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COVID-19 pandemic: Many employers uncertain when they’ll reopen their workplace, survey finds

Photo: Kosamtu/iStockphoto

New York — More than a third of business leaders don’t know when their employees will return to the workplace as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, according to the results of a recent survey.

In August, nonprofit think tank The Conference Board conducted an online survey of more than 1,100 executives, vice presidents, senior managers and other business leaders representing a cross-section of industries from 20 U.S. metropolitan areas.

Thirty-five percent of the respondents indicated their organization hasn’t yet set a date for employees to return to the workplace. Only 13% of the respondents said their workplace has remained open throughout the pandemic, while 39% plan to return workers by the end of March. Additionally, only 5% said the widespread availability of a COVID-19 vaccine would be a significant factor in deciding when employees return.

Three out of 5 respondents said their organization has consulted workers about their level of readiness and comfort in returning to the workplace, and those organizations “were more likely to implement safety measures, specifically for workers taking public transportation; revise work-from-home policies; and provide child care options,” Rebecca Ray, executive vice president of human capital at The Conference Board, said in a Sept. 3 press release.

“Notably, these top worker concerns were low on the overall list of safeguards that organizations are implementing, indicating that they are more important to employees than employers may realize,” Ray continued. “This disconnect reinforces the need for companies to receive buy-in from their most precious resource – their people.”


Around 19% of employers are providing child care options for workers, while 13% have implemented policies or safety measures for workers who use public transportation.

Other findings:

  • 67% of employers are requiring screening, testing or temperature checks for returning workers.
  • 46% plan to stagger shifts or start times to reduce contact among employees.
  • The most common measure to protect workers is the purchase of safety equipment (e.g., thermometers, contactless entry devices, sanitation devices), implemented by 82% of employers. That’s followed by the creation of new workplace policies that require physical distancing (80%).

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