Ten months after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, triggering a worldwide shift to a work-from-home model, employers across the globe are trying to plan when and how to safely bring employees back into physical office spaces. With employee anxiety, social distancing regulations, and technology investments to consider, reopening offices could prove to be even more complex than shutting them down.
Some organizations decided months ago to tackle the issue head-on. Goldman Sachs’ London office, for instance, initially reopened on June 15, despite UK guidelines at the time urging people to work from home where possible. Most have taken a more cautious approach, however, repeatedly pushing back the date when they expect employees back in the office.
The COVID-19 vaccines now rolling out offer great hope for reopening this year, but it could well be six months or more before they’re available to most office workers. Even then, employers will have to continue using workplace health and safety measures developed during the pandemic to ensure that their employees feel safe and comfortable once they’re back.
Whether employers wait until all their workers are vaccinated or begin a staggered return-to-office strategy sooner, the time to make plans is now. And companies need to recognize that how employees think about the office has forever changed.
“[Employers] can’t think that the employees coming back to the office are the same workers that left them back in March,” said Andrew Gross, director of sales and operations, UC enterprise at Crestron Electronics. “This is a different breed of employee; they have a different knowledge set and they have a different set of expectations.”