Coronavirus (COVID-19), HR Management & Compliance

Back in Office or Not? That Question Looms as Pandemic Subsides

As COVID-19 levels continue dropping across the country, employers are trying to plan out what the office environment will look like for the rest of the year. While many people have returned to school, restaurants, and sporting venues, many businesses and offices are still vacant or underutilized. Many employers that allowed or required employees to work remotely during the pandemic are now trying to find ways to bring them back. Will they require employees to come back to the office, continue to let them work remotely, or create a hybrid approach? For businesses that opt to mandate in-person work, will there be a backlash from current remote workers? Here are some pressing issues companies are facing.

return to office
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Nothing Beats Home

Let’s face it, some people like working at home more than in the office. There are certainly perks, such as not having to commute back and forth. For some people, that can literally save several hours of personal time each day. The upshot is more time to handle errands, medical appointments, and other family matters.

Additionally, working from home provides greater flexibility. As a result and in light of the very tight labor market, some employers are rethinking their back-to-the-office policies.

Get Me Out of the House

Some people really enjoy working in an office environment. They include (1) parents who don’t want to work in the same house with their kids, (2) spouses who can’t work closely with their significant other, and (3) others who just need to get away from the home to concentrate and be efficient. In addition, other people don’t have the home office set-up to be successful working.

At the same time, some employers believe the level of teamwork, team-building, and comradery just isn’t the same in the absence of daily in-person interaction. Other companies also have expensive real estate and leases that need to be justified.

Reimagining the Traditional Office

So, what should companies do? Unsurprisingly, the answer depends. Here are some tough questions you should ask:

  • How vulnerable is your company to the “Great Resignation” taking place?
  • Are your competitors permitting remote work?
  • Can employees perform their duties at a high level from home?
  • What tangible benefits will you receive by mandating in-office work?

Perhaps there’s a middle road: allowing employees to work remotely while also scheduling regular team meetings. The approach would let employees have the flexibility of working from home but also share in team building and engage in face-to-face experiences. The arrangement also would allow companies to justify having corporate office space.

Additionally, the new approach would provide companies with a way to rethink the office space. In a hybrid model, creating more open space, outdoor space, and employee amenities could make sense.

Bottom line

If your business opts to require employees to return to the office, possibly think about offering additional time off, pet sitting, or other creative perks to help ease the transition.

Raanon Gal is an attorney with Barnes & Thornburg LLP in Atlanta, Georgia. You can reach him at rgal@btlaw.com.