It’s safe to say that nearly all offices that were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic have made plans to reopen. We know that a hybrid approach, where some if not all employees work remotely part of the time, is going to be an aspect of the new normal. It’s also safe to say that offices are not going anywhere. According to Gartner, just 1% of mid-size companies are going to operate fully remote, while just 5% are going to require a full return. That leaves 94% of companies reopening offices considering a mix of in-person and remote.
While companies have made decisions on opening timelines, the plan for how to return is a bit more difficult. With government recommendations, vaccination status, and cultural considerations to account for, human resources leaders are working hard to figure out the best way to communicate with employees about reopening.
Those that prefer a company mandate that employees get the vaccination before returning to the office may not like the results Gartner found, with just 9% of companies requiring employees get the vaccine before returning to the office. Most companies will encourage employees to get the vaccination, but will not require a form of proof, leaving them to estimate what percentage of employees have been vaccinated.
Vaccination information should not be a significant determining factor in the decision on when to reopen the office for a number of reasons. First, different states have different strategies. Some embrace the card, while others do not as it is not a formalized process and cards can be easily faked. Additionally, there are privacy concerns with health information. This aspect is especially difficult for human resources professionals and one they are not comfortable addressing without specific instruction from the government. There is also the reputational aspect to consider. Employees can take to social media if they feel they are being asked unfairly to get the vaccine, which could cause a public relations problem for the company.
Below are three approaches Gartner recommends to navigate the reopening process that will create a safe environment and provide employees with the peace of mind to return to the office in a productive manner.
Provide Plenty of Lead Time
To alleviate employee concerns, provide them with plenty of lead time to prepare for a return to the office. Provide details about the new safety protocols the company will have in place. Provide them with the opportunity to ask questions so their concerns can be addressed by leadership and be transparent in communications so they know exactly what to expect when they return.
Clearly Describe Work Expectations
More than half of employees have said that the approach their company takes to a flexible work schedule will determine if they remain with their current employer, according to Gartner’s 2021 Hybrid Work Employee Survey. A hybrid approach should be human-centric instead of just reinterpreting the traditional in-office approach to remote work. Companies that simply rely on what they already know instead of rethinking the way their employee’s work could see productivity decreases of one-third or more.
Provide Ongoing Safety Conversations
Many industries that have strict safety requirements have used this practice for years. Leadership should have daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly scheduled time to discuss the safety protocols in place, what is working, what changes are going to happen, and what questions or concerns employees have. Creating an open, honest, transparent environment in these meetings sets expectations, reduces ambiguity, and builds trust and inclusion throughout the organization.
If you have questions on creating an HR plan for returning to the office that supports your culture, send us a note.