The Big Come Back: Creating a Return-to-Work Strategy

A recent national Covid office survey found that 63% of employees were ready to return to the office with the right incentives and safety precautions. By comparison, just over 25% were uncomfortable returning to the office. Which begs the question: How do you determine what’s best for your company?

Precautions, Vaccines, and Trust

As with many other areas, communication and trust are key, and here it appears that employers are doing a good job: A full 85% of survey respondents were satisfied with their employers’ communication about a timeline for a return to work and what that would look like.

Meanwhile, a CNBC survey reveals that 57% of employees prefer a mandatory Covid-19 vaccine for a return to the office. This is likely in part because a full 25% of respondents in our survey said they would not trust co-workers to self-report symptoms.

This may be because many people are experiencing “pandemic fatigue” and therefore attending gatherings, which may increase the spread of Covid-19. This was especially problematic late last year, which led to a debate over punishing employees who attended holiday gatherings that violated local recommendations and regulations. 

An additional issue is that some workers are divided about whether they want to get a vaccine, and they’re especially wary of employers requiring one. Unfortunately, this is in part at least a political divide, according to another Axios-Ipsos poll, which shows that 26% of Republicans will refuse to get a vaccine compared to 17% of Democrats and 18% of Independents

Politics aside, most companies know that a vaccinated workforce is the simplest way to protect their employees’ health as they return to work, especially as new strains of the virus continue to emerge.

The Home Office Effect

Of course, returning to work hinges on more than just issues with vaccination and testing. Employees in our survey have in large part discovered that despite some drawbacks, working at home has provided some big perks that they’ll want to keep once they return to an office. For example: 

  • 50% like the more flexible hours when working from home. One of the top benefits respondents requested to return to work is the option to shift hours and avoid heavy commute times.
  • Speaking of commutes, 35% listed no commute as a top benefit of working from home. The requested benefit: that employers cover commuting costs. 
  • Many parents have been homeschooling their children and have realized the benefit of lower childcare costs. Parents requested subsidized in-home childcare or even on-site learning pods.
  • 32% report better eating habits at home, and many requested employee meal programs as a perk for returning to the office. 

The push for flexible schedules also means many employees would like the option to work from anywhere a certain number of days per week. However, “[work from home] is terrible branding, precisely because it fails to communicate the fundamental freedom that comes with these new policies. It’s not about further imprisoning us in our homes — it’s about empowering us to think and work exactly where we are personally most productive,” Danny Crichton wrote for TechCrunch.

“The whole point of the flexibility that ‘Work From Home’ provides is precisely that you can work from anywhere,” Crichton continues. “[Where you work] may be your home — but it may as well be a café, the hospital where a sick family member is located, a beach, a friend’s house, a hotel. The point of flexibility here is to untether our schedules and the stress associated with them and allow our work to happen where we want it to.”

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Only 9.7% of our respondents want to return to the office full-time, and over 75% would prefer to either work remotely full-time or only have to be in the office 1 to 3 times per week.   

Employers, too, stand to enjoy the benefits of increased attention to flexibility. “Our company was going to build a large company headquarters to consolidate several offices we have throughout the valley,”  Shannon Chiboi, a veterans education coordinator, told us. “Now, many of our workers work full-time remotely, and that plan has been put on hold indefinitely.”

The truth is that some introverted employees, often ignored during certain training scenarios, will have one of two reactions. Either they will feel more isolated in group chats and Zoom meetings, or they may feel that leadership is forced to acknowledge them and interact with them one-on-one, a scenario that holds a lot of appeal. 

What Should Your Company Do?

“Like many other companies, we’ve been cautious about a full return to the office. Currently, we have implemented a staggered return to allow for some departments to continue working remotely,” Monica Eaton-Cardone, co-founder and COO of Chargebacks911, told us. “For those in office, we have strict policies in place regarding social distancing, mask-wearing in public spaces, and receiving temperature checks every morning before entering the building.”

That’s similar to what many employers are doing, but will this change? For many, a return to work will include: 

  • Vaccine options and reasonable precautions that comply with local laws and regulations primarily focused on protecting employee health 
  • Flexible work hours and days that help minimize office occupancy at any given time and allow for social distancing and protections without the need to increase the company’s physical footprint
  • Employee incentives and benefits designed to bring the benefits of working remotely to those who return to the office
  • A blended workforce, with some employees who work remotely and others who work in the office full- or part-time

Of course, this raises additional issues of dealing with a blended workforce from an HR perspective, preserving company culture remotely, and other challenges. But it seems that Covid-19 has forced companies to consider the “new normal” of their workforce in an “unprecedented” way. The pandemic has not only changed work but has changed how we manage our workforce.

Jason Miller is an entrepreneur and CEO of Promoleaf. He has founded several companies in the advertising specialty industry. He enjoys skiing, mountain biking, and spending time with his wife and two sons.

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