People Strategy

8 Survey Questions to Ask Employees Before Returning to Work

June 3, 2020
November 7, 2023
Andy Przystanski
Lattice Team

Slowly but surely, non-essential businesses are starting to put pen to paper on their reopening plans. Though local governments and business owners may have the final say on reopening, it would be a mistake not to solicit employees’ input on the who, what, where, and when.

That’s where surveying comes in. If you’re thinking about reopening, be sure to ask employees these important questions first.

1. Before the crisis started, how did you commute to work?

For at-risk employees, it’s not the workplace they’re necessarily worried about — it’s getting there. That’s especially true in major cities like San Francisco and New York City, where commuters rely primarily on mass transit. Ask about your employees’ commutes to assess just how much of a leap it would be to welcome employees back onsite. If most workers rely on subways, buses, or trains, it may be worth delaying your reopening or even offering Uber or Lyft stipends as some companies are doing.

2. Prior to a vaccine being available, how comfortable are you with commuting to or being in the office?

With a COVID-19 vaccine likely unavailable until the end of the year (at the earliest), companies may need to weigh whether it’s worth reopening their physical workplace before then. If only some report feeling concerned about coming to work, it might be worth looking into a partial or phased reopening plan.

3. After stay-at-home restrictions are lifted, how likely is it that you would look forward to returning? 

Some employees have had a hard time adapting to remote work, so it’s tempting to assume they’re secretly clamoring to come back. Don’t jump to conclusions — ask them directly if they’d be comfortable with returning. Those results will inform your timing and the extent to which you need to phase-in your reopening plans.

4. What would your ideal working arrangement be until the end of the year?

While some employees might be comfortable returning to work, they might not want to commit to the usual five days per week. Ask employees which of the following arrangements they’d prefer, including:

  • Working from home full-time
  • Working from home 1-2 days per week
  • Working from home 3-4 days per week
  • Working onsite all week

Some companies are planning to welcome back employees on a rotational basis, limiting the maximum number of people allowed onsite. If you’re considering that kind of approach, this question can help inform your next steps.

5. What safeguards or precautions would you expect to be available before feeling safe to return to the office?

From temperature screenings at the door to closing down common areas, companies are implementing a few different practices to keep employees safe. Give employees a range of options to choose from that your team can actually execute on. Once your survey wraps up, be sure to send the results to your office team so they know what safety measures to prioritize.

6. What concerns you the most about returning to work? 

There are plenty of reasons why employees might be hesitant about returning — and they don’t necessarily all relate to getting sick. With limited access to schools, daycares, or summer camps, childcare might be a major concern for working parents. Others might be worried about productivity. Potential employee challenges or concerns include:

  • Being exposed to COVID-19 while commuting
  • Being exposed to COVID-19 while at work
  • Caring for family members at home
  • Childcare arrangements
  • I won’t be as productive
  • Potentially infecting my peers

You can’t account for every potential concern, so consider adding an “other” option with an open text field. The results will help you better understand where employees’ heads are at and how you might be able to address what’s troubling them.

7. What motivates you the most about returning to work?

There’s no question that the last few months have forced many to adjust their work habits. Some employees might still be struggling with the change. Ask them what it is, exactly, that they miss about working in the office. Provide them with a few examples, including:

  • Interacting with coworkers
  • My hardware/equipment
  • I’m more productive
  • I find it easier to collaborate

Keep in mind that this information is valuable even if reopening isn’t in your immediate future. You’ll gain a better sense of what’s still troubling your team about remote work — and how you can potentially help. For inspiration, read our story on how HR teams are supporting employees during COVID-19.

8. If restrictions were lifted this month, when’s the soonest you’d be comfortable returning to work?

Finally, the question on every HR professional’s mind. Ask employees to share when they’d be comfortable returning to the office — whether it’s early July or January 2021. Be sure to include an option that simply states, “not until a vaccine is widely available.” While you can’t anticipate if (or when) there might be a second wave, these questions can help you decide whether it’s worth holding off on reopening until next year, like some companies are.

Planning your reopening? Compare notes with other professionals by joining our online community of over 8,000 HR leaders, Resources for Humans.