Coronavirus: Return to work planning underway at East Bay-based Blue Shield of California

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- What will life be like at the office when people return to work? A major East Bay company is already wrestling with a myriad of issues at the highest level.

Blue Shield of California has created a task force that is getting input from its thousands of employees to consider systematically what needs to be done to ensure everyone's safety. It includes whether to screen or restrict visitors and how to re-create work space.

Its offices, normally filled with 7,000 employees, are eerily quiet. Yet plans are underway for return-to-work.

"It won't be a switch of the switch, not a chance," said Mary O'Hara, chief human resources officer. "It's definitely going to be a well-choreographed, go slow to go fast return-to-work strategy."

July 6 is the earliest target date, although that will depend on the work of a task force of 10 top executives and input from employees at 22 locations across the state. It meets weekly. Being a health plan, Blue Shield is focused on the health and safety of its workforce.

"The biggest risk is that we inadvertently have someone in the workplace who's not known to be infected and then infects other people," said Dr. Terry Gilliland, executive vice president.

Dr. Gilliland says Blue Shield might break up employees into smaller units, or aliquots, to limit the impact of an infectious outbreak.

Like other companies, temperature checks and testing are under consideration. So is social distancing.

CORT Business Services, a major office furniture contractor, has created prototypes of how to provide six feet of spacing for employees.

A major change could involve conference rooms and casual areas, limiting numbers who can assemble.

Some companies may phase in the return of employees, factoring in underlying health conditions, availability of child care and the reopening of schools.

That might help to extend time to reconfigure work spaces.

"The concern is really going to be around how quickly can they bring these products to market," noted Jeffrey Dornon, regional vice president. "By the time they reimagine, reengineer, get them on the assembly line off to the consumer, it could take a period of time."

While cost implications are still unknown, Blue Shield mentioned its budgets have been helped by the suspension of business travel.

Blue Shield says it plans to share its playbook with other companies. It anticipates companies of different sizes and different kinds of operations will come up with individualized approaches.

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