The COVID pandemic has been running wild for exactly one year—but fortunately it seems to have run its course. At least that’s the way things are headed right now.
Meanwhile, business is wondering how to move forward. . . . Should we stick with remote for a while? Get everyone back to the office as soon as possible? Do something in between?
These are the kinds of questions companies are asking themselves.
Some people are searching for that one document that will tell them exactly what they should do next. The document doesn’t exist, of course.
One reason is, we haven’t been through anything like this in a million years. Another is, the current situation is the opposite of a one-size-fits-all scenario. The best path forward will be different for every industry, every type of corporate culture, every company. It might vary depending on location or even across different parts of the same corporation.
In terms of how DRJ can help, I thought one thing we could do is at least open up the conversation.
So here goes:
When I think about the next steps for business, here are a few of the issues that seem to me to be the most salient:
The upcoming balancing act. Companies are about to have their hands full balancing their corporate preferences in terms of returning to the office against the preferences of their employees. Some employees might be thrilled to come back. Others might strongly desire to keep working from home. In a perfect world, what the company wants will dovetail with what the employees want. What happens if/when it doesn’t work out that way?
The fairness issue. What if more people wish to continue working at home than the company can accept? How will it decide who gets to stay home? This could be an issue for the lawyers, eventually. My hunch is that work from home has been especially unfair to women, who often end up shouldering more of the childcare burden, since school has also been happening remotely. Of course, the decision about restarting school is in other hands.
Oversight. My impression is that this issue is on the mind of many managers and senior execs. How many people who are “working from home” are really working from home—as opposed to, for example, going shopping at Target? Theoretically, employee productivity can be measured and compared between the two work models (in office and at home), but this is probably easier said than done. I think the jury’s still out on this one, but it will probably be a factor as companies decide on their next moves.
Pandemic fatigue. Working at home in your pajamas? Sounds great. Except, it isn’t really, at least not for many people. Every day it’s the same thing: Wake up, get a cup of coffee, walk over to your desk, sit down. And start in on another day of Zoom calls and webinars. It’s enough to drive many people crazy. A lot of people miss the bustle. They miss their colleagues. The isolation makes them unhappy, maybe cuts down on their effectiveness. This is a good argument for bringing people back—or at least giving them the option of coming back some of the time.
The HIPPA loophole. Get ready, everyone. The HIPPA loophole—and all the other regulatory loopholes—will be closing soon, if they haven’t done so already. During the first months of the pandemic, many health and financial regulators looked the other way when it came to requirements about data confidentiality and the like. Whatever shape work-from-home takes in the coming months, business will be expected to raise their regulatory game back to the pre-pandemic level—no excuses.
I’ve tried to lay out the issues objectively above. But now I’m going to tip my hand, at least as regards my personal preferences.
I miss working in the office. I miss having my staff in the office. I miss the interaction, the efficiency. The chance for those casual encounters that help you wrap up loose ends and generate new ideas.
That being said, how is DRJ going to manage back to work?
In terms of the office, we’re still sorting things out, like everyone else. Somehow I think a flex schedule might end up working best moving forward, where people divide their work week between home and the office. That way we’d get the best of both worlds. Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s where many companies end up once the smoke clears.
In terms of our DRJ conferences, the issue is a lot simpler. We’ve done our best with remote versions of our events. We’ve gotten some good feedback about them. But there is no comparison between holding a gathering on Zoom and filling a conference hall with 800 or 900 people—people who are excited to be there, share professional interests, and have almost unlimited opportunties to mix and mingle. There’s nothing like it.
And that’s why, if we can possibly manage it, we’ll be holding our Fall 2021 conference live in Phoenix, as we’ve long planned to do.
I hope to see you there. And in the meantime, keep in touch through DRJ.com as we try to help business navigate the issues of return-to-work from a business continuity perspective.