Return to Work Plans Askew? Here’s What to Do

Where do return to work plans stand now that the highly contagious Delta variant is surging across the country? Google mobility data shows that workplace activity in some cities is still about 50 percent below pre-pandemic levels. While many organizations announced September as the return to work target, there is a growing trend in pushing that back, with some experts predicting that the new “return” date will be in 2022. But what will this return look like? For many people, the longer they are at home, the less they want to return to the office. A Prudential survey of U.S. workers shows that 42 percent of current remote workers will look for another job if they are not offered remote options. While some workers are calling for full time remote, others want to return, missing the social aspect and career advancement opportunities that happen in the office.

Most companies will end up with some form of a hybrid workforce, combining remote and in-person workers, however this approach brings a unique set of challenges that we will discuss below.

Remote work

Physical Considerations

With a hybrid team, how do you work and treat people fairly? First, recognize that not everybody needs to come back. If work can be done at home or another remote location, offer the option to meet flexibility and work-life balance needs. Where employees want or needed to return to the office, some organizations are prioritizing those employees with dedicated workspace. Others are using apps and other space management technologies to reserve desks or conference rooms and log employee usage for capacity concerns, contact tracing, building social distancing floor plans, and more.

First, recognize that not everybody needs to come back.

Time and Schedules

Flexible working is no longer the exception, it’s the rule. More people are working outside their regular hours and their daily routines have been disrupted. Studies show that workers are working at all hours, including nights and weekends, and that productivity is at a high. Online video platforms, interactive and conversational software, and the means to instantly send messages enables work to happen at any time. So, does it make sense to ask employees what type of schedules work best for them? If yes, you’ll need to take into consideration time zones, when meetings happen, if there are set days and times everyone is required to be available, and how to ensure workflow is uninterrupted.

Return to Work

Vaccination Status

Most organizations are looking to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health authorities for guidance in setting policies that safeguard employees. Many health systems, government agencies and higher education institutions are requiring employees to receive the COVID vaccine or offering time off for people to get vaccinated. An increasing number of corporations are enacting similar policies. On the other hand, there are many organizations that are leaving it up to employees to decide for themselves about getting vaccinated. In addition to the safety and public health factors, there are important legal, medical, and religious considerations that enterprises need to take these into account when setting a vaccination policy. Either way, clear, definitive consistent and frequent communication is key. Communicate policies and how they will be executed.

Professional Development

Regardless of whether an individual is working remotely or in an office, there is a need for continuous development at work. With some people not in a physical location, it makes it harder to conduct synchronous learning. Shifting to the asynchronous mindset is hard for some organizations, yet it is another opportunity to provide flexibility to their associates by offering training at a time and pace that works for them. If synchronous experiences are important, there are still ways to execute these, such as using web/video conference technology and having all employees participate in an instructor-led training at a specific time.

Mentoring, coaching, and managing teams requires different skills with a hybrid workforce. How you retain and train virtually is a top consideration and extends beyond the technologies deployed, but also how they’re used and how employees are prepared to use the tools. For example, more people are now required to use video as part of their day-to-day experience. Helping employees change behavior and act in different ways typically requires coaching to get them comfortable with new ways of working.

So, What's the Timeline?

Many companies aren’t sure what to do. At any given moment, things change in different parts of the country. In some parts of the world, the pandemic has settled down. In others it is on the rise. No matter what is happening in your region, you need a strategy that can adapt and change.

Bruce Halley is a director of consulting services with Avaap. Bruce is an experienced business and technology consultant and specializes in business strategy, IT alignment, project management, and more. 

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What will a return to office actually look like? Learn what unique set of challenges a potential hybrid workforce could bring.

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Where do return to work plans stand now that the highly contagious Delta variant is surging across the country? Google mobility data shows that workplace activity in some cities is still about 50 percent below pre-pandemic levels. While many organizations announced September as the return to work target, there is a growing trend in pushing that back, with some experts predicting that the new “return” date will be in 2022. But what will this return look like? For many people, the longer they are at home, the less they want to return to the office. A Prudential survey of U.S. workers shows that 42 percent of current remote workers will look for another job if they are not offered remote options. While some workers are calling for full time remote, others want to return, missing the social aspect and career advancement opportunities that happen in the office.

Most companies will end up with some form of a hybrid workforce, combining remote and in-person workers, however this approach brings a unique set of challenges that we will discuss below.

Remote work

Physical Considerations

With a hybrid team, how do you work and treat people fairly? First, recognize that not everybody needs to come back. If work can be done at home or another remote location, offer the option to meet flexibility and work-life balance needs. Where employees want or needed to return to the office, some organizations are prioritizing those employees with dedicated workspace. Others are using apps and other space management technologies to reserve desks or conference rooms and log employee usage for capacity concerns, contact tracing, building social distancing floor plans, and more.

First, recognize that not everybody needs to come back.

Time and Schedules

Flexible working is no longer the exception, it’s the rule. More people are working outside their regular hours and their daily routines have been disrupted. Studies show that workers are working at all hours, including nights and weekends, and that productivity is at a high. Online video platforms, interactive and conversational software, and the means to instantly send messages enables work to happen at any time. So, does it make sense to ask employees what type of schedules work best for them? If yes, you’ll need to take into consideration time zones, when meetings happen, if there are set days and times everyone is required to be available, and how to ensure workflow is uninterrupted.

Return to Work

Vaccination Status

Most organizations are looking to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health authorities for guidance in setting policies that safeguard employees. Many health systems, government agencies and higher education institutions are requiring employees to receive the COVID vaccine or offering time off for people to get vaccinated. An increasing number of corporations are enacting similar policies. On the other hand, there are many organizations that are leaving it up to employees to decide for themselves about getting vaccinated. In addition to the safety and public health factors, there are important legal, medical, and religious considerations that enterprises need to take these into account when setting a vaccination policy. Either way, clear, definitive consistent and frequent communication is key. Communicate policies and how they will be executed.

Professional Development

Regardless of whether an individual is working remotely or in an office, there is a need for continuous development at work. With some people not in a physical location, it makes it harder to conduct synchronous learning. Shifting to the asynchronous mindset is hard for some organizations, yet it is another opportunity to provide flexibility to their associates by offering training at a time and pace that works for them. If synchronous experiences are important, there are still ways to execute these, such as using web/video conference technology and having all employees participate in an instructor-led training at a specific time.

Mentoring, coaching, and managing teams requires different skills with a hybrid workforce. How you retain and train virtually is a top consideration and extends beyond the technologies deployed, but also how they’re used and how employees are prepared to use the tools. For example, more people are now required to use video as part of their day-to-day experience. Helping employees change behavior and act in different ways typically requires coaching to get them comfortable with new ways of working.

So, What’s the Timeline?

Many companies aren’t sure what to do. At any given moment, things change in different parts of the country. In some parts of the world, the pandemic has settled down. In others it is on the rise. No matter what is happening in your region, you need a strategy that can adapt and change.

Bruce Halley is a director of consulting services with Avaap. Bruce is an experienced business and technology consultant and specializes in business strategy, IT alignment, project management, and more.