First, we heard that offices in the U.S. would be reopening to workers full-time in July. Then it was September. Then January. And now, who knows?
Suffice it to say, the Covid-19 pandemic has upended our ability to plan for the future. As vaccination rates continue to oscillate around the globe, the virus proceeds to mutate into new variations, and different countries—even different areas within the same country—harbor different appetites for risk, our capacity to come up with and implement strategies to house and manage our employees is continually tested.
The other day I was talking with a friend who manages the compliance program for a large, multinational corporation. He mentioned how an issue arose recently because one of the satellite offices for this company wanted to host an in-person “lunch and learn” in its conference room. The satellite office is based in an area of the U.S. with a higher risk tolerance and lower adoption of anti-Covid measures than those of New York, where the company is headquartered. Corporate compliance policy at the time was to set capacity limits for conference rooms and require all individuals to be wearing masks. Could an in-person “lunch and learn” happen? Probably not. But the satellite office felt the company policy was too strict and shouldn’t apply to its area. My friend and his colleagues had to figure out how to handle the issue delicately, but safely.
Issues like these are bound to come up over the next few months. Not only do changing circumstances pop up—hello, Delta variant—but offices in different areas vary in terms of their Covid rates and measures, even within a single company. How do you come up with a plan that works for everyone?
My advice would be: Don’t try to come up with a blanket return-to-office plan right now. The best thing you can do is to remain nimble and flexible while the situation changes and new developments arise. Experts agree that there will be some trial and error as we forge ahead, but with a cooperative and flexible mindset, we’ll get there.
What about you? Are you and/or your business planning for an office return? How are you preparing?