It’s hard to believe we’re about to close out the first half of the year, and if you’re like us, you’re probably wondering what to expect in the second half of 2021 in the workplace. Seems it wasn’t long ago we were writing about what lied ahead as we entered a new year. Fears of contracting COVID-19 were still high and the promise of a vaccine for the masses was the hot topic in the news. While the past 15 or so months feel like a whirlwind, we still have a way to go before the dust settles.
Workplace Trends For the Second Half of 2021
As the number of Covid-19 cases has drastically declined in recent months, employers are looking to get back on track and recover from the turmoil of 2020. While many organizations are still fighting to fill spots and hold on to employees, the balance of a flexible yet productive environment is vital. Will your company require in-office attendance or offer a hybrid solution? There certainly are pros and cons to each. According to a recent Gartner poll of 200 participants, only 1% of midsize companies plan to stay fully remote. Just 5% are planning to go back to a traditional in-office-only environment. That leaves 94% who said they will provide the flexibility of a hybrid environment, utilizing a mix of in-office and remote staff.
The same poll found that 69% of those mid-size companies plan on fully returning to work during the latter half of 2021. But it’s not going to be easy. Consider the fear of contracting Covid coupled with breaking away from the comforts of having worked remotely for about a year. Employers will need to plan carefully to reopen successfully.
The Importance of Communication
Communication has always been vital to creating a healthy work environment. But now, more so than in recent years, crafting a plan and disseminating it to your teams can help make the transition back to the office a positive one. Breaking the habit of work-from-home will take some time. Just as we all had to work at creating a schedule while still in our slippers, it’s really just a matter of routine. If your company does plan to utilize a hybrid strategy, have a clear plan and set of solutions. You may want to create an outline of what type of work should be carried out in-office versus what can be handled remotely. Setting a staff on-office schedule may work for you as well. It has been suggested that much thought goes into how you would handle team meetings – if it is not possible to have everyone in attendance, a virtual-only meeting may help alleviate any employee tensions that could arise. While personal feelings may seem trivial, it is not something that can be ignored and efforts to avoid them will go a long way.
How to Handle Vaccination as You Return to Work
How your company handles the topic of vaccinations is a little different. Not only is the possibility of an outbreak a consideration, but there are legal aspects you should be familiar with. Asking employees if they are vaccinated and requiring a “passport” is not ideal for a couple of reasons. First, there may be a lag time between getting vaccinated and actually acquiring proof. More importantly, depending on what state you are in, it may not be legal. If you have employees in more than one state, this inconsistency could be problematic.
Since vaccination records fall under the privacy law, requesting proof could be seen as crossing the line. As well, if an employer created any stipulations for those who are vaccinated versus those who are not, it could lead to a discrimination lawsuit. You also have to consider the legal implications, especially since we are talking about a new vaccine, if an employer were to require vaccination and an employee experiences side effects.
How to Address the Return to Work
So how does a midsize company reopen their workplace and avoid potential legal repercussions? Start with communication. After carefully crafting your opening plan, let your employees know what to expect in the second half of 2021 in the workplace. Even if your opening date is early in 2022. The plan should consist of the actual date of reopening, the safety measures that will be in place, and details about how your hybrid environment will operate. It is also advised to remind employees about what conversations and actions fall under discrimination, such as asking a fellow employee if they’ve been vaccinated.
There’s still a long road ahead on the way back to “normal.” What we find there will certainly be a little different. But with careful planning and guidance, companies can recreate a workplace that is not only productive but safe and enjoyable for their employees.
If you’d like to share your reopening plans or experiences, we’d love to hear them. Is your company transitioning to a new space, using a hybrid environment, or redesigning an existing space? Contact us for a free space planning or office furniture consultation.