Series authors: Milena Maneva and Mark Hoffman

This is the second article in a five part series on returning to the office. Previous article: Welcome to the “Return-to-Office” Five-part Series


People, people, people! It is all about the people.


An essential resilience and recovery strategy should include protecting your core asset – your people. With the prolonged effect of the Coronavirus Outbreak (COVID-19), lockdown, self-isolation, fear, and social distancing, many have had their physical, emotional, and mental health put at risk. It is imperative that organizations recognise the need to support staff, show them gratitude for their service and at the same time help them to combat this invisible killer and take the organization forward.

Whilst many businesses were deciding whether or not they were an essential service, and if they could remain open, others were better prepared and followed their Business Continuity and Pandemic plans. Who thought that a pandemic outbreak will be one of the top risks in 2020? Most sources ranked extreme weather events, cyber-attacks, data breaches, infrastructure / network outages as top risks for the year, and very few had any mention of a pandemic outbreak. The UK National Security Risk Register was one of those few, warning the public that “Up to 50% of the UK population may fall ill, with up to 20% of people off work during the peak weeks, causing a significant impact on business continuity. Critical national infrastructure may also be affected during peak periods”. Despite the warning, Pandemic Planning was not a top priority for many businesses who instead focused on cyber-attacks, red weather warnings and physical security events.

Nevertheless, businesses still have the opportunity to prepare for the transition phase of the pandemic and activate an effective return to work strategy. Whilst it is difficult to predict the precise spread of COVID-19, businesses must be prepared for the worst-case scenario (e.g. second wave). As we see an easing of the lockdown rules, remote working will play a major role in the organization’s ability to operate and improve their competitive positioning. Unfortunately, this may not be possible and will vary by industry.


Questions you should consider for your Return-to-Office

  • What are the business risks and remote working challenges?
  • What does the COVID-19 Risk Assessment say?
  • Are we doing enough to protect the physical, mental, and emotional health of our staff?
  • How can we build resilience for our people and organization?
  • Do you have the right protocols, policies, and guidelines in place?
  • Detecting and assessing the impact of the virus and identifying the groups most at risk of severe illness, hospitalisation, and death.
  • Reducing the risk of transmission and infection with the virus as far as possible, supported by good hygiene advice, appropriate behavioural interventions, and provision of personal protective equipment for front-line staff.
  • What is the direct impact on staff now and over time?
  • Can we afford to let staff work from home indefinitely (e.g. Twitter)?
  • How many people can we bring back safely? What is our capacity?
  • Where are my key workers based? How do they commute to the office (e.g. car, cycling, public transit, walk)?
  • Are staff wearing protective equipment during their commute to and from work, and in public areas where social distancing of 2 meters / 6 feet is not possible? Can we make this mandatory? How do we monitor and assess this?
  • Are there any implications with our operational performance and reputation that should be addressed to minimise impact?
  • What happens if our IT staff are affected? Are we optimising productivity and incident response?


What are the current arrangements for staff working remotely?

  • Question your assumptions! Just because your staff appear online does not mean that they can operate efficiently. What can you do to address this?
  • Did we assess the Health and Safety considerations for our staff’s working environment? – e.g. home set-up, hardware, sharing space with others, equipment. How about family duties, home schooling, childcare?
  • What happens to Productivity, Motivation, Collaboration, Creativity, Brainstorming, Team bonding, Sharing knowledge and expertise?
  • What is the mental health impact on staff? – e.g. isolation, social contact, boredom, frustration, fear, stress. Are staff finding it difficult to “switch off” – work-life balance?
  • Cyber security, infrastructure, device password, protocols in place for outside of corporate firewalls. What is the support provided to staff who do not use corporate devices?


How do you return your staff to the office?

  • Establish a working group with full focus on protecting your people, adaptation and implementation of new processes and workflows.
  • Complete you Return-to-Office plan and COVID-19 Risk Assessment.
  • Set the right expectations with staff and key stakeholders – conduct and rules around the office. Do not create one-solution-fits-all for staff in different geographic regions.
  • Do not overwhelm your HR department with queries and concerns from staff but raise the awareness and future planning and communication.
  • Provide extra support to HR and IT support teams.
  • Technology in the office should be reviewed and working from home should remain. We cannot abandon our remote working capabilities, especially with a risk of a second wave of the outbreak.
  • Review your building management advice and measures and speak to other tenants in your building to agree strategy and conduct.
  • Continue to enforce cleaning and hygiene practices. Place signage.
  • Continue to monitor the news and local authorities’ advice.


How do you protect your people?

  • Reduce the impact of cross-contamination and monitor the measures introduced to contain the spread of infection in the office.
  • Create a dedicated COVID-19 page for staff and keep the page current. Build a resource that encourages engagement and interaction.
  • Create a COVID-19 Return to Office Protocol and ensure it is accessible and available.
  • Create new policies and conduct in the office – wearing PPE, reinforce physical distancing.
  • Create a point of contact to respond to queries and gather responses.
  • Protect your staff’s privacy and train your management on how to handle sensitive matters and how to speak to staff returning to the office.
  • Staff’s illness and distress about health, financial wellbeing, and other disruptions are affecting many staff. Leading by example is therefore very important.
  • Prepare the Environment – prepare your workplace –g. place signage, restrictions, one-way movement, temperature checks, disinfectants, common areas, visitors.
  • Introduce screening – ensure everyone is cleared to enter the office; introduce preventive measures and follow your Return-to-Office Protocol and the exposure to COVID-19 positive cases.
  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!
  • Create a two-way value-based communication. It is fantastic to hear what the government and local authorities have to say but we need to hear what your key stakeholders have to say too.
  • Create a phased return approach and categorise your staff, use your business managers, business continuity experts and risk champions.
  • Do not bring everyone back at the same time, think of your most essential workers and support staff.
  • Raise awareness of the social distancing protective measures.
  • Establish a safety notice for those commuting on public transport – wearing face coverings / face masks and gloves.
  • Consider providing a secured method of transport to the office for staff or if it is possible compensate for parking costs.
  • Cross-train staff and transfer knowledge to ensure there are no single points of failure.
  • Continue to foster and develop your talent and recognise the impact that this outbreak is causing.
  • Think about how you can onboard and integrate new starters into the company culture.
  • Address the risk of furloughs, redundancies, and other financial risks.


What are the Lessons Learnt from COVID-19?

  • Test your working assumptions – working remotely / working from an office / recovery site.
  • How does the current situation affect my staff in the short and long term?
  • Be open to new ways of working. Review your physical assets.
  • Evaluate your recovery strategies.
  • Produce a proper resilience strategy – what are your next steps?
  • Key staff assessment – review the worst-case assumptions for loss of staff.
  • Assess minimum number of staff to achieve critical activities.
  • Review your third-party suppliers and contract arrangements.
  • Increase remote working and IT support capabilities.
  • Enhance your cyber security resilience – review threats.
  • Continue to exercise and test.
  • Continue to conduct Risk Assessments.

Stay tuned for the next article Return-to-Office: Preparing the Environment where you will learn about the key considerations.

Previous article: Welcome to the “Return-to-Office” Five-part Series


About Milena Maneva, MSc | AMBCI

Milena holds a master’s degree in Risk Management with over ten years of risk management experience and is a certified as an Associate Member of the Business Continuity Institute (BCI) – she is currently working towards her MBCI application. Milena is active member and supporter of the Women in Resilience group in the UK. Raised in close proximity to a nuclear power plant, Milena became aware of the value of monthly drills as a child.  Those early experiences shaped her into the industry leader she is today.  She is a Business Continuity Management Lead for EMEA in a global financial services firm, looking after the business continuity and incident management for +40 offices, +6000 staff. She plays an influential role in the continuous improvement of her company’s global business resilience strategy and operations. You can contact Milena via

About Mark Hoffman – Author | Speaker | MBCI, CBCP

Mark is an independent senior crisis management and business continuity consultant.  He is the founder and president of a boutique consulting firm that has been serving customers in North America, Europe, and the Caribbean for twenty years. Mark has successfully designed, deployed, and managed BCM and Crisis Management Programs for organizations in the financial, transportation, utility, insurance, risk management and real estate industries. Mark specializes in Program Development / Governance and Crisis / Cyber Management Planning. He is quick to build relationships and achieve results working collaboratively with business leaders and executives. Mark is a frequent contributor to blogs, podcasts, and webinars on the topic of crisis management, cyber response, and business continuity.  Feel free to contact Mark to see how he can help your organization be well prepared: [email protected], on Twitter @mhoffman_cbcp or search for Mark on LinkedIn.