Beyond COVID-19: Return to Work Considerations

Four key decisions prior to bringing your employees back to work

The workplace, reimagined for a new normal

Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath will be one of the biggest business challenges of our time. Management teams bear the primary responsibility for navigating their companies through this disruption. It will be up to them to determine how and when to start the complex task of returning to the workplace as government restrictions, like in Vietnam, are lifted. 

A "new workplace normal" will emerge. The majority of CFOs surveyed in our recent PwC COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey plan to implement tactical measures to protect staff, followed by strategic measures around remote work and automation. 

As you move into the next phase of your COVID-19 response, companies need innovative solutions to ensure this safety is sustainable. Mobilising a Return-to-Work (RtW) task force to help define, design, facilitate and monitor RtW strategy is key. Consider the following four decision criteria: Health & Safety, Type of Work (Sequencing), Financial (Cost & Revenue) and Worker Needs / Preference.

Here is a closer look at our recommendations.

Which of the following is your company planning to implement once you start to transition back to on-site work? Please select all that apply.

Change workplace safety measures and requirements (e.g., wearing masks, offering testing to workers)
Reconfigure work sites to promote physical distancing
Change shifts and/or alternate crews to reduce exposure
Make remote work a permanent option for roles that allow it
Accelerate automation and new ways of working
Reduce real estate footprint (e.g., partial opening of offices, retail locations)
Evaluate new tools to support workforce location tracking and contact tracing
Offer targeted benefits for on-site workers in affected areas (e.g., childcare, private transportation)
Provide hazard pay for on-site workers in affected areas
Source: PwC COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey, 4 May 2020
Base: 867

Mobilise a RtW task force and a Transition Office


RtW Mobilisation Transition Office
Establish baseline and set intention Coordinate return to work  response to promote  welfare, compliance and  efficiency
  • Evaluate effectiveness of COVID-19 response across five workforce dimensions  (Protecting People, Secure &  Productive Work, Cost Mgmt.  Recovery Readiness,  Communication)
  • Design and facilitate return-to-work strategy workshop with key stakeholders
  • Monitor two-way feedback channels to check-in on the  workforce
  • Develop and align on RtW strategy
  • Stand up transition office
  • Build return to work project plan
  • Monitor Government and HSE guidelines and drive compliance
  • Execute and manage the RtW strategy and plan
  • Monitor and measure return to work progress

Assess four key decision areas prior to bringing back subsets of the workforce


  1. Ensure compliance with Government and HSE guidelines
  2. Ensure work environment is safe and sanitary. Establish protocols for the use of shared equipment  or workspaces.
  3. Evaluate appropriate medical protocols to form part of a RtW process (e.g. anonymised temperature checks)
  4. Review environment, health and safety and emergency protocols to align with HSE guidance

  1. Identify critical / contractually obliged services and related roles
  2. Identify roles that require interaction with other people (on-site or field), or with shared technology or machinery
  3. Understand where risk and compliance issues are magnified if jobs are not managed on-site
  4. Assess where productivity decreases significantly if work is performed off-site

  1. Understand costs incurred or  saved in bringing people back to work (e.g. on-site security, cleaning fees, PPE)
  2. Identify and stand up new revenue streams or expand  existing offerings (e.g. new products/services)
  3. Plan for fluctuations in typical business demand during the COVID-19 recovery period

  1. Assess workers’ attitudes towards health and hygiene in the current climate
  2. Understand worker personal situations (e.g. childcare, financial) and implications of same on productivity
  3. Evaluate comfort with remote working and perceived effectiveness of collaboration tools/remote ways of working

Create a RtW transition plan


The plan should be robust yet flexible enough to be reconfigured at short notice. It may include the following areas:


Ramp up operations to meet demand

  • Develop a site-level schedule week-by-week and day-by-day, based on volume forecasts, national regulations, and remodeled schedules
  • Establish operating hours by site (e.g., for manufacturing plants, stores, contact centres)
    Identify roles to ramp back up and roles to stay temporarily laid off or continue working remotely
  • Establish return-to-work schedules at the employee level by site, including selection of employees if return is oversubscribed
  • Consider cyber security review as a shift to remote working and prioritising business operations will bring immediate cyber risks
  • Establish incident management team, tools and processes


Design a workplace that enables safe distancing

  • Introduce mechanisms to avoid overcrowding in reduced workspaces, e.g. skeleton workforce, staggered work shifts, rotating teams
  • Remodel the office infrastructure (e.g., retrofitting desks with plexiglass shields to limit close contact between workers)
  • Redesign individual workspace configuration to create space between employees
  • Redesign/close collaborative spaces to allow for distancing
  • Invest in tools/infrastructure that continue to securely enable virtual collaboration (e.g., collaboration software, network bandwidth, laptops, wifi / vpn access, identity and access management, data trust, threat detection and response)

Health & Safety

Implement policies and protocols to ensure a safe work environment

  • Design and implement sanitation protocols and schedule more stringent, regular cleaning of work environment
  • Design and implement physical distancing and personal protective equipment use guidelines
  • Determine and enforce appropriate mechanisms to control human traffic flow e.g., staggering work shifts, break allocations
  • Establish health assessment methods (e.g. temperature checking, self-declaration of fitness for work) in line with privacy and policy considerations
  • Engage with any medical supports that may be available
  • Define visitor protocols / screening processes; review contingent workforce management practices to ensure understanding of who is on site and where they have traveled from

Change Management

Manage adoption of changes and employee sentiment

  • Build change management strategy to drive awareness, understanding, commitment and adoption among your workers
  • Develop communications and engagement plan that addresses both returning workers and workers remaining remote
  • Design and execute training on new processes, policies, and operational procedures
  • Understand your cultural strengths and leverage them as a source of energy and focus.
  • Be prepared to lead with empathy and address arising concerns
  • Establish insights on employee preferences and perspectives on ways of working

Get in touch