Reopening Guide for Organizations: One Year Later

COVID-19 showed many companies that it is possible to work partially remote and in some cases, fully-remote. At least for some extent and to a degree, depending on the industry and job requirements. Here are some shifts that have taken place in the workforce and workplace thus far a year into the pandemic as well as what changes will continue into a new chapter in 2021. 

Flexible WFH Policies Will be More Standard

Working from home has downsides and upsides, and so does going into the office; accept that there is no clear answer to if we should continue to work from home after the pandemic ends. To help you answer this question, organizations can conduct surveys amongst your employees.

  • Do they prefer working from home or in the office? Is it practical to telecommute for your company? How can you relieve stress and burnout if you continue to work remotely? Is having a staggering shift schedule the best solution? Is it practical for your employees to work from home or be in the office at all times?
  • Again, this is also dependent on the nature of your business and capabilities. Many are allowing employees to decide what is best for them and what they are comfortable. Introducing a hybrid system or staggering shifts can help alleviate worry. 
Office Space Alternatives

Many offices where working remotely has been and will continue to be the norm, can downsize in office space and/or completely switch offices. 

  • Many perks for individuals that come into an office take note of the office layout, office space, ambiance, views, parking, nearby stores/restaurants etc. All of this is excluded if an employee is working strictly remote which takes off some of the pressure of “looks” that an office offers. 
  • From an employer standpoint, there seems to be no point in spending thousands of dollars on a luxury office building in an expensive city when people are going to be working from home most of the time. 
  • If an office DOES require employees to be in the office at any time, they can require certain precautions. 
    • Leaving every second desk open, adding desk dividers or free standing dividers depending on office space. 
    • Restricting social gatherings in break room
    • Implementing shifts 
    • Maintaining elevator space if applicable 
Potential Vaccination Requirements

Employers must have reasonable accommodations for people who choose to abstain from taking the vaccine if they feel it is a necessary requirement to be working in an office with other employees.

  • They must have either a medical condition/prevention (Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA)  or sincerely held religious beliefs (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act). 
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) stated that those who are unable to receive the vaccine can be “excluded from the workplace”, if your employees are represented by a union, you must bargain with the union before mandating them to get the vaccine. Employers who do not provide reasonable accommodations to employees with exceptions may be subject to workplace discrimination lawsuits. 

Requiring employees to get vaccinated may cause too much trouble for your HR department and it may be better to encourage employees to get the vaccine. Here are some ideas to incentivize employees getting vaccinated.

  • Offering paid/unpaid time off to get vaccinated
  • Offering incentives for providing proof of vaccination
    • If 75% of the workforce gets vaccinated, there will be a significant bonus or  any other non-cash incentive 
  • Sponsored team/group activity (in-person/virtual) and adding vaccinated employees to a raffle 
Salary Changes 

Fully remote employees may see a reduction in wages depending on where they live and factors such as commuting distance and cost of living. 

  • Salaries and wages that are based on location make sense from a company’s point of view. The money saved from the reduced wages can go towards research and development as well as other projects which will strengthen the company. 
  • Employees who are fully remote will save money by not having to commute and can live in a more affordable place. In a recent study by Forbes, approximately 44% of respondents said they would take a pay cut if they were able to permanently telecommute. 

A potential policy you could introduce is a “premium income” for those who live in expensive cities. 

  • Clearly state on your job posting that the salary for those living in, for example, San Francisco or New York City you will receive a salary of $XXX,XXX but if you live in an inexpensive city your salary will be $XX,XXX. 
  • If an employee moves away from an expensive city to a more affordable city, the premium income will be taken away and the salary will be adjusted to the city they live in. 
  • Be transparent and forward with potential talent and current employees to avoid begrudging feelings towards your company. 
Work-Life Balance and Mental Awareness

As an organization and manager, really focus on maintaining strong relationships and communications, whether it be in-office or remotely, adjusting those accordingly to the situation at hand 

  • Especially if the job is fully remote, you need to form a relationship with all of your employees to increase and maintain employee retention and loyalty
  • A robust communication system needs to be in place so that all of your employees are able to do their jobs seamlessly

Emphasis on employee mental health (quarantine exacerbated mental health issues and we will see a mental health crisis in the future)

  • Many lives have been flipped upside down and been redirected as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • Some people are predisposed to having depression or other mental health issues and quarantine has exacerbated this trait where individuals feel isolated, confined, alone etc. 
  • While employers are unable to explicitly ask about the mental health of their employees, they are allowed to support their peers. How to support mental health:
    • Have Routine Check-Ins
    • Learn Warning Signs For Mental Health Issues
    • Ensure a Support System is in Place 
    • Do Not Punish Changes In Productivity
    • Section Off Some Time To Have Fun During Work

These are just a few of the major changes that are taking place in the workplace while we all adjust accordingly. Every State, City, Organization and Person is different, so learn to remain or be more aware and respectful of individuals differences and comfortability. Things are still changing and there is no “one rule fits all” mentality. Really reflect on your business and employees and ensure productivity while maintaining safety measures and boundaries. 

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