Do you have any tips on a safe return to the office?

Reopening Staying Safe

A: Three key priorities: (1) Building + workspace safety; (2) Personal safety; (3) Open and honest communication

Per the Dear Pandemic Q&A round-up, many in our community are curious to learn more about best practices for returning to the office. In our related external advisory work, Your Nerdy Girls have encouraged employers and employees to take a three-pronged approach:

(1) Beef up building- and workspace- specific infection control protocols

(2) Promote personal protective behaviors

(3) Communicate early, often, openly, and honestly

But “HOW?!” you might reasonably ask. We like the following resources for nitty-gritty, **practical** implementation advice.


Look to guidance from regulatory agencies including the CDC and the Department of Labor (links below), as well as that from professional and medical societies and consultancies such as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (aka ASHRAE, link below), Cleveland Clinic (link below), and McKinsey (link to a terrific plain-language explainer on HVAC systems and COVID below). Harvard’s “Schools for Health” initiative has terrific tips specific to school buildings (link below).


Many of us (including your steadfast Nerdy Girl team) are wondering “what can I do to keep myself protected?” Helpfully, 10 medical and scientific experts have weighed in on the matter. Their collective guidance provides reassurance that the same behaviors that have been woven into our habits over these past months will help keep us protected as we return to the office. One of the experts interviewed – former surgeon general Dr.Regina Benjamin – catchily refers to the most important among them as the 3 W’s: “Wash your hands, wear your mask, watch your distance.” For those at increased workplace exposure, she adds “Once at home, wash up, remove your outside clothes, don’t spread them around the house, keep work items separate or in one place.” Additional detailed guidance for essential workers is provided by immunologist Dr. Erin Bromage, another of the interviewed experts.


The Nerdy Girls’ primary focus is COMMUNICATION, COMMUNICATION, COMMUNICATION – which will likely come as no surprise to the Dear Pandemic community. Open and honest dialogue between employers and employees is critically important. We’ll all be surfing some serious uncertainty – which is hard on our brains and can impede decision-making (for more on this, see recent DP post). Kindness is key, and often wins the day in terms of persuasiveness (recent DP post with etiquette tips here).
So how can employers and employees come together to renew their social contract? In an article for the Harvard Business Review, crisis communications expert Paul Argenti recommends that employers “demystify the situation for employees, put everyone’s mind at ease, and provide hope for the future.” He goes on to advise that employers should post information in a highly visible location; describe how important decisions are made (e.g. who is and isn’t allowed to work from home; policies around symptom screening and associated supports such as paid leave; testing protocols; etc.); communicate no less than every day; and err on the side of timeliness over “waiting until you know all of the answers.” As part of the aforementioned expert panel, Erin Bromage urges a frank recognition that “every business has some constraints that they cannot realistically overcome. I think it is imperative that employers speak openly with employees about what they have done to reduce risk the workplace…but also to highlight limitations they are unable to mitigate.” Employees seeking proactive clarification may find it useful to have a conversation guide as a resource. Two great options: (1) Other suggestions from the 10 medical/scientific expert panel referenced above (see section titled “What questions should workers be asking their employers?” ); and (2) Consumer Reports’ article on going back to work.

In conclusion, we hope that the above resources will help employees and employers feel more educated and empowered to co-create a safer return-to-work strategy. We’ll keep supporting y’all in this effort, pushing out trustworthy and timely updates as the pandemic evolves (and, fingers crossed, resolves!).
References on building and workspace safety:

Regulatory guidance:

Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers Responding to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), May 2020.”

Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19, no date”

Professional and medical society and consultancy guidance:

ASHRAE website (chock-a-block full of HVAC and other building readiness protocols)

Cleveland Clinic, “COVID-19 at Work: Six Building Blocks of a Robust Cleaning and Disinfection Program, no date”

McKinsey, “Can HVAC systems help prevent transmission of COVID-19?” July 202.

School-specific building protocols

Link to original FB post