With states starting to lift lockdown restrictions amid fluctuating infection and hospitalization rates — and some localities even forced to pause reopenings in progress — the safety of heading back to the workplace is still very much in question.
What will it take for the typical worker whose routine has shifted as a result of the pandemic to feel comfortable going back into the office after all this time away? And what should employers do to ease the concerns their employees might have?
How We Are Adjusting to Working From Home
To understand what the return to the office might entail, we must first understand how well workers have adjusted to working remotely. At SafeHome.org, we conducted a survey of remote workers in early June, as many states were beginning to allow certain companies to resume in-person operations.
According to our respondents, many remote workers are having success at home. Very few newly minted remote workers are consistently having a hard time, and nearly 60 percent of respondents are mostly enjoying the experience. Workers perceptions of working from home were heavily influenced by the level of support, supplies, and/or funding their employers offered for their home offices. For example, 46 percent of those workers whose employers provided complete support for their home office arrangements perceived their setups as “perfect,” compared to 17 percent of those whose employers only offered partial support.
How We Feel About Going Back to the Office
Remote work is largely going well for most workers — but are people ready to start commuting to the office again?
Not quite. According to our survey, most remote workers wouldn’t yet feel completely safe heading back to the office, even if conditions were deemed safe by government and health officials. That said, 69 percent of workers would be at least “somewhat comfortable” going back to the office after being given the all-clear to return.
Workers’ perceptions of their work-from-home setups did have an impact on their feelings toward going back to the office. Notably, the group most likely to report being either “very comfortable” or “very uncomfortable” with heading back to work was the same group: those who felt their work-from-home setups were “perfect.” About 17 percent of these people said they’d be “very uncomfortable” going back to work, while about 41 percent of them said they’d be “very comfortable” with it.
Some businesses may be concerned that, if employees are too comfortable with remote work, they’ll never want to return to the office. Our survey suggests that’s not the case: 43 percent of those who said their employers provided adequate supplies and funding to establish good work-from-home environments said they’d feel “very comfortable” heading back into the office when given the all-clear. This was more than double the rate at which workers who did not receive this support at all or who only received partial support said the same.
Taken together, these points indicate the businesses that have centered the needs of their workers during this crisis are the ones which will bounce back fastest when they reopen.
How Can Businesses Open Up the Right Way?
Of course, potential exposure to COVID-19 is the biggest concern employees have about returning to work in the office. While there are countless measures businesses can put in place to mitigate the risk, respondents to our survey did point to several measures that would make them feel safer but are outside of any one business’s control.
Hand sanitizer stations topped the list of measures employees would like to see businesses take, followed by nightly deep cleans and mandating the wearing of masks in the office.
Here’s a full look at the measures employees would like to see:
The second most-desired safety measure in the office isn’t actually an office safety measure at all: Employers can’t control whether or not their workers have access to a vaccine. That’s up to the researchers. However, most of the measures employees would most like to see are entirely within a company’s control, and they’re mostly inexpensive.
Overall, the good news is that most workers who have shifted from in-office work to remote work have had a largely positive experience over the past few months, and very few remote workers are intensely afraid of returning to the physical workplace. Most importantly, there are a host of simple ways to make employees feel better about returning to the office. Some, such as staggering lunch times and closing communal stations, even cost nothing at all.
Andrew Garcia is lead security editor at SafeHome.org.