Return to Work Inches Closer After Promising Vaccine News


Post COVID-19 Return to Work

This year’s run up to the Holiday season has been noisy, confusing and tiring. We have endured nine months of life under COVID. For many parts of the country infection rates are rising and lockdowns are being put in place (or back in place depending on your location).

Finally, there are glimmers of real hope – three companies appear to be on the brink of having vaccines approved and available. One of the many outcomes of a vaccine being widely available is that it will make possible the re-opening of workplaces and a return to the office for millions of people who have been working remotely since March.

Even before the US public health crisis began, there was a growing trend for people working remotely. One study estimates that regular work at home grew by 173% since 2005, 11% faster than the rest of the workforce. 

Post pandemic, it is likely that many of the people who moved to remote working during COVID will continue to do so as employers realize the efficiency and economic benefits of reducing office space. A group of researchers at Harvard University and the University of Illinois suggest that at least 16% of American workers will switch from professional offices to working from home at least two days per week as a result of COVID-19. 

The reality of a return to work for many others remains, because of what the organization does and how it does it, in-person and on-sight functions will resume. Some of the urgency is from employers concerned about the impact that remote working has had on employee morale and engagement. It is so much harder to connect and manage teams without the formal and informal face-to-face meetings in the office, a topic we addressed in a previous blog

A recent study from consultants Gartner looks in detail at the key questions and guiding principles which support the return to work. 

Key Question #1: When to Return to the Workplace?

Guiding principles to answer this question include:

  • Health & Safety as the top priority.
  • Have a plan to return to remote solutions should virus cases spike again.
  • Employees have an important say about whether they are ready to return.

Key Question #2: Who Returns First?

Guiding principles to answer this question include:

  • Make decisions based on the work not the worker.
  • Segment the workforce according to those who can successfully continue to work remotely and those who cannot to establish priorities for the first returners.

Key Question #3: What Will the Return Look Like?

Guiding principles to answer this question include:

  • The employee experience of the return is as big a challenge as feeling safe – they must feel supported and leadership engaged.
  • The perception of safety is as important as safety itself.
  • External factors will have a significant impact on the employee experience -such as school closures, the availability of childcare and mass transit.

Other resources to help answer questions ahead of a return include the CDC, which updated its guidance for the return to work in late October. In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a 27-page guide on returning to work. 

In this year’s planning season, management teams are facing more complexities than ever before, having to predict and plan for the upcoming year with so many unknowns and variables. With a light at the end of the vaccine tunnel, if a return to work is an imperative for your organization, it is time to start to work on detailed plans for how that is going to take place. 


In Case of Crisis Open House


Learn how hundreds of organizations large and small are using our award-winning issue and crisis management platform, In Case of Crisis, to better prepare for and respond faster to emerging threats.