Going Back to the Office, What Next?
As the COVID-19 tragedy evolves many are wondering what the future holds for going back to the office. When will offices reopen? Will people continue to work from home? Will the reopening bring about a hybrid combination? San Francisco Chronicle reporters Jessica Flores and Roland Li state in a recent article that “some of the biggest companies in the Bay Area are reopening their offices after more than a year of shelter in place.” Here are their specifics on a few major companies:
Uber. The first major office employer in San Francisco to reopen, on March 29, after the city entered the orange tier of the state’s coronavirus reopening system, which allowed “nonessential” offices to reopen. The company opened its new Mission Bay headquarters on a voluntary basis at 20% capacity. The 1 million-square-foot, four-building complex next to Chase Center has room for roughly 5,000 employees.
Facebook. Menlo Park, Cal., headquarters reopens May 10; Fremont, Cal., offices on May 17; Sunnyvale, Cal., offices on May 24; 181 Fremont and Park Tower in San Francisco on June 7. Facebook will open at 10% capacity and on a voluntary basis. Employees who have been working remotely will be allowed to continue until offices reach 50% capacity, which will likely be after Sept. 7 for large sites.
Cisco Systems. Targeting July 1 to begin a gradual return to the office; will depend on coronavirus trends. The company has not decided whether the return will be mandatory or voluntary, but they will likely embrace a hybrid work model post-pandemic.
Elizabeth Chuck, reporter @NBC News, in her article, Office Buildings Are Opening Back Up. Not All Employees Want to Return: “Many companies have already welcomed back workers. According to a March 29 survey by Kastle Systems Security found that 24.2% of employees in ten big cities throughout the United States were going back into their offices. The number is expected to grow as more people get vaccinated. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a target date of May 3 for about 80,000 municipal office workers to return to their offices. Microsoft has begun bringing back some employees in a ‘soft open’ of its Redmond, Washington, headquarters. In Minneapolis, Target Corp., anticipating a permanent combination of hybrid and in-office work, has downsized its corporate office space by a third.”
Just because workers are vaccinated does not mean that they are comfortable and secure going back to the office. Variants of the virus continue to arouse grave concerns. There is much uncertainty about work schedules and safety features of the office. Many employees have such stress at the idea of returning to the office they have accepted a drop in salary in order to continue to work remotely.
Elizabeth Chuck continues: “A recent American Psychological Association survey found that 49% of adults feel uneasy about returning to in-person interactions post-pandemic, and 48% of those vaccinated also feel uncomfortable with in-person interactions. Without question, the pandemic has posed mental-health challenges. But, a return to the office does not have to worsen those feelings, experts say.”
Brad Klontz, Founder of Financial Psychology Institute, suggests that “employers should be prepared for anxiety among their workers. Those who were prone to anxiety may have struggled more during the pandemic, and those who were not may have experienced anxiety for the first time. There is no question that our patterns of work have been altered in a way that no one could have anticipated. Employers need to be flexible in terms of expectations. This is going to be easier for some and harder for others, especially those who lost loved ones to Covid-19, had it themselves, or are dealing with lingering health problems from the coronavirus.”
Gwen Moran, Writer/Editor/Creator @ Bloom Anywhere, her article How To Get Employees Ready To Return to The Office suggests the following:
START WITH SAFETY
Tami Simon, Senior Vice-President @ Segal HR & Benefits Consulting, states, “The number-one issue before employees come back to the office is safety. Above all else, employees need to feel safe: physically, mentally, and financially. Employers should transparently describe how they plan to make their workplace a safe place. In addition to the physical measures companies need to take, employees need to feel they will not face consequences for expressing their needs or feeling reluctant to head back to the office.” Jikku Venkat, Chief Technology Officer & Cofounder @ ReturnSafe says, “Some of their concerns can be quelled by communicating the company’s physical-safety initiatives and policies. Those may include symptom checks, physical distancing of workspaces, staggered scheduling, testing, personal protective-equipment requirements, enhanced cleaning, and others. It is important for you the employer to have a very systematic approach, not ad hoc, with respect to these protocols. While these may seem like straightforward actions, many companies still have not figured out their own approach.”
Brenda Neckvatal, HR Consultant, suggests, “for employees to feel comfortable and motivated to return to the office, they have to know what to expect. As you make decisions about in-office or hybrid schedules, keep your team in the loop. It is a good idea to communicate policies, changes, and expectations across different platforms, such as employee emails, manager meetings, and internal podcasts. As you discuss plans with employees, you are likely to get opinions. Either your organization accepts an idea, or, if not, at least let them know you appreciate their suggestions. It helps employees feel appreciated and that their contributions matter.”
RECOGNIZE THAT YOUR EMPLOYEES HAVE CHANGED
Simon adds, “The folks who are coming back to your newly distanced cubicles are not the same as those who left a year ago.” Josh Bersin, Global HR Analyst & Founder @ Bersin by Deloitte, offers: “Before the pandemic, companies such as banks and insurance firms may not only have discouraged remote work but prohibited it because of security concerns. Now, not only has remote work become mainstream, it happened during a crisis. Employees’ lives were often laid bare in the background of Zoom calls. Accommodations were made for the work-life collision and employees are going to expect more of the same going forward. One client used to spend every Friday commuting about five hours round-trip to a staff meeting. Now the client predicts that the Zoom call will become the norm and participants will find ways to get face-to-face time in other ways.”
LOOK FOR NEW BENEFITS NEEDS
Bersin adds, “Shoring up your company’s wellness culture may be a good idea, too. The expectations of employees for well-being programs, mindfulness programs, rest, time off, breaks, and tools to help us schedule our time are very high. Your employees are likely to have new demands around quality of life, especially if they are spending more time commuting to get back to the office.” Simon continues, “Those programs may range from added mental-health support, caregiving assistance, financial wellness, and education. The best way to determine those needs and make sure your employees are getting the support they need is to take a serious look at your employee base. Talk to employees and find out their opinions, but also look at your benefits program through the lens of what your organization can offer and what investments will best support the most immediate needs.”
ADAPT YOUR SPACE
Simon suggests, “Create a space that people want to come back to. That may include changes to the physical space and accommodating needs like standing desks to help employees avoid being sedentary all day. If you are going to rotate employees who are in and out of the office, you may wish to consider abandoning fixed desks and create workstations that can be shared. Possibly having a main workstation at home will help employees better adapt to the time spent in the office.”
USE THE POWER OF FOMO (fear of missing out)
Bersin continues, “As work shifts back to normal and it is safe to gather, office parties, get-togethers, and simple opportunities for reconnecting with our coworkers will be motivators for employees to return to the office. Once people start coming back and having in-person meetings, a measure of FOMO will likely prompt others to join them. Those companies that morphed to all-remote, telling employees to work from home for the entire future with the company will probably rethink and ask those remote workers to return to the office now and then.”
As the ongoing concerns about Covid-19 continue, we are left with the mandate to continually reevaluate where we are and what we must do to insure our future. Winston Churchill stated at the height of World War II, “This is not the end, this is not even the beginning of the end, this is just perhaps the end of the beginning.”
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