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Vaccine rollouts are steady. What’s next for work?

Ring Central Blog

Written by Andy Cheng

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While the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine is far from over, it’s coming along steadily, especially in the US. The country committed to 200 million doses being administered by President Biden’s 100th day in office, and the country met that goal a week ahead of plan. 

As more people are vaccinated, we move further into uncharted territory. The pandemic isn’t over, but more fully vaccinated people mean fewer are vulnerable to the most severe COVID-19 effects.

Should work-from-home stay?

Now it’s time to address the elephant in the room: Should companies bring employees back to the office? Or should we continue to work from home?

The uncertainty is complicated by the fact that working from home went really well for most businesses. In other words, contrary to the doubts held by business leaders, employees exceeded productivity expectations as they worked from home.

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According to a January 2021 PwC study, a whopping 83% of employers say the 2020 shift to remote work was successful for their company. Less than one in five executives want to return to how we all worked pre-pandemic. 

But employers and employees have different ideas about when to return to the office. Three-quarters of executives anticipate at least half of their employees will be back in the office by July 2021. Sixty-one percent of employees, on the other hand, only want to spend half their time in the office by July. 

1 in 3 ready to quit their jobs

In one study, almost one in three workers would quit their job if they can’t continue to work remotely.

But not all jobs can be done from home, of course. Employees in retail, restaurants, manufacturing, medicine, and other industries with hands-on jobs have to show up and work in person. 

At the same time, not all employees want to work from home. Different personalities and situations react differently. Working remotely is lonely for some people, perhaps especially single, young workers who may rely on the office for their social life. Some people live in small homes without the space to set up a home office free from household distractions. Some need boundaries between their work and home lives.

What seems more likely in our post-pandemic days is a hybrid work experience, split between work done remotely and at the office.

Social distancing in shared spaces

Some companies are already back in the office, even without the protection of vaccinations. Being back at work–or heading back soon—will require social distancing in shared spaces, probably using a combination of safety strategies that don’t look much like pre-COVID work times. 

Rotating schedules will keep the office population down at any one time, which will help with social distancing. Employees will need to be conscious of distancing, as well as mask-wearing. There will be more cleaning than before.

Restrooms will need to have accessible sinks, soap, water, and paper towels, and employees should be encouraged to wash their hands often throughout the day for at least 20 seconds. Employers should encourage outdoor seating for lunches and breaks when feasible. 

Meeting rooms are especially a concern. Even vaccinated people are wary of packing into a meeting room with others, and yet meetings are critical to a well-functioning business. 

Travel is not recommended

However we start our return to “the new normal,” travel isn’t recommended yet. Not every employee feels safe to travel yet, and clients won’t, either. Bloomberg claims that many industries realized much of their employees’ travel for business before COVID-19 wasn’t necessary. It’s possible there will be changes to the idea of routine business travel.

Video conferencing, it turns out, was the biggest winner during COVID. It turned out to be crucial to the survival of many businesses, whether their employees were all at home or a combination of remote and in person.

Preparing for future disruptions

COVID has been a harsh reminder of how fragile businesses can be, and out of necessity, we learned a lot of lessons. One was that business continuity is critical. Disasters even beyond a global pandemic can strike at any time, and being prepared is vital. While we can’t predict every crisis, businesses can and should have a plan for the unexpected. 

When the pandemic hit the US, some companies were well equipped for it, with well-defined and tested tools and processes for remote work, and others weren’t at all. A unified communications tool is critical to keep your employees working and collaborating, no matter where they are. 

Are you prepared for the next sudden disruption to our work-as-normal? It could be anything—a local disaster or a national or global one. What have you learned from this huge, unexpected lesson, and has it made you better prepared? Whatever technology your company uses, does it support remote work? 

Vaccines don’t mean a return to normal

It’s critical to remember that vaccines aren’t a magic bullet. While they’re important, they’re not 100% effective, and not everyone will be vaccinated. It will be essential to continue wearing a mask and maintaining social distance. Someone who’s vaccinated could still get a mild or asymptomatic case of COVID and spread it to others. Scientists also don’t know yet how long the vaccine is protective. 

While we mask, distance, and do our best to navigate post-pandemic work life, remember that it’s too soon to know how work will change. 

“There’s no right or wrong answer in what organizations should do,” Elisabeth Joyce, Vice President of Advisory in Gartner’s HR practice, told TechRepublic. “We’ve never played this game before, and the best way we can prepare ourselves is to think through all the considerations.” 

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