After 15 months of social isolation and remote work, on Tuesday June 15th, all COVID-19 restrictions in California were officially lifted. While most of us are excited about being outside and returning to a sense of normalcy, there are still reservations about returning to the office. COVID-19 forced us to get comfortable with remote work, thus changing our minds about returning to work and prioritizing our mental health. As employees begin to navigate the “new normal,” there are several things we hope companies will consider as they begin making decisions about returning to work.
Remote flexibility and collaboration
Since becoming accustomed to working from home, the preference of having a flexible work schedule increased over the last four months from 26% to 47%. In addition, another study indicates that despite going remote, 94% of 800 surveyed employees said their productivity levels weren’t affected. Several companies already announced return dates on a voluntary basis, so employees can return when they feel ready.
But what does this mean for new employees? Office spaces were initially created so people could come in, work and collaborate together on projects. While remote work has allowed us to stay home and avoid commuting, there is something humane that’s missing when we can only collaborate with others through technology. New employees miss out on this in-person engagement if their only form of communication and interaction is through Zoom calls. When LinkedIn conducted their most recent Workforce Confidence survey, 63% of people said that the COVID restriction lift was motivation enough to return to the office. Collaboration and socializing with fellow colleagues came in close behind at 62%. Finding the right balance of both remote work and in-person collaboration is essential for companies to succeed in the post-pandemic workplace.
Vaccinations and sanitation
While we are on track for COVID vaccine goals by next month, there are employees who have concerns about getting the vaccine. Requesting employees to get vaccinated is still a fine line that leaders have to toe. As much as they want employees to return, they are hesitant in mandating their employees to get vaccinated. The New York Times states that most companies are simply hoping to encourage or incentivize their employees to get at least the first vaccine shot. Setting a mandate in place is a last resort, and only a third of companies have set a vaccine policy in place. Most companies have engaged with their employees by simply asking how many are vaccinated and how comfortable they feel about returning to the office.
Enclosed office spaces can spread germs quickly, leading to more employee health issues if social-distancing is not enforced, or if they didn’t receive at least one dose. While employment laws allow for companies to enforce a vaccine policy, executives are still concerned this may lead to a number of lawsuits in the future. While this might be more manageable for small companies, larger companies should be a bit more flexible and empathize with employee concerns.
Market trends are now expecting a big wave of resignations to occur this year, nicknamed “The COVID Churn.” Before the pandemic, people were already planning to leave their current roles to find something new. Unfortunately, COVID prevented them from putting in their notice. Companies cut down their workforce significantly within the first three months of the pandemic, resulting in people staying in their roles longer than they anticipated.
At its core, 2020 made people rethink their lives and priorities, and the build-up of people expressing their desire to move on to the next role is imminent. Employees want better pay, a flexible work schedule, or to pursue a new career path altogether. If companies are unwilling to offer raises or other incentives to stay, they will lose valuable employees very quickly.
Everyone was affected by the pandemic in numerous ways, especially in the younger generations. In March, Deloitte conducted a survey, where it showed 46% of Gen Z and more than 41% of millennial employees felt more stressed compared to pre-pandemic levels. The reasons of stress included financial and familial welfare, health and employment, and socio-political and environmental changes.
The stigma behind mental health prevents employees from voicing their concerns to management and inhibits their ability to succeed and seek help. Most people choose to take their mind off of their feelings and bury themselves in work; however, this method has limited use and does not yield the best results. Most employees that participated in the Deloitte survey also said that their companies provide little to no resources in support of their mental health concerns, which can become costly for companies in the long run.
The pandemic has altered the way employees find work/life balance and look after their mental well-being. We hope, in return, that company leaders will address these same issues and make necessary steps to invest more in their employees’ futures.
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