Considering recent events, we’re now faced with a major transition and shift in how we operate both at work and in our personal lives. I’ve chatted with several people from various organizations since the COVID-19 outbreak to talk through what should be considered when shifting to remote work. There are many elements that factor in like asset distribution, remote work policies, communication policies, and IT support.  But not all organizations can shift to remote work.  What about the essential employees who are needed on site?  In this blog we’ll discuss how you decide who’s needed in a crisis and what roles must be onsite no matter what, all while keeping those employees safe in the process.

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Determining who you absolutely need

When you’re going through the process of choosing workers, keep in mind these are essential employees, meaning without their contribution your ability to do business and/or maintain services or production ceases. You can argue that all roles are essential to be onsite, but I would challenge you to briefly discuss with your managers and determine whose tasks are mostly computer- or desk-based.

For example, if someone’s working hours are split between doing a physical task like working on a production floor and doing desk work at a computer, you may consider shifting the physical work to someone who spends all their time there already. The main objective should be making the tough decisions about what the minimum team you require to keep functioning is and then setting up multiple communication strategies to accommodate both that essential group and the group you’ll be moving to a remote setting, since their needs will be different..

Here are some examples of key roles to consider marking as essential if you’re looking for a place to start. These obviously will vary based on your industry and company structure, but it helps to have a baseline:

  • Security officers
  • Maintenance workers
  • Cashiers/front-line customer service professionals
  • Janitorial/cleaning services teams
  • Plant floor or production workers
  • Mail room workers
  • Distribution workers and stockers
  • Cross-functional supervisors

For businesses that have roles with certain physical requirements, ensure that you have essential team members who can cover the heavy lifting tasks. One more thing to consider is using this as a time to cross-train or reskill employees, allowing a larger rotation of potential essential workers to minimize risk to your employees and provide work for more people in the event that certain positions aren’t able to function in the current environment.

Employee well-being and safety

When it comes to safety, especially when there are medical risks to employees such as with COVID-19, we need to take extra measures in times like these. Provide hand sanitizer in communal locations. Ensure each employee is briefed on how to effectively wash their hands. Provide wipes, towels, disinfectant, and/or cleaning supplies. Practice social distancing in the break areas and, if possible, in working areas. Teach the proper method to cough and sneeze and advise employees against touching their face. You can even integrate reminders around these things into activities employees need to do anyway, like punching in for a shift or going through an assigned to-do list.

If you’re concerned about the health and safety of your essential employees, don’t hesitate to use the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) resources and standards. They’re updated regularly to reflect the latest guidance, especially during the current situation.


It’s imperative, now more than ever, to have an effective organization and communication plan in place. Start with identifying how often you intend to communicate, who will be responsible for the communication, and when/how employees are required to act based on what you communicate. Remember the major investment your business made in your HCM system? This is an opportune time to leverage that system to post schedules, communicate via text or email, and provide announcements/updates on current work environments. Overcommunicate the safety measures and precautions your organization is taking to help manage expectations and mitigate the anxieties your employees may be feeling.

If you intend on decreasing the amount of staff onsite, provide an organization chart with phone numbers and emails for employees to contact in the event something occurs. Ensure you have roles and responsibilities defined on the chart, so employees know who to directly contact with various issues or concerns.

Also, it’s critical to recognize that your communication strategy should go beyond organizational updates and procedures. Your employees are probably worried about their job and their financial security right now. Make sure you keep track of the resources available to help them through the crisis, such as new government aid options, disaster relief organizations, or your own internal initiatives. It’s also important to maintain your culture and keep communicating about the more fun or engaging aspects of the work your teams do as well – everybody wants to hear some good news too, especially now.

Conclusion: Job one is keeping people safe

As you continue to strive for normalcy in these hectic times, remember that every action you take to keep your employees safe, working, and healthy is contributing to the greater good.  When faced with a challenge like the one we’re in now, overcommunication, transparency, and responsibility assignments will help ease the tension. Check out our additional resources around managing through COVID-19 and other times of uncertainty if you're looking for more ways to support your employees and maintain business continuity.

Keep doing your part and don’t forget, as our CEO Aron Ain often says, “great organizations are powered by great people.”

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Published: Tuesday, 15 September 2020