CDC’s new pandemic guidance is a game-changer. Are you ready?

Updated guidance from The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) saying that vaccinated people do not have to wear masks either inside or outside or follow social distancing guidelines (in most circumstances) has complicated the decisions companies are considering with returning workers to the office.

Will the CDC’s guidance start a “back to the office like before” movement by industry and government agencies? Will it create a requirement that all employees be vaccinated except for those with religious or medical reasons, or will organizations wait for more guidance from local communities or will they check with their workforces?  Are you ready?

According to The Wall Street Journal, Inc, doesn’t plan to change its masking or distancing requirements. Salesforce has not mandated vaccinations for its 56,000 employees around the world. It is initially inviting vaccinated workers in the U.S. to come back to offices in places such as San Francisco and Irvine, Calif., in groups of about 100 people at a time, said Brent Hyder, the company’s chief people officer.

In Indiana, drug maker Eli Lilly LLY -0.38% & Co. said it would stick to plans announced last week before the CDC’s new guidance. It aims to bring back 25% of its office workers—roughly 1,750 people—to its downtown Indianapolis headquarters on June 1. Only vaccinated employees can come into the office that month, CEO David Ricks said. Social-distancing and mask requirements will stay in place until July 12, when Eli Lilly opens its offices to more workers. However, the company will keep monitoring health data, a spokesman said.

Parsing the new recommendations falls to communities and businesses, The Wall Street Journal reports,  and could be especially difficult to implement for public settings such as workplaces, health researchers said, because there isn’t an easy way to determine who is fully vaccinated. Further complicating the issue is that the CDC guidance contained a raft of caveats, including statements that it is still unknown how effective the vaccines are against multiple variant strains of Covid-19 that are circulating, how long-lasting the vaccines’ efficacy will be in most people, and that people who are immunocompromised, and those who live with or care for them, should continue showing more cautious behavior.

Mandating that workers get vaccinated is generally legal in most instances, employment attorneys told The Wall Street Journal, as long as exemptions are made for medical or religious reasons. That has not stopped lawsuits from being filed over the issue in places such as New Mexico and California. Most employers have shied away from making the shots a requirement, but more may be considering mandates.

The Houston Methodist Hospital network is mandating vaccines for both existing employees and new hires, barring an exemption. Those who fail to comply will at first be suspended without pay, and later terminated, a hospital spokeswoman says. Houston Methodist believes employee vaccinations are essential to keeping patients safe.

After Houston Methodist announced mandates, Dr. Marc L. Boom, the hospital network’s chief executive, told The Wall Street Journal he received hate mail from people outside of the organization, and some employees expressed frustration. Some staffers may choose to leave the organization instead of getting a shot, Dr. Boom says, though he predicts the vast majority will comply. “We’re a scientifically based organization,” he says. “If somebody decides to leave because of that, honestly, they’re not a cultural fit.”

What are your organization’s plans?

There is no way around this post-pandemic reality. Your remote workforce is more productive than when they were in the office, usually by about 22 percent. Half or more of your remote workers will want to continue to work from home post-pandemic. If they are not allowed to continue to work from home four to three days a week, many of them will look for employers who will allow them to work remotely.

The “old office” with its crowded open bays, wasted space (despite the crowded conditions) was not productive and the innovation generator it was credited with being. Consider the following research.

  • A 1999 case study showed that creating an open office environment for everyone in a company, from research and development to marketing, finance, and human resources, led to a strong employee and managerial backlash. A more varied approach – designed to fit how each unique department works –is much more desirable.
  • A study by the University of California, Irvine, found that employees working in open office bays were interrupted 29 percent more often than those in private offices. To make matters worse, it takes more than 25 minutes, on average, to resume a task after being interrupted. Studies frequently show that frequent interruptions lead to higher rates of exhaustion, stress-induced ailments, and a doubling of error rates.
  • In 2011, Organizational Psychologist, Matthew Davis, reviewed more than a hundred office environment studies. He learned the following:

“Though open offices often fostered a symbolic sense of organizational mission, making employees feel like part of a more laid-back, innovative enterprise, they were damaging to workers’ attention spans, productivity, creative thinking, and satisfaction. Compared with standard offices, employees in open offices experienced more uncontrolled interactions, higher levels of stress, and lower levels of concentration and innovation.”

Some of your workers will want to return to the office for a variety of reasons. Perhaps their home environment is not suitable for work, Maybe they miss the in-person socialization with co-workers. Or possibly, they are better motivated at the office. Of course, some workers will need to continue to come to the office because they work in research and development labs, need to use data not available online, or interact with customers. All of this creates the reality of having employees on the same teams who are both in-office workers and remote workers: the hybrid workforce and a new role for the office.

Now is the time to lead change in your organizations to optimize remote work, convert to a hybrid workforce with the new team norms to make it work, invest in digital technology, and create a new role for the office.

Are you ready to seize the moment and make a change to maintain the productivity and innovation of your workforce, reduce your real estate costs, contribute to reducing carbon emissions, and retain and attract great employees? If so I invite you to read my recent article, Seven practical lessons to make a hybrid workforce engaged, productive, and innovative!. You will be glad you did.

Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting, managing partner of InnovationOne, and Sales Advisor to MeBeBot. He works with companies to transform HR, implement remote work, recruit executives, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and innovation cultures. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at 

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