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Brentwood-based Premise Health provides health care, often directly at workplaces, to employees at large companies. The coronavirus pandemic forced many of those companies to send workers home, and in response Premise rolled out a number of new telehealth products.

As employees across the U.S. start going back to work, Premise is helping its clients develop plans for how to keep employees safe. 

Premise President Jami Doucette said that the best plan for bringing employees back to work will be different for almost every company.

“Part of the challenge most people are facing when navigating this pandemic, is that there isn't an easy button, there isn't an easy answer,” he said. “It's truly situational across the spectrum of decision making.”

Doucette said that over the last few months, the company has been having daily, or even hourly, conversations with employers about strategies to create healthy workplaces.

Businesses ranging from large manufacturing and mining operations to financial institutions are asking about changes to the physical workspace, changing work schedules, reducing gatherings, providing face masks, screening for sick employees and testing options. 

There is an enormous number of options for companies to consider. Some interventions, such as encouraging social distancing, hand-washing and wearing face masks, apply broadly to many companies, but individual circumstances could influence how those are implemented.

A company where most employees work from offices will have an easy time implementing social distancing rules, but that will be more difficult in an office full of cubicles.  

“The question we're guiding employers to is: What levers make the most sense to pull to give yourselves the best chance for success, to mitigate risk most appropriately?” Doucette said. “You can't eliminate it, you can't make risk zero … How many of those levers does it make sense to pull? To what degree can you drive a sense of comfort and real safety in returning the workforce?” 

Geography will be a very important factor to consider as employers bring workers back on site, Doucette said. A rigorous employee testing program may make sense for companies in New York City, where hundreds of thousands of people have been infected. In Montana, which had less than 1,000 confirmed cases, testing is probably less important.  

Some of Williamson County’s largest employers are planning a cautious return to the office, but they are asking many of the same questions.

Brentwood-based Tractor Supply has formed a task force to investigate the best way to return to the office. Tractor Supply Vice President of Human Resources Brian Evans said testing is one of the hardest areas to navigate. 

“With industry peers, we're all asking, how is (testing) a practical application for us? We don't want to create a false sense of security,” Evans said. “I think like everyone else we're still trying to figure out how to use that in a practical application at work.”

Doucette believes it will be important to bring employees back to the workplace because it’s impossible to recreate that “spontaneous hallway conversation” that drives many businesses forward. 

The difficult reality is that there is no easy way to do that. Business leaders and employees are feeling an enormous amount of uncertainty, and Doucette said Premise is working every day to find ways to make things more clear. 

“It's inherent in human beings to look for certainty and an easy path and an easy way. Neither exist in today's time,” he said. "This is what we're doing day in and day out. How can we create a degree of certainty?”