As COVID-19 vaccinations ramp up, so are timelines for companies bringing workers back to the office.
The quicker-than-expected return to the workplace means CEOs and human resources departments are under increased pressure to make difficult decisions. Those include how quickly to mandate on-site work, whether to ask for proof of vaccinations and how to navigate shared spaces where people gather for coffee breaks and meetings.
Corporations also must nail down policies on how much, or little, work will continue to be done remotely.
Some of the world’s best-known companies — including Amazon and Google — have begun telling employees they’re getting close to welcoming large numbers of workers back to the office.
Other companies say they’ll create a hybrid environment, with employees in the office, but less than five days a week.
“Now that vaccinations have picked up, that has created a parallel momentum for company managers to get their act together in planning to bring people back,” said Philippe Weiss, president of Seyfarth at Work, a subsidiary of law firm Seyfarth Shaw that consults companies on workplace relations. “A month ago, a lot of my clients were talking about the summer at the earliest. Now when companies call me, they may be bringing people back by May.”
One of the most debated topics is whether to require workers to be vaccinated, or to meet other conditions, in order to return. Weiss said 25% of his clients are considering requiring vaccinations.
The topic has come up often enough that Kastle Systems, which provides key-card entry systems and other security technology to landlords and employers, has begun offering options such as whether a worker has been vaccinated or recently tested for COVID-19 as new criteria for building access. No companies have signed on yet, said Mark Ein, chairman of Virginia-based Kastle Systems.
“Every company is going to have to make their own decisions,” Ein said. “My personal belief is that the vast majority of people are only going to feel safe if they know everybody in the office doesn’t have COVID, either because they’ve been vaccinated or because they’ve been tested. People will only come back if they have that assurance.
“I think once most people are vaccinated, the return to the office will be quicker and at higher levels than many people predict.”