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Workers Expecting More Flexibility As Offices Reopen

The country is opening up as more people get inoculated against the COVID-19 virus and cases continue to decrease. Indoor dining is back, the sports fields are dotted with players and the stands are filled with fans, people are traveling, and offices are starting to reopen. Many companies if they don’t already have some of their staff back in the office are planning to in the next few months. Return-to-office (at least full time), however, has been met with mixed feelings.

Some workers are happy to be getting back to the office, collaborating in-person with their colleagues, and getting out of the house while others not so much. They like working from home, as it’s given them an opportunity to spend more time with family, get out of sitting in traffic or riding the train for hours, and, frankly, they feel more productive and safer at home. In fact, 40% of Americans prefer to work from home full time, compared with 35% who seek a home-office hybrid and 25% who want to go back to the office full-time, according to a Harris Poll survey taken May 14-16.

So what are employers planning to do? According to a recent survey of 400 employers conducted by law firm Jackson Lewis PC, slightly more than 30% of employers said they would allow employees to work from home for any reason, including fear of being in a shared office space. However, nearly the same percentage said they’d permit remote work only when it’s required by law, for example as an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In addition, nearly 40% said medical reasons could justify remote work, while just under 25% reported the same for child and family care duties. The employers in this survey ranged in size from fewer than 50 employees to more than 10,000.

Work Options on the Table

About 50% of employers in the Jackson Lewis survey are laying the groundwork for different return-to-work protocols for different groups of workers. Others are using a single approach for all employees, and nearly 25% aren’t sure whether they want to distinguish among groups. Some plan on having staff work in the office part of the week and remotely the remainder of the week while others will allow workers to choose between fully in-person work and fully remote work. Whether employees return to work is dictated by the specifics of their jobs or their voluntary decisions, according to the survey.

Many HR experts feel flexible and hybrid work arrangements help businesses attract and retain employees, as well as support inclusion and diversity. In addition, in today’s tight labor market beset by widespread labor shortages, companies probably will need to compromise or be willing to lose staff.

Employees are expecting choices when it comes to where and how they work, with some employers meeting their needs. As more businesses open this summer and in the fall, we will see how this all plays out and if a form of remote work is here to stay or turns out to be a temporary solution during a challenging time.