Many of my clients have had the flexibility to allow their employees to work from home/remotely during the pandemic. With vaccines now available in the U.S., they are having conversations about what their offices look like post-pandemic, and how they transition back to in-person work. Here is a summary of the latest perspectives on the post-COVID-19 workplace.
Employees want to work remotely. While coronavirus transmission and safety fueled remote work, employees also appreciate the benefits of working from home, such as less commuting. And employees want to continue to have this flexibility. A Pew Research Center survey found that 54% of employees want to keep working from home after the pandemic, at least part-time, and Mercer expects 20% or more of the workforce to work remotely full-time post-pandemic. If your organization will keep or expand remote work, consider how this might affect your real estate requirements and workspace planning. One analysis estimates that a “typical” employer would save $11,000/year for every person who works remotely half-time.
Have a clear COVID-19 safety policy. Some of my clients were back in the office last year, so your organization may already have one. Even so, pandemic and safety guidelines continue to evolve, so make sure your organization guidance is updated regularly. If you are starting from scratch (and are U.S.-based), begin with guidance from CDC and OSHA. Also review guidance from state and local entities. While this guidance is comprehensive, it includes things like: updating your sick leave and family leave policies to reflect COVID-19 specifics; outlining the safety measures that employees are expected to follow; and explaining changes that your organization is implementing to support employee safety, such as cleaning procedures.
The transition will be gradual. Employees are concerned for their safety and are wary about coming back to an office setting too quickly. Even after widespread vaccination efforts, a crowded office may still seem scary. Employers can implement measures to reduce employee interactions, such as bringing back employees gradually, on a phased timeline; staggering the days on which employees or teams are in the office; or creating smaller work groups to limit mixing of employees. You may also want to consider local COVID-19 infection rates when determining office capacity limits or the timeline for return to the office. You can view COVID-19 infections and/or risk by county here and by state here.
Communicate, communicate, communicate. One survey found that employers that have been transparent during the pandemic increased employee engagement and satisfaction and decreased fears around COVID-19 in the workplace. As soon as you have a plan for transition back to the office, proactively push it out to employees. Support two-way communication, and be sensitive and responsive to employee questions, concerns, and fears. Provide written versions of your policies, hold webinars and Q&A sessions to explain the guidance, and be available for one-on-one conversations with your employees. Be willing to adjust based on feedback from your employees.
The transition to a COVID-19 world was abrupt. We can now imagine a post-pandemic life, but that transition back will be gradual and will take thought and effort. Foresight, planning, and communication will support your organization and your employees in feeling ready to return to the workplace.