“Going back to the office” takes on new meaning after more than a year of working from home. Some people are excited to get back to “normal” as quickly as possible, others do not want to go back to the old status quo, and still others are seeking a happy medium. Businesses are left scrambling to find a workable solution that will help them retain valuable talent.
How company leaders make their decisions may be the most important piece of the puzzle. It is critical to involve employees in the decision-making process so that they buy into the plan. Employee input should not be ignored; doing so may be the single factor on which an employee decides to stay or leave.
There is no clear answer, but there is certainty that these three issues need to be considered:
In-person, hybrid or remote. Before the pandemic, showing up at work every day was a given for most companies. Now it does seem that the ramp-up back to an office environment will include a certain amount of flexibility.
There are other potential considerations as well, including:
- Whether or how companies want to recognize those who showed up at the office during the height of the pandemic.
- What accommodations, if any, will be made for employees whose job descriptions require an in-person presence.
- When and how in-person meetings and business travel will resume.
- How learning and development will be approached.
- What types of physical accommodations need to be made to ensure employees feel safe.
- How to remain competitive with what competitors are offering.
Do not forget that employee input and satisfaction can be the difference between an engaged workforce and a disaffected one. It remains to be seen whether a company’s competitors will try to recruit talent away from a company whose employees are unhappy with the back-to-the-office decision. Company leaders should think carefully before making a decision about which option is best for them.
COVID-19 vaccinations. This is the big elephant in the room: to mandate vaccines for returning employees or not to mandate. It does not help to look for a general trend. Even within industries, companies are following different strategies. For example, Morgan Stanley said it would require returning employees to be vaccinated, while J.P. Morgan is leaving it optional but mandating that employees log their status on the company portal.
As they come to a determination, companies need to keep in mind two federal laws. The first law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, stipulates employers with more than 15 employees may not discriminate against people because of their religion. This may be a factor if an employee’s religion does not condone vaccinations. The second law is the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects people with certain medical conditions. This exception protects people whose health may be put at risk if they get the vaccine. Because of privacy concerns, employers need to consider how they ask employees for information about these exceptions.
Speaking with an employment law professional before finalizing any decisions is the best course of action.
Communication and transparency. Employees need to be comfortable with whatever decisions their employer makes. This requires communication with and input from employees as plans and processes are put in place.
What all this means is that every business, large or small, needs to develop a strategy that works for them, get the guidance they need and then implement their plans.