- The spike in COVID-19 cases as the Delta variant spreads has upended many companies’ return-to-office plans.
- During CNN’s Business Foreseeable Future event, A Conversation about the Workplace Revolution, CEOs discussed how they are pivoting to the new normal and responding to the spike in COVID-19 cases.
- CEOs agreed that flexibility remains the core tenet of the future of work, not just in relation to where employees work, but how companies implement strategies.
What was certain just one month ago no longer is, as has been standard during the era of Covid-19.
Although many large tech companies were certain their employees would be able to return to the office by early fall, the spike in cases of the Delta variant is threatening the path to normalcy for workers.
As a result, organizations are struggling to figure out what their next step should be to address employee concerns while ensuring that engagement and productivity are not sacrificed.
At the CNN Business Foreseeable Future: A Conversation about the Workplace Revolution event, a panel of CEOs discussed how they are pivoting to the new normal, how the past 17 months have impacted their leadership approach and what they are doing to address growing levels of burnout.
Microsoft’s plan was to reopen its headquarters this September, while embracing a hybrid approach that allows employees to split their time between remote and in-office arrangements equally.
However, CEO and Chairman Satya Nadella said that the company is keeping a sharp eye on the ongoing spread of Delta in the U.S. and other parts of the world.
When vaccines initially became widely available to the public, most businesses used an honor system when adjusting their Covid-esque policies.
For instance, workers would be encouraged to get the vaccine and have the ability to be mask-free if they claimed to have done so. However, they would not need to show proof of vaccination.
Due to the failure of this method, more and more companies are coming out in favor of vaccine mandates for return-to-office strategies.
“There will be some combination of vaccines, testing and exceptions to it because, in some sense, if you think about the policies that one needs to have, they have to accommodate the best practices of all three strategies,” said Nadella. “And not just in the United States, but what is the policy worldwide.”
In terms of actual workplace arrangements in the future, all panelists agreed that there will need to be some form of hybrid working that allows companies to stay agile throughout this bumpy process of keeping employees safe and moving operations along.
Although most tech companies are onboard with this method, other industries have become increasingly stubborn about the possibility of extending their remote and hybrid approach. This is mainly seen within financial institutions like Goldman Sachs, which is moving forward with bringing workers back into the office.
This is despite data showing that more and more professionals are willing to leave their positions if they are not offered some form of remote working in the future.
And if ongoing research has taught the global workforce anything about ideal arrangements, it’s that companies who do not embrace hybrid working will fall far behind in terms of engagement, productivity, satisfaction and retention.
“I think we’ve seen from our employees something we knew already: people have a requirement for some flexibility,” said Dan Springer, CEO of DocuSign. “But more importantly what we learned during the pandemic is that we could have sort of the same or even increased levels of productivity when we created that flexibility for our employees.”
While remote work has increased productivity levels, it has also made it harder for people to keep boundaries between work and home life.
Mental health issues have become progressively obvious across the workforce, with more professionals stating that they felt stressed, depressed or anxious over the past year or so. The silver lining is that the diminishing stigma of mental health struggles in our society has encouraged leaders to address these challenges, such as burnout.
“In the context of the return-to-work and how we design work, we know one of the leading indicator or drivers of burnout is a low sense of agency or choice in your workspace and your work design,” said Alexi Robichaux, Cofounder and CEO of BetterUp.
Robichaux added that the most important thing business leaders can be doing to help workers who are struggling is to have an open dialogue and encourage participation about the best workplace strategies.
While some businesses are tempted to rush returning to the workplace, the health of employees is at risk as Delta spreads quicker than any other previous variant. Moving forward with initial return-to-office strategies could contribute to growing case numbers, sickness and hospitalizations.
This is why flexibility remains the core tenet of the future of work, not just in relation to where employees work, but how companies implement strategies.
“There’s certainly a philosophy that we will have around returning to work, assuming it is entirely safe to do so,” said Anjali Sud, CEO of Vimeo. “The actual rollout and the phasing of how we want to work in the future, we have to be incredibly adaptable right now…I think most companies are going to have to do the same just given the fact that the world is shifting around this rapidly.”