Businesses are returning to the office, and communities across the country are cautiously optimistic they’ll quickly ramp up operations to the levels before the pandemic without any setbacks.
Not surprisingly, many things will look and feel familiar for employees. However, there will also be some changes as each company has had to decide what to do about vaccination requirements, hybrid work setups, mask policies, remote work, and more. There’s no precedent, so executives are handling the return as trial by fire.
Here is a look at what employees can expect as they set foot in the office for the first time in about two years.
Overall, businesses are not mandating that employees get vaccinated before returning to the office. According to Gallup data from February, about 25 percent of the United States workforce is covered by a vaccine mandate. That’s down from 36 percent in December, the same amount as Gallup’s October poll.
While mandates fade, employers still want vaccinations. Forty-three percent of workers surveyed by Gallup said their employer was encouraging them to get a vaccine, while only 21 percent said there was no policy at their employer. Employers are hoping people will get vaccinated because of the staggering costs of Covid. According to the Kaiser Foundation, there was $13.8 billion in preventable hospital costs of unvaccinated patients from June 2021 to November 2021.
During the darkest days of the pandemic, mask mandates were put in place in communities. With Covid numbers down, mask requirements have declining. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that indoor masks are not necessary since a large portion of the population now lives in places with a low or medium risk of contracting Covid.
The CDC guidance and other factors say that people heading to the office may not be required to wear a mask — it all depends on the business. The rules in many cases include having unvaccinated workers not wear a mask. Those employees would be forced to wear a mask in the past because they didn’t get vaccinated. In some cases, those rules are being dropped. That could cause anxiety in those who believe masks have helped keep them safe during the pandemic.
Some businesses are still requiring unvaccinated employees to test for Covid regularly. Google, BlackRock, and Goldman Sachs require testing, for example. But JPMorgan Chase is dropping its requirement. Many companies are also purchasing at-home tests for employees so they can test for Covid if they are not feeling well and at risk for infecting others in the office.
Dropping Covid protection requirements is like starting a new chapter for some businesses. In San Diego County, the requirement to get a vaccination is being dropped for new employees, and unvaccinated employees don’t have to test for Covid.
The county is comfortable doing that because it can test wastewater for Covid surges now, have a high percentage of vaccinations among residents and employees, and have new ways to treat Covid without the possibility of overloading the local health system. The improvements in Covid care have allowed it to be treated more like other respiratory illnesses.
Employees might see physical changes to their office, depending on their employer. One trend is to have offices redesigned to a smaller scale. Since many offices will only be used sparingly, they might become more like a community center or a place to hang out and collaborate. There could be fewer desks and added perks like a cafe or breakout spaces.
A hybrid work environment could change a lot of the traditional office setup. Not everyone will have a desk anymore. The focus will move to collaboration, unlike before when people may compete for the best views in an office.
Get ready to go back to the office
Employees need to commute if they are returning to the office. Edenred has benefits that businesses can use to help employees with their commutes.
Commuter benefits apply to employees who take mass transit, rideshares, or park their cars. Employees can spend up to $280 per month from their paychecks to use towards their commuting costs. Employees will have less taxable income and employers will pay less in payroll taxes. A company with 50 employees in the program could save about $24,000 per year.
Micromobility vehicles like e-bikes and e-scooters are also good options for employees. While they are not covered under commuter benefits yet, we have several partnerships that can get you the best deal to fit your needs.
If you are looking for ways to help your employees get to work, commuter benefits are your answer. Book a meeting with us today so we can help you get started.