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With many states easing up on stay-at-home measures, human resources teams are now tasked with figuring out how best to reconfigure their workplaces to keep their staffs safe amid the coronavirus pandemic.

open doors 1518244 640smallAs employees who have worked at home for weeks report back, they may find “sneeze guard” partitions and social distancing “safe zones” pinpointing where they should stand in elevators, The Washington Post reports. Concerns remain for weary employers—especially when it comes to the ability to test workers—as some companies reevaluate office layouts, space-out work schedules and even scan employees’ temperatures.

Earlier this month, PricewaterhouseCoopers had plans to introduce a phone app for its clients. The app would notify authorized supervisors when a worker tests positive for Covid-19. That supervisor can then let colleagues who have come into contact with the employee know, and hopefully head-off a widespread outbreak. The new app would be an alternative to the more cumbersome process of interviewing staff and asking them to talk about and trace back their interactions, according to the auditing giant. The firm had reached out to more than 50 clients in April about the new tool.

Tom Puthiyamadam, who heads PwC’s U.S. Digital practice, said firms are also interested in requiring thermal scanners in the workplace. “Not every enterprise is going to command and control mode, but I think right now some of these practices are warranted,” Puthiyamadam said, according to the publication. “I don’t think many employees are going to say no, because a lot of [them] are actually scared to come back in.”

Goldman Sachs is contemplating equipping some of its offices with infrared body temperature scanners as well as virus and antibody testing kits. IBM will stagger the time its employees come to work to avoid crowded elevators. It also will get rid of buffets and shared serving utensils in its cafeterias and remove furniture in conference rooms to better accommodate for social distancing. “The more constraints you have in your office layouts, the less people will be able to adjust,” said Joanna Daly, a human resources vice president at IBM.

For their part, governors have come up with their own plans, or formed regional coalitions among neighboring states, to figure out how best to loosen or phase-out stay-at-home orders, CNBC reports. Most states enacted plans to end stay-at-home directives from the end of April until today (May 15). California, the first state to mandate a stay-at-home order March 19, had declared in early May that it would allow some businesses to reopen with conditions.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo released a 12-step plan April 28 for opening parts of the state that would require businesses to guarantee their workers and customers practice social distancing. These employers also will need to test employees regularly, establish stringent cleaning practices and follow regular tracing and reporting routines.

Chief human resources officers have been on the frontlines when it comes to everything from ensuring employees are able to work from home and now to ensuring measures are taken to protect them when they return to the office, CNBC reports. “In the earliest days, we thought [coronavirus] was strictly a healthcare issue,” said Johnny C. Taylor Jr., CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, according to the publication. “But it became clear how quickly it morphed into a people issue and how CHROs are playing a critical role in helping their companies get through this.”

While many companies had disaster plans in place well before Covid-19, the scale of the pandemic will test CHROs’ abilities like nothing has before. “For years human resources professionals have wanted a seat at the proverbial table,” Taylor said. “Now they have that seat in a major way. And if you’re good, you’re going to stand out. But if you’re not good, you’re going to stand out even more. We’re going to see this crisis as a make-or-break time for a lot of CHROs.”

Last modified on Friday, 08 May 2020
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