In mid-March 2020, the bourgeoning pandemic forced millions of people to work from home, with businesses hastily beefing up their staff’s computer systems to enable remote access to their networks and information to run their operation. Companies had to become nimbler and more flexible as the boundary between work and personal lives blurred with employees juggling their kids’ virtual learning and, in some cases, being responsible for providing home care for an elderly parent.
While many are still working remotely (depending on the state in which you live and the line of work you are in), businesses are making plans to bring employees back to the office. People are getting vaccinated, with healthcare workers, food workers, and other essential employees a priority for the vaccine (again, within state specific guidelines). By the end of May, the administration says the vaccine will be available to all adults – the key will be to administer the vaccines in a methodical and equitable manner.
Before making concrete plans to initiate a return-to-work option, it’s important to remember that while there has been progress with managing the pandemic, there are still obstacles and unknowns ahead. With this in mind, it’s prudent to take a phased-in approach and avoid creating unrealistic expectations among employees and management. Safety of employees is imperative every step of the way.
In discussing various return-to-work options – from returning some staff to the office to a hybrid approach where employees continue to work a few days a week at home and the remaining days at the office, to a fully-staffed office environment – leadership should keep its personal opinions close to the vest. It’s recommended that leadership doesn’t influence the staff in order to get an accurate read of how employees really feel about coming back to the office. It’s important that staff feels safe about returning to the office, and accommodations have been made to ensure safety to the extent possible.
Also, don’t put too much weight on employee surveys – people’s opinions change, particularly as the pandemic situation evolves. As people feel safer and more comfortable, they may be more open to leaving their remote-work environment and returning to the office. While some may continue to enjoy the benefits of remote work (flexibility, no commuting, more time with the family), the pandemic has also taken a significant emotional toll on many. This paradigm has to be taken into account, with a balanced approach to work/life going forward.
Leadership should consider the size of the company and what will work best for its culture. It’s more difficult to inspire collaboration among staff when everyone is working remotely. Socialization is also equally important in order to create professional camaraderie and teamwork. You can cultivate these characteristics from spontaneous conversations that occur in one’s office and during impromptu “water-cooler talks,” for example. Zoom calls may not necessarily work for the long haul to inspire creativity and to generate new ideas to move the business forward.
Also, there is no cookie-cutter approach that will work for every organization. What may work for big tech companies like Facebook, Google or Adobe, all of which have announced remote work will continue for the foreseeable future, may not work nearly as well for an insurance agency that depends on client relationships that are fostered in a face-to-face environment, or a health care administrative office.
The bottom line: It’s important to be deliberate – and considerate – in your decision making on whether, when and how to return workers to the office in the next several months.
Manchester Specialty Programs has been here for our agents and brokers during the pandemic and will continue to provide best-in-class solutions and service as we all decide what is right for our businesses and employees. We specialize in providing totally integrated business insurance solutions to meet the needs of Home Care, Allied Health and Human/Social Services organizations. For more information about how our products and services can help protect your insureds, please contact us at 855.972.9399.