About one-third of US adults have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, and that number is growing by more than three million every day.
As the vaccine rollout pushes on faster than expected, companies are faced with the question of: “Now what?”
Employees are used to remote work, but decision-makers are challenged by the future organization of work.
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A Return to the Office Looks Different Across Companies and Roles
Everybody has a different relationship to remote work depending on their industry, role, living situation, family responsibilities, and unique personality.
Some employees thrive on connecting with colleagues at the offices, while others find satisfaction in the flexibility and higher productivity at home.
Leaders at the Harvard Business School say that for these reasons (and more), decision-makers need to lead with empathy, while allowing office culture to be re-established. The return to work will look differently for each company, and leaders need to listen to employees, while also being honest about company needs.
“To get started, organizational leaders need to commit to telling the truth about what the company needs, while engaging people in the hard work of creating solutions together,” explained author and Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management Amy C. Edmondson.
In general, most companies want employees to come back, but don’t have a clear plan on how to do that quite yet. There are several factors at play: vaccine policies, school openings, transportation safety, and most importantly, does it even make sense for the company?
According to a survey from consulting firm PwC, 55% of respondents working from home say they’d prefer to work remotely at least three days a week moving forward. But corporate leaders have different opinions: 68% say employees need to be in the office most of the week to maintain corporate culture.
Tech companies, like Facebook, Uber, and Microsoft, have mixed plans for the transition, but are starting to reopen at limited capacity. Uber, for example, opened at 20% capacity on March 29th.
Wells Fargo, which has 200,000 employees working from home, has delayed its reopening a number of times. Recently, they announced plans to reopen with a near-traditional model of operation in September. However, the plan is still vague.
“We know you have many questions about what this means for you,” Chief Executive Officer Charlie Scharf and Chief Operating Officer Scott Powell wrote to employees. “We will be candid: We don’t have the answers yet. We will spend the next several weeks and months developing them, and we will share our progress along the way.”
This seems to be the message from most companies, “We want to return a semblance of normal, but we don’t know what that means yet. Hang with us.”
There are lingering questions and barriers to fully returning to the office. And many don’t know if they even want to fully go “back to” normal. Instead, this conversation is about the “forward to.”
Employers who are transparent about their needs and goals, who listen to the desires of employees, and who accept that there is no going back to pre-pandemic life will be best prepared to navigate business with a vaccinated workforce.
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