Companies around the world are mapping out a return to the workplace. How will companies build effective plans — and how will this impact their workforces?

Dave Guilmette, President of Global Health Solutions at Aon, discusses ways we can adapt to constantly changing demands, and create better employee benefit options for the long-term.

Q: What is top-of-mind for companies planning for a return to workplace?

Many employees have been working from home during lockdowns, so the idea of “return to work” involves returning to the worksite and/or to travel and convening. With this in mind, organizations and leaders have many questions about the particulars of keeping employees safe. For example, should their strategy involve COVID-19 testing? What does that look like from a very practical standpoint – temperature checks, full testing, contact tracing, or more? And what does this mean for a global company, with offices in different cities with different local policies?

We’re working to help organizations with these enormous questions with the Work Travel Convene coalitions, starting first in Chicago and expanding to other cities. Companies can share best practices and help each other with strategies, with the goal of creating a replicable approach to help employers and employees.

Q: With employee health a critical focus, what trends do you see in healthcare in the immediate and long-term future?

Virtual health and “tele-health” will fundamentally change how healthcare is delivered in the future. The pandemic has pushed healthcare systems all over the world to the breaking point, calling into question the resiliency of our systems. In fact, lockdowns and other government policies have been imposed to ensure the pandemic does not crush our healthcare system. We’ve made huge tradeoffs and incurred significant economic costs to help keep our healthcare systems stable. At the same time, there are still demands that haven’t been met. In the U.S., for example, patients have been impeded from getting the care they need due to hospitals shutting down other services during lockdown.

As a result, virtual health and telehealth had significant spikes in usage. Where 3-4 percent of employees might have used virtual health options prior to the pandemic, initial data shows during the first 30 days of COVID-19 shutdowns this jumped to 30-35 percent. We think this will continue, and potentially increase. Offering more virtual health opportunities could help strengthen the resilience of our healthcare systems around the world.

Q: How can companies create a “new better” for their employees?

Employees now have stressors we’ve never encountered due to the pandemic, including new mental health stress, changing physical fitness levels, financial strains and more. As a result, employers need to do a lot more to account for the safety of employees and ensure a resilient workforce. We could see new behavioral health programs offered to employees in the future, as well as expanded virtual health options.

This is not a sprint – recovery will happen gradually, and unevenly around the world. So we need to be adaptable, evolving with changing policies and learning from one another along the way.

Dave Guilmette, President of Global Health Solutions at Aon