming back can help inform planning, show how you are making collaborative decisions, and even surface volunteers to return first. Companies must be committed to transparency, but also careful not to make promises they can’t keep.

A staged approach to reintegration is the most common strategy, using a carefully measured or data-driven process to determine the order of teams to bring back to the office. Families with no school, camps, or childcare quickly emerged as one segment of employees with the greatest challenges. As one CEO stated, it is our role as senior leaders, likely without young children at home, to be more flexible ongoing and willing to do late-night conference calls to support this population’s schedule.

What does being back in the office look like?

As our portfolio companies’ task forces think about making changes to the office environment, they’re looking at ways to create distance between tight workspaces and split people into working groups that alternate days or weeks at home. Long term, they are considering whether they need as much space, should set up hoteling options, and can sublet to reduce costs.

Additional considerations for reopening offices discussed include:

  1. Bringing bring back employees who can walk to work first
  2. Support for commuters who require public transportation, such as paying for parking, Uber rides or bike-share memberships
  3. Eliminating front desk processes and moving them to the phone
  4. Changes to or removal of beverage machines shared snacks and company-sponsored meals
  5. Engaging landlords in a discussion about everything from how building entrances can/will be modified to how often elevator buttons will be wiped down

If you open the office and an employee or their family member gets sick, what will you do?

No business is immune. Our CEOs who experienced positive cases among employees and their families in the last few months spoke from the heart: Every business leader must be prepared for this. HR, operations, legal and other functions should collaborate now on a plan for what you’ll do regarding tracing contact with the individual, alerting staff, time off to quarantine, benefits, workspace cleaning, legal risks, and other policies. And revisit the plan regularly until you need to use it. Make sure employees know it is OK to stay home when they aren’t feeling well.

For health and safety procedures, companies are considering other measures such as:

  1. New policies to state that if you are sick in any way, you must go/stay home
  2. Protective measures like temperature monitoring and masks
  3. Regular communications to remind employees of critical health procedures, e.g. when to stay home and for how long, best practices for hand washing, and guidelines for social distancing around the office, especially in common spaces like cafes and copy rooms
  4. Safety training to practice and reinforce these procedures

How do we measure productivity in a remote environment, without being too strict given the ongoing business and personal challenges faced?

Our companies are split over whether productivity stayed the same, is arguably better now in a remote environment or has suffered without people being together in the office. Business model, type of customer, and the impact of COVID on each business drove the variation in perspectives, as did whether the companies have new development projects in motion. While departments like marketing and client service remain highly productive, the value of getting teams together in-person to whiteboard, innovate, and make architectural decisions has proven particularly hard to replicate remotely.

When do you think business travel will pick up again?

Our companies agreed there is no answer to this right now and it will be a long time before we return to our previous volume of travel for meetings, conferences and interviews, if at all.

HR leaders are carefully thinking about the ramifications of this for interviewing and onboarding, and more broadly companies will need to consider alternatives to live sales meetings, lead gen at trade shows, and on-site due diligence with acquisition targets. One silver lining is that stay-at-home mandates have made more people comfortable using video calls for sales meetings and demos. Moving forward, that momentum could give salespeople a better way to gauge reactions and connect visually with prospects than simply over the phone.

As more guidance emerges from federal and state organizations, our portfolio companies will continue to collaborate with one another and develop their plans to reopen offices. Visit our Collaboration Center for additional insights on this as well as other business and leadership challenges at this unprecedented time.