Returning to the Office

What “Opening Up America Again” Means for Reopening the Office

Updated April 17, 2020

Yesterday, the US saw an early preview of guidelines to reopen day-to-day life as part of “Open Up America Again”. We’ll take a deeper look at what this means for the American workplace in the coming weeks. For today, here’s what you should know: 

  1. These aren’t finalized guidelines, but important progress. This is the first we’ve heard from the national level about what opening the economy and getting back in our offices could look like. It’s clear this is an early framework, and more tactical information will need to follow.
  2. States decide when to open, once they meet national requirements. While each state will need to move through the three phases outlined by the national task force, they can make their own guidelines and timelines based on local health and government criteria as we saw in California.
  3. This is promising, but most companies still have work ahead. Everything we’ve seen so far indicates the average company will need to make changes to how they manage people coming into the office, and where they are allowed to work. Even without a clear date in mind, you should take key themes like remote work, social distancing, hygiene, and business travel into consideration now.


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What the Three Reopening Plan Phases Changes for the Workplace:

How reopening the economy in the wake of coronavirus will affect the workplace



If you’re planning how to return to the office, the reopening plan phases outlined by the national government are important broad strokes to follow, but here’s how they can impact your day-to-day.

Phase 1

Essential people return to the office: Some people can use the office, but you’ll need separate areas for folks at high risk of getting ill.

Remote work stays a priority for most: People who can work from home still should. It will still be important that people are comfortable and productive in their WFH (“Work from home”) setups.

Return in shifts: As you’re thinking about bringing employees back, don’t bring back everyone all at once. Think about using shifts for groups to come in some days and work remotely others.

Strict social distancing measures: Try to minimize the number of people in common areas and consider mapping out physically distanced floor plans. Rethink your seating strategy and outline policies to help your people stay safely distant.

Minimal travel: Unless your people absolutely need to travel, they should avoid it. Avoid business travel unless absolutely required.

Phase 2

Remote work encouraged: Thinking back to shifts, this is the phase to make a formalized flexible work policy so more employees can regularly work remotely.

Keep keeping your distance: Maintain social distancing policies and guidelines. At this point, they don’t need to be as strict, but employees will likely feel more comfortable with those bumpers in place.

Pack your bags (maybe): Non-essential travel can resume, though many conferences and professional events may still be canceled or postponed.

Phase 3

Reopen your workplace: Everyone can work in the office together again. Welcome visitors and interviewees.

Business as unusual: While you can open your office without restrictions, it won’t be the same as it was before moving employees to remote work or minimizing their access. People grew used to more flexibility in their days while also experiencing high levels of uncertainty. Being adaptable to what your people need now is more important than ever.

We’ll talk more about this over the coming weeks as we dive deeper into what physical distancing measures will look like in the workplace, suggest change messaging tips for the transition back, and more.