HRE’s Number of the Day: return to the workplace

60%: Percentage of companies that have surveyed employees about their comfort of returning to the workplace

Given the uncertain nature of the coronavirus pandemic, remote work is continuing on a large scale across the nation, although some employers are gearing up to reopen their worksites. However, as they make their decisions, not all organizations are checking in with a valuable group of people: their employees.

According to a new survey from The Conference Board of more than 1,100 business professionals—primarily C-suite executives, vice presidents and senior managers—about 60% have actually asked employees how ready and comfortable they are to return to in-person operations.

The survey also found that many companies are playing the return to the workplace by ear: More than one-third of those surveyed said their reopening date is unknown, while 39% aim to reopen during the first quarter of 2021. About 5% said they will wait until a vaccine is widely available, while 3% are shifting to permanent remote work.

For employers that are planning the return, The Conference Board found that they are taking some steps to safeguard employees: The vast majority are investing in safety equipment, instating new policies around social distancing and disinfecting workspaces. About two-thirds of organizations are planning to require screening, testing or temperature checks—a figure that The Conference Board notes may reflect employer apprehension about privacy litigation.

Related: Testing’s complicated role in the return to workplaces

Other findings include that less than half of those polled will rely on staggered shifts as well as staggered schedules within departments.

What it means to HR leaders

According to the research, less common interventions include childcare options like on-site care and flexible scheduling, as well as safety measures for those taking public transportation, such as more frequent screening or extra safety supplies. Companies that did poll their workers about their comfort level were more likely to take these particular precautions, says Rebecca Ray, executive vice president of human capital at The Conference Board.

“Notably, these top worker concerns were low on the overall list of safeguards that organizations are implementing, indicating that they are more important to employees than employers may realize,” she says. “This disconnect reinforces the need for companies to receive buy-in from their most precious resource—their people—especially about matters as consequential as this one.”

The report comes on the heels of a study by Qualtrics earlier this summer that found more than 60% of employees surveyed reported being uncomfortable returning to the office. In that research, employees suggested strict social distancing policies, limiting in-person meetings, requiring face masks and checking employee temperatures were among the most valuable safety strategies that would enhance their comfort level.

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