COVID-19 Roundtable Recap: Returning to Work and Scenario Planning

April 16, 2020

COVID-19 Roundtable Discussion

Thank you to the members who participated in this Virtual Roundtable Discussion on the COVID-19 pandemic. Members joined the roundtable from Dell, Pentair, Xerox, Liberty Mutual, Johnson & Johnson, Sun Life, MetLife, ENI, Dow, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Novartis, Comcast, BASF, BP, nVent, and Baker Hughes.

The recap below is from a call at 9:00am EDT on April 14. Some approaches discussed may have since changed.

During the call, Mike Dulworth, Founder and CEO of Executive Networks, shared that EN is in the process of launching a research project titled Back to Better with Dr. John Boudreau and Thinkers 50 around the future after COVID-19—HR PC (Post-Covid). We will offer different types of reports and webinars around this—more information to come on our next call on April 16.

Returning to Work and Scenario Planning

  • Conservative approaches: A member shared that they are looking into all the factors involved in bringing people back and will be “very conservative” on their return to work guidelines, implementing policies to carefully maintain social distancing. It’s an approach echoed by others on the call, as companies view aggressive re-opening schedules as high-risk, low-reward.
  • Returning in waves: One member shared that his company has split people into three tiers for each re-opening worksite: The first employees to return to worksites are those whose jobs are essential to maintaining the building. The second are those who are not essential for the building to remain open, but need to be onsite to work effectively. The third and final tier encompasses all others—generally those who have maintained productivity while working remotely. The program is in place in the company’s worksites in China. Another member shared that they will start with letting 10% of their population back into the office and increase that number on a weekly basis.
  • Extra precautions: Several members reported that they plan to check temperatures of office employees as they return, provide and mandate masks, and institute strict social distancing guidelines (ex: max of 2 people in an elevator at a time; interior doors stay propped open). One member company is providing shuttle services (with proper sanitation and capacity limit) to travel to the office. Another organization shared that they are making lunch easy to pick up, so employees do not have to stand in line.
  • Different timelines in different markets: Members are in the process of putting protocols in place and plan on returning to work on a state by state, office by office basis (in US) and country by country basis around the globe. One member shared that their organization has put together an ad-hoc senior team focused specifically on returning to work and productivity efforts. Several companies reported facilities inching back toward full capacity in China and other parts of Asia, with other regions lagging behind.

Learning and Skill Development

  • Expanding learning opportunities for everyone: Several members shared that they are extending or increasing their online employee learning offerings. One stated that they have expanded global contracts with Coursera and LinkedIn Learning to employees’ families and friends. The same company also has an online contract with Khan Academy for the children of employees.
  • Changing metrics and KPIs to focus on skills: A member in the pharmaceutical industry reported that the have shifted incentive targets for their sales teams. Performance targets normally tied to in-person visits to doctors’ offices are now aligned with learning goals and the successful completion of online courses.
  • Skill development for top talent: A member expressed that this time has allowed them to focus on their top talent and how they are being developed. They are working on creating a purposeful set of practices for talent and are giving different projects to those who have not been utilized to the extent they should be. Another member shared that they are utilizing Korn Ferry to run virtual programs that will increase the learning and development of their top talent and ensure they are getting value and keeping engaged.

Virtual On-Boarding and Learning for Internships

  • Virtual on-boarding: A member shared that they have not decided what the process will be to on-board interns in a virtual environment but have informed all interns that they will not be relocating them, as would normally be the case.. Another member expressed that they have reduced their internships from 12 weeks to 8 weeks and are going remote for all internships—even those that are research based in hospitals. Another organization shared that around 70% of their summer internships will be virtual and the remaining 30% will hopefully be a blend of a virtual start and onsite presence for manufacturing and R&D. Another organization shared that they are using a sub-component of the virtual on-boarding and orientation process for their employees for new interns
  • Virtual Internships: A member shared that their organization is creating communities of practice to manage the interns and are allowing people to opt into the program to manage them. The interns will report into a community guide that will develop them and they will also create relationships with the other interns versus than just having a one on one experience with a manager. They have pulled their team together to look at the curriculum they will offer and are deciding whether the interns will be in a community group or in a one on one relationship with a manager. The internship will be 9 weeks long—with the 1st week to serve as orientation with talks from senior leaders and social media training. They have also lost a few interns since the plan has changed as they are unable to relocate and accommodate them. Another member shared that they sponsored a highly rated virtual session with Leilani Brown (“From Campus to Cubicle“) for their interns last summer and plan to leverage it again this summer.


  • Furloughs and Benefits: A member expressed that they are looking into the CARES Act in the US for unemployment insurance during furloughs, which vary state by state and by compensation level. They are looking into this site by site and state by state. Another member shared that their furloughs vary state by state and they are looking into whether people will be using their vacation accruals versus applying for unemployment. They did a state by state analysis around how their employees will be treated if they applied for unemployment and where the cut off will be. Their organization’s senior leadership team has taken a salary reduction and they have asked employees to take a 2-week furlough in Q2. They are disabling their email accounts to ensure they are not working. However, the company continues to pay their benefit premium.

Feedback and Follow-up:

Topics where members agreed more insight and additional capabilities are needed:

  • Being cognizant of what is happening from a contextual standpoint around timing of the return
  • Making talent processes for top talent useful and adding value and not be off track
  • Engaging top talent in different ways and with programs to ensure they are getting their development and experience but also to engage and retain them
  • Creating guidelines for going back to work in the US—requiring masks, doing temperature checks, etc.
  • Creating scenarios and plans for returning to work and start dates
  • Instilling furloughs in the US—experience with the CARES Act for unemployment insurance

Thank You

Thank you to all who participated for your energy and enthusiasm! We will have more discussions and send out surveys and resources on specific topics concerning COVID-19.

If your team is dealing with similar issues or have questions you’d like answered please fill out the form below!

April 14 COVID-19 Emergency Member Session Recap

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