15 questions firm leaders should ask before returning to the office

By Anita Dennis

As organizations across America reopen their workplaces in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, they face many new concerns: How can they keep staff as safe as possible? How many people will be allowed in the office at one time? How will they handle travel and visits to and from clients?

Below are some of the questions that can help CPAs recognize the issues they need to consider. They were developed based on resources on reopening from the Centers for Disease Control and the Society for Human Resource Management, and on interviews with Joey Havens, CPA, CGMA, executive partner of HORNE LLP; Jennifer Wilson, partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching LLC; and consultant and speaker Amy Vetter, CPA/CITP, CGMA, the CEO of The B3 Method Institute.

Staff communications

1. In a time of great uncertainty and conflicting messages, how will the firm communicate its priorities and its plans to create a sustainable work environment going forward? How will it reassure and maintain the trust of its staff in a scary time?

Flexible and remote work policies

2. What is your policy about returning to the office? How committed are you to allowing staff to remain remote until the pandemic ends? What provisions will you make for high-risk employees, employees with family or other obligations, or staff who don’t feel safe commuting to or working in the office?

3. What changes will you make to your remote work policies? How will the guidelines be communicated to employees?

Operations

4. Who will be responsible for overseeing the reopening, ensuring guidelines are followed, and monitoring changing needs and circumstances in the coming months? What federal, state, or local guidelines are you required to meet? How are you addressing varied guidelines or safety concerns at different office locations?

5. Will visitors be allowed in the office? If so, what will the protocols be for each type of visitors allowed?

6. What are the circumstances under which employee travel or visiting clients’ offices is allowed? If employees will travel or visit clients, what guidelines will ensure their safety and address the firm’s liability if they or a client gets sick?

7. What changes are needed to business continuity or disaster plans based on best practices learned thus far in the pandemic?

Health and safety

8. What protocols will you institute to minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission once employees return to the office? Examples include:

  • Creating capacity limits for the office and gathering places;
  • Closing of coffee bars, lunchrooms, and other gathering places;
  • Reconfiguring workspaces to allow for social distancing;
  • Installing safety panels between desks;
  • Wearing masks;
  • Avoiding handshakes;
  • Instituting one-way traffic patterns;
  • Limiting capacity in elevators;
  • Making hand sanitizer available and requiring its use; and
  • Monitoring employees’ temperatures.

For clients, such protocols can include contactless pickup or drop-off or digital delivery of documents.

9. If the firm owns the building, how will it provide for the health of security guards, custodians, and other staff?

10. How will the firm address proper ventilation and maintenance of HVAC systems?

11. What policies need to be implemented to minimize the number of people in the workplace at the same time, such as staggered workdays or alternating weeks in the office?

12. How will you communicate new protocols to staff, and how will you ensure they are followed?

13. What stay-at-home or other policies will be needed for employees who fall ill or are exposed to the virus?

14. What risk of liability does the organization face related to employee illnesses?

15. What plans should be put in place if a second wave of the pandemic occurs or the virus reemerges as cold weather returns?

For more news and reporting on the coronavirus and how CPAs can handle challenges related to the outbreak, visit the JofA’s coronavirus resources page. AICPA members can access a PCPS resource about safely managing your firm during COVID-19.

Anita Dennis is a New Jersey-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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