THE NEW NORMAL - Why Some Companies are Rethinking Their Return-to-Office Plans
After the euphoria of the spring — in which many people rolled up their sleeves for vaccines and sent work clothes to the dry cleaners for the first time in 18 months — the Delta variant has slowed the exuberance. Following a 10-week global decline in COVID deaths, this highly contagious variant has driven a rise in cases. It’s also forced companies to rethink their plans — appropriately, delta is the symbol mathematicians use to signal change .
In a response to Lars’s post, Jimena Zubiria, vice president of people at TheVentureCity, wrote: “I think this next phase is going to require a huge mindset shift, as a lot of people thought this was ‘over’ and it’s not. And the sooner we come to terms with that, the sooner we can make the best decisions for the collective and not just based on emotion.” She added that this will be “another challenging phase for People leaders.”
As companies face this challenge, many have already begun to shift their plans. Let’s look at what a few of them are doing.
Apple and others are pushing back return-to-office timelines
In June, Apple CEO Tim Cook told employees he expected them back in the office at least three days a week, starting in September. But the tech giant changed course in mid-July, pushing that date to October at the earliest. Apple was one of the first big tech companies to do so.
Other companies quickly did the same. Lyft announced that it will hold off asking employees to return until February. Twitter just closed its newly reopened offices in San Francisco and New York, putting in-office plans on hold indefinitely. Google pushed back its return-to-office date by a month. And LinkedIn recently announced that it would allow employees to work fully remote indefinitely, removing any in-office expectation for most of its 16,000 workers.
Employees worldwide may be breathing a sigh of relief. At Apple, employees were critical of the June decision to reopen because they thought it was too early — and too inflexible. In a recent letter to Tim, they cited an informal survey of 1,000 Apple employees, which found that about two-thirds would reconsider their future at the company if they were required to return to an office.
That’s in line with a survey by The Conference Board, which found that 43% of workers questioned the wisdom of returning to the workplace at all. Interestingly, that view broke down along generational lines. Thirty-six percent of baby boomers questioned the need to return to the workplace, as did 45% of Gen Xers. But among millennials, the number was a whopping 55%.
The big financial companies, though, seem more inclined to reopen offices. Morgan Stanley is requiring its employees to return to the office by Labor Day — and insisting the law firms they work with do the same. JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs are also asking employees to return. And the insurance giant AIG told employees on July 21 that September 14 will be its “official global reentry date.”
But workers — whether they’re in finance, tech, or other fields — have been resistant to returning. They’re concerned about childcare issues, the possibility that public schools may not reopen, commutes on public transit, and mental health issues.
If your company is facing a talent shortage, keep in mind that most current and future employees are looking for flexible work and scheduling options. By offering these, you’ll stay competitive in your recruiting.
Facebook and Google are requiring employees to be vaccinated
Of course, employees and companies are also concerned about health. Which is why Google announced that when workers do return, the company will require them to be vaccinated. “Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead,” Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, told employees in a recent note.
Facebook will require employees who work at its U.S. campuses to be vaccinated. And even U.S. president Joe Biden is considering requiring the federal workforce to get vaccinated.
To encourage vaccination at your company, set up an onsite vaccination clinic. If that’s not possible, give employees time off for vaccines and offer paid sick leave for employees who experience symptoms after getting jabbed. Also, have leaders be vaccine champions. Leaders should not only be vaccinated themselves, but should also reflect the diversity of the workforce and remind their teams why it’s so important to be vaccinated.
After nearly everyone ditched their masks, many companies are requiring employees to wear them again
The same day that President Biden contemplated vaccine requirements for federal workers, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued the recommendation that in high-transmission communities even vaccinated people needed to wear masks indoors again.
In response, a few companies reinstated mask mandates. Apple announced that it would require employees and customers to wear masks — regardless of vaccination status — in more than half its stores. Ford reinstated its mask mandates at a facility in Florida and at the plant in Claycomo, Missouri, that manufactures the popular F-150 pickup truck. General Motors did the same at its plant in Wentzville, Missouri, about 200 miles from Claycomo.
There are other steps employers can take to make workplaces safer, including upgrading ventilation and filtration systems before people return to work, staggering the number of worker who come into the office at any given time, and making sure that the building (especially plumbing, which can harbor bacteria and toxins) is ready after months of low use.
You could also follow the example of LinkedIn, which found a creative solution to the problem of gathering indoors. At one of its Silicon Valley offices, it created a new conference room — outdoors.
Because this is such a hot topic right now, a number of people commented on Lars’s post. Carmen Fontana, director of operations at Augment Therapy, wrote that “the ‘return-to-office’ movement seemed really abrupt to me,” while Erik Gfesser, director and chief architect at Deloitte, reminded her that “not all occupations enable remote work.”
But the person who summed it up best — other than Lars — was Jenn Bouyoukos, executive vice president of global HR at Entertainment One. In the coming weeks, she wrote, “I think we’ll see many shifted plans.”
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