How Businesses Should Prepare for Employees to Return to Work
With vaccination rates trending ever higher, many firms have either started to send employees back to work or announced future return to work dates for some or all of their employees. However, challenges remain. Many workers across industries remain afraid of returning to work. Further, there are regions across the country where vaccination rates are low, leaving future COVID-19 outbreaks a distinct possibility.
Moreover, many employees have expressed their desire to continue working from home. For many workers, especially those with children, elderly or ailing relatives, and other familial responsibilities, remote work paired with flex schedules can provide workers with the flexibility they need to keep their work lives and personal lives in balance. And while many employees struggled with social isolation while working remotely, that isolation was made more acute by widespread business, entertainment, and recreational closures, as well as public gathering restrictions. Now that CDC guidance and state and local ordinances are easing these closures and restrictions, employees may better deal with that isolation.
Many employers in Ohio and across the country have also seen remote and hybrid remote work benefits during the pandemic. In some cases, productivity and engagement have increased. In others, employers have developed more robust online communications and cybersecurity infrastructure out of necessity, which will stand them in good stead post-pandemic. Some businesses and organizations were able to scale back or eliminate corporate leases. And employers offering fully remote positions could access a broader talent pool.
But while many firms have sent, or plan to send people back to work, either full-time or as part of a hybrid remote work schedule, the following pandemic-related considerations linger.
Enhanced worker safety measures
Employers can mandate that employees get the vaccine. However, they may be hesitant to do so for fear of losing talent, reputational damage, and logistical and legal concerns. But if employees cannot socially distance themselves from their co-workers or work in facilities open to the public, they may become infected or a source of community spread.
Therefore, for the foreseeable future, employers must continue to ensure that employees continue to adhere to CDC guidance concerning social distancing in the workplace, conduct increased cleaning efforts, and potentially continue to conduct employee COVID-19 screenings. Plexiglass dividers may remain common, especially in retail storefronts and small offices in which distancing is challenging.
Increased mental health support
While employees are beginning to be able to indulge in social activities outside of work, the mental strain employees have recently undergone is huge. They’ve lost friends, family, and loved ones. They’ve struggled to provide childcare and eldercare. They may have faced or continue to face financial hardship as a result of lost income or jobs. These stressors have lingering impacts. Further, many employees do not avail themselves of mental health services when offered; many have also found difficulty finding a provider they feel comfortable with.
Employee mental health and well-being has a direct impact on a business’s productivity. Employees suffering from depression, anxiety, or other conditions are less productive and have higher rates of burnout and turnover. They are also at increased risk of developing serious physical illnesses like cardiovascular disease, leading to higher absenteeism rates. As employees return to work, employers must work with HR departments and managers to connect employees with the mental health resources they need to remain engaged and productive workers.
Transitioning to permanent hybrid-remote work
Throughout the pandemic, some remote employees have struggled to remain engaged and connected to their workplace without seemingly mundane office life features like shared lunches and happy hours after work. Others have also found collaborating difficult when they can no longer pop into someone’s office for a quick brainstorming session.
Businesses making a permanent transition to hybrid remote work must ensure that, as employees return to worksites in greater numbers or frequency, a thoughtful plan is in place to promote corporate culture, foster collaboration, and provide professional development and advancement opportunities among onsite and offsite workers. Without such a plan, businesses risk creating a two-tier organizational culture composed of onsite and offsite employees. This bifurcation may hurt morale and productivity, as well as reduce employee collaboration. Further, employers must plan to effectively transition employees back into the workplace to work as productively on site as they did offsite as quickly as possible.
Improving cybersecurity measures
The pandemic has uncovered a whole new set of business IT vulnerabilities, and cybercriminals are eagerly taking advantage. In many cases, businesses from Goodyear Tire to Macy’s were unprepared to move operations to remote work. Many hastily cobbled together hardware and policies that allowed employees to resume work but left gaping security holes. Now, with some employees returning to work, cybersecurity is again a priority.
As employees return to work, employers must gather any company-issued devices from remote employees. If employees used personal devices, employers must take steps to ensure that any locally stored business information is erased from these devices. And they must disable all remote access points employees no longer need to use. If there have been separations, IT departments should also take this time to ensure that former employees can no longer access IT assets.
Employers must also ensure that all employees — onsite or offsite — have regular, current cybersecurity awareness training. They must know how to recognize and respond to suspicious activities to mitigate the risk of a cyberattack. Further, employer emergency preparedness plans must be updated to reflect an employer’s hybrid workforce, as well as a range of potential cyber incidents. Cybercriminals stepped up their efforts in 2020, with the Internet Crime Complaint Center noting that attacks increased 69 percent between 2019 and 2020. With new attacks occurring every day, employers must get cybersecurity right as they transform how their employees work.
Many small and midsize businesses are still deliberating on the best workforce model and how to support that model appropriately. If you’re considering how to best transition employees back to work and ensure your IT assets remain secure, reach out to us at ARCIS Consulting. With deep roots in Northern Ohio, we provide strategic IT counsel, as well as the IT solutions you need to ensure your online and onsite operations run smoothly. Contact us today, and let’s discuss how we can help you bring your employees back to work.