Millions of Americans shifted to working from home in March 2020 to avoid exposure to COVID-19. Many workers slowly adjusted to the work-from-home process as the pandemic got severe and spread across the country and the world.
Now, in May 2021, when vaccination programs are going on full swing and proving to be effective, many workers will have to make another round of adjustments as many companies give the back-in-the-office call. A recent survey of business leaders revealed that many of them would prefer to have their employees back in the office by the fall of 2021. However, business owners and leaders are aware that the process will be complicated. Factors such as the spread of variants and access to vaccinations that are beyond the control of employees will play a crucial role.
There is growing pressure on businesses from employees to change work practices permanently. Many employees enjoy the flexibility that comes with working from home.
Some companies like American Express, Unilever, and Google have tweaked their policies to allow some employees to work from home or remotely for at least part of the week, even if there is an ebb in the instances of COVID-19 spread. However, there are rising concerns about the increase in the number of cases of the highly contagious Delta variant. Companies are likely to rethink return-to-work policies in the wake of this development. In the last few weeks, some major companies, including Apple, pushed back return-to-work dates from September to October. Some, like Logan Green, have delayed the September return date by six months until February.
The uptick in COVID-19 infection numbers has resulted in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommending that fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings again, especially in places with high transmission rates.
The updated guidance is in direct contrast to the announcement by CDC about easing masking guidelines for those who are fully vaccinated. Many experts believe that recent developments and the newly announced guidelines might derail the plan of employers to bring their employees back to worksites in the fall. The new announcement also intensifies the debate whether employers should require their employees to get the vaccine to mitigate the risk of virus spread.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has affirmed that employers can ask their employees to get vaccinated. There could be exceptions based on specific circumstances. However, it is expected that many companies will leave the decision to individuals.
The other option is for those who have not been vaccinated to continue to mask up inside the office. With the latest developments on the virus front and center in the country, business leaders may get more employees to return to the office with a workplace vaccine mandate. California has become the first state to require employees and healthcare workers to get vaccinated or undergo mandatory weekly testing. The Department of Veterans Affairs is the first federal agency to ask workers to get vaccinated. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the agency urged local leaders to “look at what would motivate communities to get vaccinated. If businesses believe that’s a mandate, we encourage them to do that.”
According to a recent McKinsey report, employees facing an imminent return-to-work situation report being highly stressed about their physical and mental health. The report states that employers must provide greater support to their workers by sharing details of improved health and safety policies for those willing to come back to the office. There is a need for greater workplace flexibility. This may include preserving the ability to work remotely during the pandemic and beyond.