The uncertain is threatening what looked unstoppable only a few weeks ago. The appearance of the omicron version, just as the coronavirus appeared to be fading from view, has put a halt to much of the global return to work. With a new wave of the virus on the horizon, the latest numbers serve as a stark warning that the route back to the office will not be easy. As the epidemic spreads, the hybrid and transitory arrangements that people have grown accustomed to are beginning to take on a more permanent appearance.
1. Protecting employee health
Due to the increase of COVID-19 cases associated with the Omicron form, businesses have had to rethink their back-to-work plans yet again. As a result, employees must now deal with increased uncertainty about where they will work and for how long, according to a mid-December 2021 Gartner study, which indicated 44 percent of enterprises had pushed back or changed their reopening plans.
2. What changes are companies making to their reopening plans now?
Organizations have to maintain their reopening plans fluid and adaptive to the shifting landscape of the epidemic during COVID. Organizations rotate in real-time, as we saw in the summer of 2020, then into 2021 with the Delta variation, and now with Omicron. However, there are already discussions concerning two new strains of variants discovered in other regions of the world and the recognition that hybrid and remote may be the way of the future.
3. What effect does the uncertainty surrounding the return to work have on employee well-being?
What’s been particularly difficult about the real-time adjustments is that employees feel like they’re in the dark about how their boss thinks about things and makes decisions. The goal for companies is to communicate with their employees genuinely and transparently. Recognize that this is a challenging position to handle and that no one has all the solutions.
At the same time, it’s critical to consider the long-term impacts of the COVID reality on how employees live and feel. School closings, childcare concerns, the possibility of quarantines, and the general inability to engage in our normal lives are exhausting. This has a significant influence on employees’ overall well-being.
Employers must address the various elements people require to handle the very real merging of work and life while driving productivity. For example, we are seeing more young people test positive for Omicron, which suggests that more and more students will likely return to virtual learning, even if only for a few days. Organizations must plan for this and have procedures to accommodate the rapidly changing needs of employees who also serve as caretakers.
4. What should employers think about employee engagement?
Employee engagement, attraction, and retention will be directly affected by the decisions leaders make with Omicron response management and future variants. Therefore, employers must establish support initiatives that meet employees as they manage their personal and professional lives through this surge, not just worry about engagement techniques.
We’ve found that the typical engagement focal points of career chances, recognition, and compensation aren’t enough to keep people engaged during a crisis. Employees are more engaged when they have the flexibility, stability, and task management to balance work and life. Managers must focus on empathy rather than engagement strategies to better understand what employees require to be productive and enable.
5. How should organizations operate?
The idea is to establish a flexible strategy with well-defined triggers for plan changes. Organizations that do this right don’t align on a certain, essentially arbitrary date; instead, they look at conditions that will allow for the opening or expansion of office space. It will also be crucial to turn on and off access to offices. Organizations have begun to shift conversations away from returning to the workplace and toward access to office space.
Whatever happens, management should let employees know that they recognize that uncertainty might be stressful but are doing everything they can to keep current on the newest facts to advise any new Covid safety policies.