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Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us found remote work to be the occasional option throughout the week as we spent our time in office chairs and board rooms from 9 to 5. Now, working professionals taking meetings from their dining rooms and dens are wondering when – and how – they might return to work. Doing so will need to be done safely to keep employee wellbeing top of mind. Research on global workforce re-entry during COVID-19 shows that as organizations adjust to working remotely, they’re able to take the time to slowly and carefully plan their safe return to work.
Commercial real estate company JLL International gathered insight from more than 80 organizations in 13 industries from around the world between April and May about remote work and re-entry plans. More than three-quarters of respondents reported that 80% or more of their employees were working from home, with the Asia Pacific (APAC) region seeing an increase of 25 percentage points between April and May. Attitudes and beliefs around remote work have changed around the world, and so has employee performance, with JLL International’s survey showing that 20% of organizations reported an increase in collaboration and 12% reported an increase in productivity.
With so many organizations working remotely with success, additional time can be spent planning a safe return to work. But as different countries grapple with their own COVID-19 responses and timelines, setting a return-to-work date has proven difficult. While one-third of APAC respondents were returning to work by May, over 65% of respondents from the Americas had more uncertainty. As recently as late June, half of American respondents to a Korn Ferry survey still felt unsafe returning to work. Organizations will need thoroughly planned strategies that puts the safety of workers first.
One of the ways organizations plan to return to work is a phased approach. The JLL International survey showed that as of mid-May, a third (31%) of APAC respondents and 17% of EMEA respondents were planning for more than 40% of their workforce to return, while 29% of respondents from the Americas were planning for 20-29% of their workforce to return. Overall, from April to May the number of global respondents considering a phased re-entry increased by 37%, demonstrating that over time, some employees might return while others continue working remotely. As employees return, common strategies include socially distant floor plans, temperature checks, and increased access to cleaning supplies.
Safe return to work planning will also need to take a holistic approach, especially for mobility. Consider tax and immigration laws around the world as they relate to COVID-19. Duty of care approaches may involve revisiting your crisis planning. The housing, home purchase and sale industry must comply with country, state and local orders and guidelines, consult hotels and corporate housing, consult appraisers, real estate broker partners, and destination service providers. Additionally, the moving and transportation industry will need to comply with country, state and local COVID-19 guidelines, collaborate with relocation management companies and movers, assess if relocating workers are ensuring a safe move, and prepare for unexpected costs.
As countries weigh their reopening options, organizational leaders will need to stay on top of safe return to work planning and guidelines, ensuring that employees are kept and safe and well in the process. To learn more about how organizations can plan the safe return to work, consider Worldwide ERC®'s Workforce Mobility Safety Framework that holistically considers key elements of safety for the workforce mobility industry.
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