How three major companies are getting their employees back to the office

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Even as employers like Amazon and Google choose to extend remote work into 2021, workplaces in the healthcare, insurance and manufacturing industries where work can often be done more effectively in the office are grappling with how to bring employees back.

Just 25-30% of the U.S. workforce is expected to be working remotely full-time through the end of 2021, according to Global Workplace Analytics estimates. For employees who must return to the workplace, it’s critical that employers strike a balance between safety and productivity, says Jeff Sheckley, assistant vice president of global business resiliency at Unum.

“As soon as the pandemic began, we established three key objectives around our response, and the top priority was the safety and well being for our employees,” Sheckley says. “We also looked at continuity with providing service and serving our customers, and ensuring that it was a consistent experience globally for both our employees and customers.”

Employers including Norton Healthcare, Unum, and Wausau Window and Wall Systems shared their strategies and tips at DMEC’s 2020 virtual annual conference.

Norton Healthcare

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread in the U.S., Kentucky-based healthcare provider Norton Healthcare had its corporate employees start working from home immediately. It suspended elective surgeries and non-emergent care, sending home many of its clinical employees. However, it continued to pay these employees, even if there was not any clinical work to be done. Many of its clinical employees have since returned to the workplace, while its corporate employees continue to work remotely.

“As we've brought back most of our clinical folks, we're pretty full again and we're back to our normal budgeted census in most areas. We're going to determine who really can continue to work remotely, and that may be indefinitely,” says John Hammond, system director of human resources at Norton Healthcare.

Hammond says they are still working out the details of what a full return-to-work looks like and how it will affect employees and their families.


Tennessee-based insurance company Unum has decided to give its employees the choice to return, while making sure its office capacity will not exceed 50% for the next few months. Unum will provide face masks to employees and limit desk use, common area seating and elevator capacity, as well as promote communication between executives and other employees.

“Before employees returned to the office, we had open hours for them and their managers and answered any questions that they had,” Sheckley says. “Our CEO and executive leadership established weekly meetings where they share key updates and take questions live from employees. That level of transparency was extremely well-received.”

Sheckley says senior leaders were on location to greet workers as they returned to work. They also created a “day in the life” video so employees would know what to expect day-to-day.

Wausau Window and Wall Systems

Wausau Window and Wall Systems, a manufacturer of windows and curtain walls based in Wisconsin, organized its employees into two different groups when the pandemic hit: office associates and manufacturing associates. Its office associates — anyone whose job could be done remotely — were sent home in March, and continue to work from home. Manufacturing associates who utilize equipment in the warehouse were provided with at least two washable face masks each. The company has been promoting social distancing by sectioning off common areas and establishing a quarantine room where employees can go if they are feeling ill. They also provide safety training to managers with the goal of helping them enforce these rules.

“Make sure you're giving adequate training to those working directly with the associate — managers, supervisors, things of that nature,” says Abbie Jackson, HR and payroll coordinator at Wausau Window and Wall Systems. “For example, with the state of Wisconsin mandating wearing face masks, we had training with our supervisors to have them feel comfortable approaching someone who's not wearing their mask and find out why.”