Throughout the Spring and Summer, companies saw that vaccines were working and cases of COVID-19 were falling, which provided confidence in announcing re-opening dates for offices later in the year. As we have reached those announced dates, many companies are now having to rethink their strategy due to the Delta variant, which is responsible for more than 100,000 hospitalizations so far. So what is the Delta variant’s impact on office openings?
According to a recent article from Human Resources Executive, “As Delta variant cases rise, some businesses that can operate with remote employees are delaying return-to-work plans based on guidance from the CDC and local health officials,” says Traci Fiatte, CEO, professional and staffing at Randstad USA.
Additionally, the CDC recently updated its mask guidance recommendations, saying that people should again wear them indoors. Many employers are mandating employees wear masks in the office regardless of vaccination status. And some are requiring employees to get vaccinated, including United Airlines, Microsoft, IBM, and Tyson Foods.
Being prudent is the path many organizations are taking with Apple, Google, Amazon, Ford, Wells Fargo, and Uber, among others, delaying a return to the office.
Michelle Wax, the founder of the American Happiness Project, recently shared, “With a return to office, employees may feel threatened. The more you can allow employees to ‘customize’ their working environment, the better. Depending on personality, their family dynamic at home, and work styles can affect this ‘customization’—allowing team members to implement hybrid working, commuting on their own schedules around meetings to avoid rush hour, or allotting ‘no meeting’ time blocks for productivity and focus are all great solutions to allow for more flexibility and freedom.”
And if your executive team is concerned that extending remote working arrangements will impact productivity, Prodoscore President David Powell has good news, “With the Delta variant spread and the stress of making the correct decision, business leaders need to know that despite concerns, the least of their worries should be their employees’ productivity. Our data proves that despite location, productivity is a personal matter. If an employee was highly productive in-office, they’ll be productive at home; if an employee slacked off at the office, they’ll be doing the same at home. In fact, after evaluating over 105 million data points from 30,000 U.S.-based Prodoscore users, we discovered a 5% increase in productivity during the pandemic work from home period. Although, as we know, any variant of the Covid-19 virus is unpredictable, employee productivity is not.”
The best approach for leadership continues to be agility. As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, the need to be flexible and adaptive based on CDC and government recommendations is critical to keep your workforce engaged and informed. With each change, companies would be wise to create a plan A and a backup plan in the event something changes that would impact the primary plan.
Continuing to have an open line of communication is also important. Employees have been in an unfamiliar situation for more than a year and a half, and asking how they are doing and what they need will help them feel some sense of stability in an uncertain time. Whether you want to conduct employee surveys or have managers hold one-on-one meetings, listening and responding with empathy and honesty on the latest information is important for employee well-being.
It is safe to say that the focus should be on enabling employees, regardless of where they are working, and not on a timeline to return to the office. Each company will be different and there isn’t a playbook to guide decision-making. Consider your company culture, and what works best for your employees, your customers, and your investors.
And if you have questions on how to handle your return to work policies, send us a note, and our retained search consultants will see what we can do to help.