When you have spent nearly a year away from the office, remote work might seem to be the new normal in industries that don’t require client interactions. Most office-based organizations have functionally adjusted to what the pandemic requires, but many employees have experienced fatigue and disconnection while working from home.
As vaccine programs commence, many workers face an imminent return to the office. While most HR leaders have pushed to expand remote-work opportunities even after the vaccines, roughly a fifth of the workforce—from individual contributors to senior management—would much rather have a clear separation between work and home.
Accommodation for this significant fraction is critical not only for those individual workers but also for the organization’s overall sense of mission and solidarity. Without physical proximity and a common location for meetings and informal interactions, team building and goal achievement must solely rely on video conferencing, emails, and phone calls—methods of communication prone to misunderstanding. For most organizations, there will always need to be an office that is not virtual.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, has said that by autumn, and perhaps as early as August, we will begin to see a relaxation of the stringent safety measures that have kept us physically separated. This milestone is just around the corner, but, of course, its arrival depends on full participation in the vaccine program.
In order to return workers to the office, organizations need to inform them about their geographical area’s vaccination procedures and protocols with accuracy, speed, repetition, and reassurance.
Accuracy—If your organization has multiple branches or a workforce dispersed across the country, leadership needs to delegate managers to handle this vaccine information pipeline in ways that are specific to each location. For example, prioritized populations in Florida may differ from those in California. Definitions of “essential worker” may not be the same in New York and Washington. Do the necessary research and customize the information accordingly.
Speed—Given that production and distribution of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines have not been without disruption, stalls, and failed expectations, organizations need to be responsive to changes and report those changes immediately to their workers.
Repetition—Your workforce should receive frequent reminders and updates about the vaccination programs, and beyond that, accurate information on vaccine availability should be easily accessible through the organization’s website or a manager.
Reassurance—Organizations also have a responsibility to reduce misplaced fears surrounding the vaccines’ safety and efficacy. For example, nearly 50% of frontline workers in Southern California’s Riverside County still refuse to get the vaccine. These numbers must improve if the U.S. is to reach the percentage target for herd immunity, and organizational leadership plays a role in achieving that goal by assuaging unfounded anxieties and combating misinformation among workers.
Normalcy may not entirely return to the work world by the end of 2021, but we have a fair shot (no pun intended) at easing the transition by employing a comprehensive information program around this critical vaccination phase.