As we enter 2022, how the pandemic impacts our workplaces seems as uncertain as at any point during the past two years. A new variant, less-than-clear mandates, uneasy staff and work outages due to rapidly spreading illness mean employers are faced with tough decisions about reopening their operations and requiring workers to return. They’re also grappling with how to institute or continue an effective work-from-home model for the foreseeable future or whether to adopt a hybrid option moving forward.
As much of this is new territory for many organizations and has far-reaching implications for not only employers and employees, but also for commercial real estate and the fate of the traditional office and the future of work, we will explore the ongoing significance of The Great Reopening of 2022.
But first, we’ll take a look at the open-ended information that some large enterprises are communicating to their employees. (Spoiler alert: The message remains murky.)
Not So Fast
It’s become an expected part of the pandemic: the company announcement of a return-to-office (RTO) date. Organizations of all sizes often look to larger global companies to guide their own plans and procedures, and this time of uncertainty has only emphasized that domino effect.
A recent survey conducted by Gartner found that 44 percent of companies have changed their timelines on requiring workers to return to their respective offices. Nearly 30 percent of business executives responded that they are delaying reopening plans or shutting down offices, and almost 20 percent are decreasing the amount of people that can be at the worksite at any given time.
The world has watched as behemoth companies such as Apple, Capital One, Ford Motor and Goldman Sachs make their operational moves, often shifting strategy at the 11th hour. (Lyft, for its part, has announced the earliest its workers will be asked back to the office is 2023 after initially targeting next month).
So, where does that leave the rest of us?
The Rules of Reopening
Last fall, commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield projected February 2022 as an “inflection point,” forecasting that approximately 70 percent of the world’s population would be vaccinated or previously infected with the virus, making a full return to work more feasible and easily accomplished. However, the new variants of the virus have already upended these predictions.
As many question the benefits and messaging of reopening — especially in this current phase of increased transmission — some leaders feel that setting RTO dates (even if they are in flux), is nonetheless important to creating a sense of stability and level-setting employee expectations.
Rather than focusing on a fixed date, employers should look at a set of established metrics instead, experts recommend. Local transmission rates, hospitalizations, organizational spread and the state of internal safety measures … all of these numbers can and should define and dictate your company’s decisions. Hard data is easier for employees to accept when dealing with unpredictable conditions and ever-fluctuating communications.
Hybrid: The Best of Both Worlds?
A greater respect for employees’ needs is another byproduct of The Great Resignation, and more flexible work schedules ranks high on their collective want list. Hybrid work arrangements — a mix of in-office and remote schedules — are becoming increasingly popular and viable thanks to tech advancements and an enhanced appreciation for the engagement, satisfaction and retention of employees.
Is your company considering implementing a hybrid work model? Presenting your employees with this level of flexibility builds trust within organizations and creates better work/life balance for everyone. Numerous studies also show that workers are even more productive when offered this progressive option.
If one thing is certain during this continual time of doubt, giving employees their say and plenty of notice before large decisions regarding their day-to-day are made is absolutely imperative. Also in a time of ambiguity, a trusted hiring partner who can help you build an agile, resilient leadership team is crucial to your company staying ahead of the ever-evolving staffing curve.