Press Releases

ARLINGTON, Va., July 16, 2020

Gartner Survey Reveals What Legal Leaders Require Before Employees Can Return to the Workplace

95% of Legal Leaders Insist on Making Social Distancing Arrangements Before Employees Return to the Workplace

A Gartner, Inc. survey of legal leaders showed almost all (95%) will require social distancing arrangements to be in place before they ask employees to return to the workplace.

The recent poll of legal leaders showed that 79% intend to ensure adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) is available before any return to work, while 58% plan to create new safe work playbooks, 56% plan to screen any visitors, and 52% plan to regularly check employees for visible COVID-19 symptoms.

“Around half of the organizations we spoke to expect to reopen some workplaces for employees this month,” said Brian Lee, managing vice president in the Gartner Legal and Compliance practice. “In most cases, however, things will look very different for employees, and employers will need to make significant changes to workspace planning and acquire new resources such as PPE.”

Measures such as contact tracing (19%) and antibody testing (13%) were not particularly popular with legal leaders (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: What must be in place before returning newly remote or furloughed workers to work sites? (Select all that apply)

“Several of these measures present quite serious legal, compliance and privacy concerns,” said Mr. Lee. “The relative popularity of certain measures among legal leaders is likely linked to the difficulty of ensuring compliance with not only laws and regulations governing privacy, but also changing guidance from various regulators. How companies check for symptoms, track employee movements and contacts, and collect test information could lead to serious privacy issues.”

Preparing the Workplace
The most popular return to work measures were ensuring adequate PPE and appropriate social distancing arrangements. These measures should be deployed in a three-pronged approach:

1)     Clean and Equip Facilities for Safety
“This will need to be tailored to the unique risks of a particular workplace, but it starts with having enough PPE, whether it’s cleaning supplies, disinfectants, hand sanitizers, wipes or other protective equipment,” said Mr. Lee.

2)     Rethink Workplace Design
Employers should review workplace common areas such as kitchens, conference rooms and cafeterias, and adjust them to conform with social distancing requirements. It’s important to identify nonessential high-touch areas such as light switches, door handles whiteboard pens, and remote controls and remove them where possible. Finally, looking at the desk or seating layout to ensure distancing is critical.

3)     Educate Key Personnel
“These measures will have a limited effect unless employees understand the risks and how to mitigate them,” said Mr. Lee. All staff should receive new training on cleaning and social distancing. Then identify individuals for additional training, so they can report issues quickly and also to increase accountability for workforce safety.

Preparing Employees
“Companies must go beyond training to prepare employees for a return to the workplace because many are anxious about their physical safety,” said Mr. Lee. Here are three areas to consider:

1)     Communicate Expectations
Outline the process for returning employees with clear timelines. Also use this as an opportunity to communicate what measures for employee safety have been put in place and guidelines on how employees should interact with each other in the workplace.

2)     Revise Corporate Policies and Procedures
Reinforce these communications with new or updated corporate policies and procedures relating to employee conduct, travel, working from home, and work safety protocols. Moreover, use training to reiterate the new protocols and practices to employees.

3)     Lead Flexibly
“Leaders must prioritize the wellbeing of employees as they return: be prepared for a wide range of responses and questions relating to any return to work strategy,” said Mr. Lee. This will also mean involving employees in strategy and turning their feedback into quick improvements and changes, as well as allowing employees time to acclimate to new conditions and procedures.

Gartner clients can view the report An Executive’s Guide to Returning to the Workplace for more details. Non-clients can also download The Executive’s Guide to Returning to the Workplace here, including a Return-to-Work Checklist for Legal & Compliance with short- and long-term steps for legal leaders.

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