Return to Work Stage Two: Safe

Paving the Way for a Safe Return

For some, return to work means returning to their jobs after weeks or even months of furlough. For others, it simply means returning to the office after a long stint of working from home. Regardless of your company’s unique situation, every employer has to make a call about when and how to pursue organizational normalcy safely.

Unfortunately, you cannot rely solely on information coming from public or private institutions about reopening your workplace. They deliver conflicting guidance and often contradict their own policies.

So, in the end, it’s mostly up to you to make the call about when and how to return.

Aduro’s Work Readiness Model™

To help executive management teams create a plan for when and how to allow employees, visitors, and service partners back in the workplace, we created Aduro’s Work Readiness Model.

The Work Readiness Model comprises five stages of “readiness” starting with “Not Ready” and ascending all the way to “Kinetic Performance™,” which is a sustainable level of peak performance for individuals, teams, and the company as a whole (see figure 1). We not only provide recommendations for how to manage each stage of readiness, but we also suggest gating criteria, or triggers, for moving from stage to stage. Remember that some companies will need to advance and retreat through different stages based on factors that may be largely beyond their control (such as a new upward trajectory, or spike, in regional COVID-19 cases).

Start with a clear understanding of your position on risk tolerance. More information on assessing your risk tolerance is available in Aduro’s Interactive Work Readiness Handbook. Having a consensus position on risk tolerance will help guide many decisions you make when applying Aduro’s Work Readiness Model. Keep in mind that our model is a staged process for not only getting back to work, but coming out on the other side of COVID-19 better and stronger than ever. Some will want to take a cautious approach to this journey, while others will want to be more aggressive.

In this article, we will be discussing the second stage of our work readiness model: Safe. Detailed information about Stage One: Not Ready can be found here.

Stage Two: Safe

Based on your company’s risk tolerance and the triggers that have been established to mark the advance or retreat to a new stage (see Aduro’s Interactive Work Readiness Handbook for help defining your triggers), employees will eventually begin to return to physical locations. Most companies should consider allowing employees to return to work in stages, starting with those jobs that are most essential to the physical operations of the business. During the second stage of work readiness, companies must implement baseline safety protocols to ensure that only healthy people enter the office.

The goal of stage two is to ensure employee and visitor safety by implementing standard work-readiness protocols.

Aggressive or ultra-aggressive companies may have already encouraged people to return to the workplace based on the lifting of restrictions in their state. These companies have already met their trigger for moving to Stage 2. Moderate, conservative and ultra-conservative companies will have waited for a longer sustained downward trajectory of new cases (or some other relevant metric) in their impacted regions. Regardless, companies who deem it safe to allow people back in the workplace should be focused on ensuring employee and visitor safety by implementing standardized work-readiness protocols.

Companies who deem it safe to allow people back in the workplace should be focused on ensuring employee and visitor safety by implementing standardized work-readiness protocols.

Employee Needs

Many companies will overlook the fact that coming back to the office will be just as stressful (and perhaps even more so) as being forced to work from home. Companies cannot ignore the fact that people exhibit different attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs associated with COVID-19 linked to their political and philosophical views. This will leave some employees bristling at safety measures, while others will experience extreme anxiety if safety measures are not universally applied and followed.


Companies must ensure physical health and safety by setting a protocol for “return-to-work” clearance that includes remote monitoring along with on-site temperature and health screenings and mental health resources. This protocol must be evenly applied to all employees, utilizing on-site screeners to conduct thermal temperature scans, administer health surveys and symptom questionnaires, enforce clearance protocols, and assist with contact tracing, should the need arise.

Companies should also consider their stance on personal protection equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves. Ultra-conservative companies are likely to make them mandatory.

A bundle of solutions for Stage Two should necessarily include:

  • Remote Monitoring – Using a simple COVID-19 screening app can help people assess their health on their own whether working from home or planning to return to the office. This will not only help employees self-regulate, but will help companies know where to direct resources.
  • Onsite Screening – Safety protocols must be universally applied to avoid conflict in the workplace based on political views. Onsite screening and coordination (especially by a third-party) is essential to making sure that each person who enters the office has their temperature checked, is screened for symptoms and knows how to follow protocols for social distancing, hand washing practices and PPE, and what to do if they fail any aspect of screening.
  • Coaches – A return to work after a shelter-in-place or stay at home order is going to be unprecedented for nearly everyone. Navigating the new experiences of interacting with colleagues and customers with masks on and letting go of familiar patterns of behavior we could once take for granted will cause stress and anxiety, so we could all probably use a little help. Expert coaching, rooted in science, can help individuals identify their needs and create plans for succeeding in this new environment.
  • Resources – Additional resources such as interactive content and peer-to-peer connections can help reinforce positive attitudes, behaviors and beliefs while helping adjust to new routines and a different feeling in the workplace. Systems that provide alerts, nudges and personalized action are powerful tools for maintaining gains in well-being.
  • Well-being Tracking – Tools that encourage employees to “check-in” on a daily basis, providing information about their physical health and mood can help employers provide support to people when it is needed most, while also identifying potential health risks to the broader population of employees as the company reopens the workplace to the degree their Stage Two plan permits.
  • Effective Communication – Finally, effective and consistent employee communication is more critical than at any other stage given the fact that many of these solutions represent significant transformations in the employee experience. Stage Two for many companies will include a heavy mix of onsite and distributed work so communications will need to take this into account. Remember, the best plans and policies are no better than the worst if they are not consistently communicated.

Stage Two: Safe

To provide resources to support you and your team, no matter what stage you are currently in for your Return-to-Work planning, find the ebook for download here.

Download Stage Two: Safe

Are You Stage Two Ready?

No one can make that decision for you. Start your return-to-work journey by first assessing how much you are willing to risk between organizational normalcy and employee safety. Then once you understand your risk tolerance, plot your course and stick to it.

We created Aduro’s Interactive Work Readiness Handbook to offer practical guidance on what should be considered when deciding when and how to reopen your offices. We hope you find it to be one valuable source among many to help guide your decisions during one of the most challenging times in world history.

Not sure where to take your return-to-work planning?

Let Aduro help with a return-to-work planning consultation.